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Queens, NY – The Christ the King Royals held off the defending champion Cardinal Hayes Cardinals on Thursday for a 72-64 victory in the first game of the CHSAA semifinals at St John’s Carnesecca Arena.
Christ the King advances to the CHSAA championship game at Fordham University on Sunday afternoon and will try to win their first championship since 2015.
In the first quarter, Christ the King looked like the far superior team as they went on a 15-0 run to take a 19-6 lead.
“It was about defense,” Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello said. “Guarding them the right way, making sure we get a hand up on them the whole time.”
The Royals concluded the first quarter on a 20-4 run as they led the Cardinals 24-10 heading into the second.
Cardinal Hayes showed some signs of life in the second quarter as a 19 point lead was all of a sudden sliced to 11 at 36-25. However, Christ the King was able to answer as sophomore guard Quaran McPherson nailed a left corner 3-pointer to stretch the Royal lead back to 14 and then Tavin Pierre Phillip scored on a pull-up baseline jumper to give Christ the King a comfortable 16 point lead at the half.
It was beginning to look as if Cardinal Hayes did not belong on the same floor as Christ the King, but in the second half, the Cardinals displayed their two greatest assets — their ability to shoot from the perimeter and their tenacity on the boards. Senior guard Tyrese Williams opened the third quarter with a left wing three to cut the halftime deficit to 13. A couple minutes later, with Christ the King leading by 15, Williams drilled another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 12. The Cardinals would get a stop and senior guard Jontai Williams joined Tyrese Williams by knocking down a right-wing three of his own to cut the once 19 point lead to single digits at 45-36.
A little later, however, Christ the King turned to their senior guard Tyson Walker as he drove from coast to coast and drew a shooting foul. He would make both foul shots to put Christ the King up by double digits. Cardinal Hayes once again fought back like the defending champions they are as Tyrese Williams drained another third quarter three to cut the lead to nine and then, following a Cardinal Hayes stop, Tyrese Williams drew a foul on Christ the King freshman Moussa Cisse. He would split the two free throws as Cardinal Hayes trailed by just eight points going into the fourth quarter at 52-44.
“They’re the defending city champs,” coach Arbitello said. “They’re well-coached and they’re really good, they were going to make a run at some point and they did.”
The Cardinals continued to make runs in the fourth quarter as Tyrese Williams made another 3-pointer to cut the Royal lead to just five at 52-47. Tyrese Williams would lead all scorers with 22 points but following that three, Kofi Cockburn answered with a basket inside for two of his 20 points. The big man also grabbed 19 rebounds for Christ the King.
“Just coming out and playing hard,” Cockburn said. “Executing the game plan.”
Cockburn then made his presence felt defensively as he blocked Joe Toussaint’s shot which led to McPherson being fouled on the other end. He would sink both shots to give the Royals a 56-49 lead. Christ the King tried to deliver a dagger as sophomore guard Ryan Myers drilled a zone busting right wing 3-pointer to give Christ the King a 61-51 lead with 3:42 to play. However, Cardinal Hayes once again displayed the heart of a champion as Jontai Williams knocked down a second chance left corner 3-pointer to cut the lead to seven at 61-54. Then Hayes showed pressure defense in the backcourt as Toussaint got in the passing lane, stole the ball, and scored on an easy lay-in to cut the lead to five at 61-56. Moments later, Christ the King would once again be unable to get a rebound as Terry Dawkins nailed a left corner three to make it 63-59 with 2:17 remaining.
‘“We lost our mind,” Cockburn said. “We thought that we were good, but we just needed someone to push us.”
Once again, the Royals turned to Walker as he drove, scored and was fouled. He made the free throw for three of his team-high 21 points. Tyrese Williams made another third chance three for the Cardinals to cut the lead to just four at 66-62 with 1:19 to play. Phillip was later intentionally fouled by Tyrese Williams and would split the two foul shots to give Christ the King a 69-64 advantage. Jontai Williams would miss a corner three as Christ the King finally held off Hayes to survive and advance.
This win puts Christ the King back in the title game and as coach Arbitello guns for his sixth CHSAA championship on Sunday.