Kyle Williams gave emotional hugs to coaches and teammates then slapped high fives with red-clad fans in the stands Wednesday night. It was an unbelievable high point for the sophomore in what had been a dismal basketball season.
“I didn’t expect this,” Williams said.
No kidding. In one of the most unlikely playoff runs in Long Island history, seventh-seeded St. John the Baptist shook off an 1-11 regular season and clawed its way to a Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA postseason championship.
The 6-foot-9 Williams was the centerpiece, scoring 34 points and grabbing 32 rebounds as the Cougars pulled away from No. 5 St. Anthony’s, 82-70, at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex.
“We came this far,” Williams said. “We’re in the championship. We might as well win it.”
It was Leap Day and no one had more ups than Williams. He dominated the low post, altering shots, pulling down defensive boards and finishing around the rim on the offensive end.
Williams kicked off a championship-clinching 18-3 run with a putback with 3:50 left to give the Cougars a 66-62 edge. Senior Vincent Yancigay followed up with his second three-pointer in as many minutes to stretch the lead to 69-62. SJB (7-20) tightened its grip from there.
This is the Cougars’ first playoff title since 2009 and third in the last eight seasons. But when you consider that SJB upended Holy Trinity, then St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s – all teams the Cougars lost to twice during the regular season – only then does the sheer improbability of this run come into focus.
“I knew we were going to click sooner or later,” first-year Cougars Coach Andre Edwards said. “We went through so much. The administration supported me throughout. We had an eight-game losing streak. I didn’t get frustrated.”
Now St. John the Baptist moves on to the state CHSAA Class A playoffs, a suddenly hot team no one should be eager to play.
“We just caught fire,” Edwards said.
Just ask St. Anthony’s (13-14), itself a surprise finalist after upsetting No. 1 Kellenberg. The Friars took a 36-31 lead into the half against SJB. Sophomore guard Andre Walker led St. Anthony’s with 17 points, 7 assists and 6 boards.
Yet no one could match up with Williams in the low post and he made the Friars pay.
Leap Day only comes around once every four years. Playoff runs like the one the Cougars are enjoying are rarer still. But when you look at the youth and talent Edwards put on the floor – no seniors start for SJB – you know the run is no mirage.
Williams and Co. will be a force in the seasons to come.
Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament
Championship @ Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex
Teams..............................1.....2.....3.....4 – F
St. John the Baptist.......17...14...26...25 – 82
St. Anthony’s..................17...19...14...20 – 70
SJB: Joyner 1-0-3, Gilyard 6-2-14, Abbondola 4-2-14, Lloyd 1-0-2, Williams 14-6-34, Sinclair 2-0-4, Yancigay 3-0-8, Jacob 0-3-3. Totals: 31-13-82. SA: Walker 4-8-17, Casimir 2-3-8, Gordon 3-0-8, Pierrot 5-3-15, Carter 6-1-15, Williams 3-1-7. Totals: 23-16-70. Three-pointers – SJB: 7 (Abbondola 4, Yancigay 2, Joyner); SA: 8 (Gordon 2, Pierrot 2, Carter 2, Walker, Casimir).