Canisius' players were big enough to contend with St. John the Baptist's size, and it had a winning percentage high enough to make an upstart team such as the Cougars flinch. But just when it seemed like the Crusaders were finally crawling under the Cougars' skin, Tavon Ginyard was there to provide the antidote Sunday.
"He's the opposite of a team cancer," St. John the Baptist coach Andre Edwards said of his freshman guard. "He's the cure."
Ginyard scored six of his 15 points during a 10-2 run to end the second quarter and kick off the third, as St. John the Baptist continued its unlikely postseason run, defeating Canisius, 63-52, in the state CHSAA semifinals at LIU Post. The Cougars (8-20) move on to face Iona Prep at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Fordham University for a chance to play in the Federation in Albany later this month. Iona Prep beat St. John the Baptist on the same stage three years ago.
St. John the Baptist led for most of the game but broke away only after a scare late in the second quarter. Canisius (21-7), of Buffalo, seemed to hit its stride, going on a 6-2 run capped by Jamel Mosley's coast-to-coast layup to give the Crusaders an 18-17 lead with 2:12 left in the first half.
But Ginyard, a whip-quick 14-year-old who at around 5-6 was mostly dwarfed by Canisius' 6-7 and 6-4 forwards, had other plans. His pull-up jumper over a wall of defenders gave the Cougars a one-point advantage. Matthew Hart's two free throws reclaimed the lead, but by that time, it was St. John the Baptist's turn to use its height in the form of 6-9 center Kyle Williams.
Williams scored the next four points -- a putback with 42 seconds left to give the Cougars a 21-20 lead at the half and an easy layup on Charles Joyner Jr.'s pass under the basket to kick off the third. Ginyard's fast-break layup on Williams' steal and his acrobatic scoop shot 30 seconds later gave Baptist a 27-20 advantage with 5:50 left in the third.
Williams finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks and Vinny Abbondola scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in a 26-19 fourth quarter. Ginyard chipped in a team-high four assists. Canisius' Adam Weir scored 19.
"This feels really good," Ginyard said. "My brother [Khaleev] came on as a junior and he helped them get here [in 2009]. Now I'm trying to do it as a freshman. I'm ready to do more."
But Ginyard's ascent to this moment was as unlikely as St. John the Baptist's. He started four games on the freshman team and, according to Edwards, played about 15 games on junior varsity. The plan was to bring him up in the playoffs because "when he played with the freshman team, he gave them confidence, and the same with the junior varsity. Every team he played for, he made better."
St. John the Baptist won one league matchup all regular season -- a senior night game against St. Dominic where fans were given rally towels proclaiming, "We Believe We Will Win." It seemed improbable then, before their four straight playoff wins. Sometimes, it feels improbable even now.
"This is crazy," Abbondola said after being mauled by the SJB cheering section. "I never thought we'd get this. I can't believe it."