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Gritty JFK upsets Mary Louis

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Anxiety quickly turned to joy for Chelsea Custodio.

The John F. Kennedy sophomore forward watched teammate Deaisia Acklin nearly travel on the left side. The sophomore guard recovered in time to hit the open, cutting Custodio in the paint for a quick floater, her second straight basket, and the foul that gave the Knights the lead for good with 55.7 seconds left in a back and forth contest with The Mary Louis Academy.

“It’s a very nervous feeling when the ball is in your hands and you know you got a couple of seconds left to make a play to put your team up on the board,” Custodio said. “All I am thinking is, ‘I got to make it.’”

While she didn’t convert the free throw, Jazzarae Campbell got the rebound and Sarah Vann added a driving layup. Camille Romero’s 3-pointer was off the mark for Mary Louis and the host Knights earned a thrilling, 61-58 victory over the Hilltoppers at the John F. Kennedy Challenge in The Bronx on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s about time she stepped up,” sophomore Leshauna Phinazee said for Custodio. “It was a good step up.”

Custodio scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter and Phinazee led the way with 15 points. Campbell had 10 and Vann added eight for Kennedy (14-5). Kelly McNamee came off the bench to score 17 points and hit three 3-pointers for the Hilltoppers, who were without sophomore Reana Mohamed because of a dislocated shoulder. Romero had 14 points, Karin Robinson 10 and Avis Benjamin eight. Robinson fouled out on Custodio’s 3-point play late and Benjamin did the same with 3:31 left in the fourth.

Mary Louis (10-5), ranked No. 7 in New York City by The Post, had a 54-50 lead midway through the final quarter and was up, 58-55, with 2:00 left when Robinson fed Romero in transition. But Kennedy, like it had all game, dominated inside, getting second and third chances. The Knights took advantage of TMLA’s poor shooting and turned it into transition.

“When our jump shots aren’t falling we need to get in there and drive the ball,” Romero said.

Added Mary Louis coach Joe Lewinger: “It very poor decisions at the end and lack of hustle, lack of effort, lack of desire.”

That wasn’t a problem for Kennedy, which trailed by eight points after the first quarter, but led by a point at halftime and heading into the fourth. Coach O’Neil Glenn preached patience to his young squad, which features six sophomores, especially against Mary Louis’ pressure. The Knights’ offense became more disciplined and Phinazee began setting the tone on the backboards from the second quarter on.

“I just go for every rebound and so do my teammates,” she said. “We just fought.”

Glenn called the win a good one and one he hoped will help his club, which has been up and down at times, in the PSAL Class AA playoffs. For the players, it was a game they felt they had to win in front of a large crowd at home. The Knights have now won four straight times at their host event.

“We have had our good games,” Custodio said. “We have had our rough games. But I think this game set the tone for our team. It gives us hope there is a chance to win a championship.”

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