St. Raymond beats Holy Cross for CHSAA title
Kerwin Okoro has made the trip to Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym in each of his first three years at St. Raymond, sitting in the stands, wondering what it would be like to be on the court celebrating a CHSAA Class AA intersectional title.
That became a reality for the Iowa State-bound swingman Sunday, as he helped lead the Ravens to a 66-58 victory over Holy Cross. It was St. Ray’s seventh city title and first since 2004.
Okoro had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks to earn tournament MVP honors.
“I came to every championship and I saw Durand Scott win MVP, Maurice Barrow win MVP,” Okoro said. “I feel like I’m on top of the world right now. This is the best way to close out my high school career.”
And it was a fitting end, according to Ravens coach Oliver Antigua, who coached St. Raymond to back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004.
“It’s great that the guy who has been with me for four years, Kerwin Okoro, a four-year varsity player, had his best game of the season in the biggest game of his career,” Antigua said.
Okoro and Daniel Dingle are the cornerstones of the Ravens’ championship squad. They stayed at the Castle Hill school when several others left in 2009. Okoro said the Ravens took their lumps, on and off the court, but it served to strengthen them.
“When we were sophomores and everybody transferred, everybody looked at it like the program got downgraded, but really it was a blessing in disguise,” Okoro said. “If that didn’t happen, maybe we wouldn’t be here right now. It gave other people opportunities to step up.”
Added Dingle: “To win as a team you have to sacrifice. The guys that transferred didn’t want to sacrifice.”
Dingle considered leaving, too.
“As a freshman I didn’t know what was going on in the locker room,” he said. “But I had a great relationship, I knew coach since I was born basically. He said things were going to work out and I trusted him.”
The Temple-bound forward had 11 points despite struggling from the field and added 10 rebounds and five assists for the Ravens, which led throughout much of Sunday’s tight final.
Antigua said the turning point of the season came in late December when the Ravens took on Garner (NC) in the championship game of the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational in Raleigh, N.C. without Dingle, who injured his shoulder.
St. Ray’s lost the game, but impressed its coach.
“That’s when I felt like wow we have some pieces,” he said.
Antigua was right and each of those pieces contributed in a big way in the championship run. On Sunday, Shane Rector, the lone junior starter, had 16 points, Myron Hickman did a solid job defensively against Knights senior Anthony Libroia and Larry Graves, Akil Andrews and Kayvon Williams all stepped up at various times.
“This is a special group, special because of how we built it,” Antigua said. “When you coach a core for three years, you really get to know them on and off the court and you pull for those guys. It’s very difficult to win and what these guys did this year is phenomenal.”
Will Davis scored 21 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 8-0 run in the second quarter to give Holy Cross (24-5), ranked No. 2 in New York City by MSG Varsity, a 24-21 lead with 4:45 left in the first half.
But Okoro responded to each of the Knights big shots. After a putback by Libroia tied the game at 41 with 3:01 left in the third, Dingle and Okoro scored back-to-back buckets and No. 3 St. Raymond (21-9) had a 47-44 lead going into the fourth quarter.
After Marquise Moore (13 points) pulled Holy Cross to within 54-52 with 3:47 left, Okoro knocked down a pair of free throws and Hickman scored a layup. Eddie Roscigno again cut the Knights deficit to two on a pair of free throws with 1:06 remaining, but the Ravens went 8-of-10 from the line down the stretch to seal the victory.
And when it was over and a frenzied celebration enveloped the court, Dingle sought out Okoro and tackled him to the hardwood.
“This is like our national championship,” Dingle said. “We won [an AAU] national championship together in eighth grade and in sixth grade. Now we’re going for a state championship and then after we go our separate ways, I’m going to be his cheerleader and he’s going to be mine.”
This isn’t the end of the road for the senior-laden Ravens. Next up is the New York State Federation tournament in Albany where they take on the PSAL champion in the semifinals on March 24.
“We have a lot of chemistry,” Rector said. “These guys have been on the team together for three years. I knew them since I was like seven, eight. We all know each other and we all wanted to do it for each other.”
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