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Bosco’s Corner: A rowdy game in the Bronx

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But I could very well have written...

By Anthony Bosco

A week ago I chose to write about March Madness and how great a time this is for sports fans, who are treated to the NCAA Tournament, an annual competition pitting the very best Division I college teams in the country.

But I could very well have written my column last week about the New York City high school basketball playoffs, which, in its own right, ranks right up there with any college tournament when it comes down to sheer enthusiasm, emotion and school pride.

I have been to my fair share of high school games over the years, but last Wednesday’s took the cake, when I ventured to the Bronx to watch Queens’ Archbishop Molloy Stanners take the floor against the St. Raymond’s Ravens in the Catholic High School Athletic Association varsity basketball championship.

In years past when one of the Queens schools earned the right to travel to Fordham University, I was privileged enough to witness some fine basketball and some truly great high school players, like Ron Artest, Drew Samuels, Omar Cook, Andre Barrett and Kenny Satterfield, just to name a few. I didn’t think this year’s game would offer that level, but I am glad to say I could not have been more wrong.

While there may have only been a handful of legitimate Division I players on the court, the two teams offered up nothing short of remarkable effort and intensity in a double-overtime thriller that will certainly go on my list of best basketball games ever.

But there was much more to it than just the action on the hardwood. While the play was spirited from both teams, it was the fans that made the matchup more than just another basketball game.

As soon as I walked into the gym the feeling was electric and noisy, very noisy.

On one end of the court sat what seemed to be the entire student body of St. Raymond’s, who were whooping it up big-time. Chanting, dancing, singing and playing portable instruments, the Ravens’ faithful made a beautiful racket, thumping out rhythms that must have even had the most impartial media in attendance tapping their feet.

Not to be outdone, the Molloy faithful more than met the challenge, bellowing out the names of the Stanners’ stars from painted faces and torsos, forming a mass of blue and white humanity behind the Molloy bench.

In many ways, the CHSAA title game more than outdid the games I saw during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Nassau Coliseum. It wasn’t even close, to tell you the truth.

It was an unreal atmosphere to be sure, but the way high school sports should be. Too many times I have wandered into high school basketball games to experience not only players going through the motions, but impassive fans as well. Not last week, though, no way.

This certainly wasn’t lost on the players on both sides. Both teams seemed to be feeding off the raucous crowd, leaning on them for support when things weren’t going their way and performing at the highest level they possibly could, almost in tribute to those in attendance for making the game so perfect.

At one point, Ravens’ standout senior Julius Hodge turned to the fans and waved his arms upward, calling for even more noise, which really didn’t seem possible, but the fans obliged.

Molloy and St. Ray’s battled it out like two heavyweights fighting for an undisputed title. Neither gave an inch after toeing the line, so much so that they needed not one, but two extra periods to decide this hotly contested affair.

St. Ray’s won the game and the title, earning the right to go to Glens Falls in a bid for the Class ‘A’ State Federation crown, while Molloy’s season ended, not with a win, but with the knowledge that they could not have played any better, according to their coach, the venerable Jack Curran.

The scene at Fordham was played out again at Madison Square Garden Sunday, when eight teams played for eight championships in the grand finale of the Public School Athletic League season. The crowd at the Garden was every bit as rowdy.

No Queens team left Manhattan with a title — Francis Lewis fell to Murry Bergtraum, 72-36, in the girls’ ‘A’ finals and the John Adams Spartans lost to South Shore, 47-42 — yet just getting there was victory in itself for both teams, playing in the “world’s most famous arena” before all of their die-hard fans.

Of course, losing is never a happy thing for a team to endure, something I witnessed not only last Wednesday with Molloy, but two weeks ago when the Cardozo Judges were ousted from the PSAL playoffs by Robeson before a packed house at Lehman College.

I saw the same expression on the faces of the players that day as I did at Fordham last week, the look of utter sadness and disappointment. But that’s part of the deal, one team wins and the other loses.

Only two high school teams are left to play in Glens Falls this week, the Christ the King girls and the St. Francis Prep girls, and I have little doubt that a good deal of fans will make the trek upstate to watch these clubs finish their truly fine seasons.

It is March after all.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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