SportsSt. John's and Paul VI win WCAC basketball championships

St. John’s and Paul VI win WCAC basketball championships

The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) held the girls and boys basketball championship games at American University’s Bender Arena in matchups that would find the St. John’s and Paul VI victorious on Feb. 26.

St. John’s Girls Defeat Bishop McNamara

Sometimes, the loss to one key player can make the difference in championship basketball; such was the case in the WCAC girls match.

The McNamara Mustangs (24-5), ranked nationally at number-seven and number-two in the DMV, had rode the season on the play of their All-American guard Madisen McDaniel.  The senior guard is headed for top ranked University of South Carolina. But McDaniel suffered a knee injury last week and was not available for this week’s tournament.  She was averaging 23 points and seven assists per game on the season.

The St. John’s Cadets (23-5), who have a star of their own in Kyndal Walker, were up for the task.  After all, they had won the past titles and featured a seasoned team with Walker running the show.

Both factors came into play as the University of Maryland signee carried her team to a thrilling victory that came down to the wire.  Walker was named tournament MVP for the second straight year.

St. John’s used its experience to jump out early and keep the pressure on the Mustangs who were looking for a serious offensive threat.  The Cadets led from start to finish but it was not easy, as determined Bishop McNamara found ways to stay in the game with their defense.

It all came down to one big play on defense for the Cadets.  McNamara employed its defense to take the ball out of the hands of Walker during the fourth quarter.  It resulted in holding the Cadets to only a field goal in the fourth quarter, closing what was once an eight-point deficit to two at 43-41 and with 20 seconds remaining.

It appeared that St. John’s would put the game away when the reliable Walker went to the free throw.  She had made seven of eight, but she missed both and Bishop McNamara called a timeout with 10 seconds remaining to set up a play for a game-tying or game winner.

The Mustangs designed a play for a dribble or drive, but sophomore guard Morgan Stewart stepped out and blocked the shot with just two ticks on the clock. She was fouled and calmly sank the two free throws to give her team its third straight WCAC title.

“We knew it was going to be this kind of game even though they were without their best player,” said St. John’s head coach Jonatha Scribner.  “This is a seasoned, veteran group who have been through the wars of high school basketball.  It prepared us for this moment. This is something they work for.”

St. John’s will seek to add another trophy to the case when it starts play in the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) finals, March 1-3.

Paul VI Beats Gonzaga 

In the boy’s title game, it was a marquee matchup:  The Panthers of Paul VI (30-2) and Purple Eagles of Gonzaga College High School (27-5) playing for the championship of the WCAC. 

Paul VI ranked number one in the area and number four in the country against the Purple Eagles, ranked number two in the area and number seven in the country.

There was great anticipation over this matchup from the overflow crowd at Bender Arena.

Jordan Smith of Paul VI scores in the WCAC boys basketball championship game on Feb. 26. (Courtesy photo) Credit: Marcus Relacion
When it was all said and done, Paul VI overpowered Gonzaga 63-51.  The two hoop powers had played one of the most competitive national schedules in the country.  

It was the depth and talent that played a huge role in the outcome.  Paul VI is a veteran team of size and length. They had won the title only once and that was in 2022 (they were upset by St. John’s last year in the semifinals).

“I feel so good for the seniors who have worked so hard for this,” said a jubilant Glenn Farello, head coach of Paul VI. “They have been on a mission all season… They never lost sight of this goal.”

Paul VI has arguably one of the best backcourts in the nation in seniors Darren Harris and Ben Hammond.  Harris is a 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard who is headed to Duke, while Hammond, committed to Rhode Island, is the quintessential point guard.  The duo took over in the fourth quarter.  

The Purples Eagles kept it close.  Their young but talented, junior backcourt of Nykolas Lewis and Derek Dixon refused to go away without a fight. Their efforts helped Gonzaga close the deficit to 45-41 headed in the final stanza.  Then Harris and Hammond combined to score 14 of their team’s 18 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away down the stretch.

Harris, the MVP, led his team with 21, sophomore Jordan Smith with 12 and Hammond tallied 10 and dealt out 6 assists.

The Purple Eagles were led by Lewis (15), Dixon (12 points) and Christian Gurdak (10 points, 10 rebounds).

The season is not over for both teams.  Paul VI will compete in the national high school championships in Indianapolis next month, while Gonzaga begins play for the DCSAA tournament, March 1-3.

Source: Washington Informer

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