Cardinal Hayes made it clear that it wanted to play St. Peter’s with the Archdiocesan title on the line. The Cardinals cheered for the Eagles in their semifinal matchup hoping for a chance to avenge its only loss and claim an elusive title.
“We sat there and we rooted for St. Peter’s openly,” Hayes coach Joe Lods said. “We didn’t mask the fact that the one team that beat us we wanted to play.”
His team didn’t waist the opportunity when presented.
Cardinal Hayes handled the Eagles 70-50 in the CHSAA Archdiocesan boys’ basketball final at Mount St. Michael last Saturday. The Cardinals wanted to leave no doubt who the better team was after St. Peter’s needed a trey to send the regular season meeting to overtime and 3-pointer at the buzzer to steal a 72-70 victory earlier this month.
“We lost off a buzzer beater,” St. Joseph’s University-bound guard Shavar Newkirk said. “They were trash talking and we just wanted to show them that they are not on our level.”
Hayes won its first Archdiocesan crown since 1977, according to former coach Tom Murray. It erases a bit of heartbreak for this senior group, which lost in last year’s diocesan final and in consecutive Class AA intersectional semifinals.
“I was tired of consoling them,” Lods said. “We’ve lost some tough games. Over the years we have won some good games, but I feel like at the end I’m always giving a consolation speech. It’s nice to give them a championship talk. They deserved it.”
The missing piece for Hayes (25-1) may have been senior forward Nathan Ekwu, who sat out last year after coming into the country from Nigeria. He scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Ekwu kept St. Peter’s (26-3) to one shot on numerous possessions, challenged everything at the rim and cleaned up the offensive glass. He made good on wanting to set a tone for his team.
“He’s our motor,” senior forward Mustafa Jones said. “He gets us going. Without him we wouldn’t have the season we’ve had.”
Jones was equally as critical. He scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds and his 3-pointer from the left side with 6:37 remaining gave Hayes a 51-37 lead and put the game out of reach. Newkirk had 15 points and seven assists. Chris Robinson chipped in nine points.
Jemal Smith helped control St. Peter’s star point guard Glenn Sanabria. Sanabria had a team-high 18 points, six of which came late and with the game out of reach. Jamir Ferebee scored eight points and Latrell Curtis just seven.
“He still made tough shots, but we contained him and that helped us get the win,” Newkirk said of Sanabria.
The Eagles cut an 11-point halftime deficit to just 37-30 early in the fourth quarter, the closest they’d get. Lods called time out to calm his team down. Hayes responded with a 10-1 capped by a Smith jumper that put the Cardinals up 47-31 with 47 seconds left in the frame.
Hayes isn’t satisfied with just the Archdiocesan title. Its goal is to be city champions. It feels this victory gives the team momentum heading into this weeks intersectional playoffs. The Cardinals, the diocese’s top seed, gets a bye in the quarterfinals March 2 at Fordham University.
“This is a great way to step into the city playoffs,” Jones said. “If we play like this with the intensity we played with today the rest of the way, I think there is no reason why we shouldn’t win everything else.”