The growing pains were strong for St. Anthony's -- second-half collapses, a losing regular-season record, and a collection of young talent that was still learning how to jell even late into the year. Consider then Sunday's win against top-seed Kellenberg a certified rite of passage.
St. Anthony's passed through the Firebirds and into the CHSAA boys basketball final, defeating Kellenberg, 72-56, at LIU Post. It was a mature performance by a relatively young player who led the way as sophomore Andre Walker scored a career-high 27 points in a game where the Friars led by double digits for all but 20 seconds of the second half
St. Anthony's moves on to play No. 7 St. John the Baptist, 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hofstra.
"It's not much what we did differently," said coach Jim Fenton, referring to St. Anthony's two regular-season losses to Kellenberg (21-4). "It was a maturing process. We developed over the season and . . . we're getting hot during these playoffs."
And for all the hiccups -- the Friars were 12-13 going into yesterday -- No. 5 St. Anthony's showed nothing but confidence from the opening tip, kicking off the game on a 17-5 run and using team speed and agility to overcome the Firebirds' height advantage.
"We had to help each other out," Walker said. "Our tallest player is 6-5, so we had the guards slide down and help." That did, however, open up the perimeter for Kevin Bowles, who had two three-pointers on the way to 14 points, but he amassed four fouls by late in the third quarter.
St. Anthony's led 54-40 after three quarters and allowed Kellenberg to get no closer than 58-49 with 4:06 left. Dan Pierrot helped set the tone by scoring seven of his 18 in the first quarter. Walker added 12 rebounds, while Jeremy Arthur led the Firebirds with 15 points.
"In the beginning it was rough because we weren't a seasoned team," said Pierrot, one of only two seniors on the roster. "But we're getting used to each other. We're peaking at the right time."