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Throne held: Christ the King still the team to beat after win over Mary Louis

And yet, the Royals remain the team to beat in Brooklyn/Queens Division I. They proved that again Monday night, edging rival Mary Louis, 56-54, in front of a packed house at Christ the King."I never liked it," Mackey said of the talk of his program's demise. "Every year it's the same thing. King is dead. OK."Mary Louis is the popular choice to unseat Christ the King and perhaps end the Royals' streak of 24 straight CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan titles. But, thanks to one sensational freshman, the Royals proved the road to the championship still runs through Middle Village.Bria Smith and Nia Oden are the first freshman allowed to play varsity at Christ the King since Clare Droesch in 1998. And Smith, the 5-foot-9 guard, scored a game-high 28 points, had five steals and four boards, including one critical defensive rebound on Andrea Busch's missed free throw with 4.3 seconds left in regulation that would have tied the game at 55.Smith was fouled and hit the first shot of a one-and-one bonus, before missing the second attempt with 2.3 seconds remaining. Kelly Puwalski dribbled and found Amanda Burakoski, whose desperation one-handed heave from halfcourt at the buzzer sailed wide of the basket."Bria is very capable of making the plays," Mackey said of Smith, who scored 33 points against Bishop Kearney Friday night. "The key was just getting her open and she's got to feel a little confident. But once she gets that confidence, wow."Led by Puwalski (13 points, six assists, three steals), Burakoski (12 points, three steals) and Busch, a sophomore who had nine points and 12 rebounds, Mary Louis (9-6, 3-1 Brooklyn/Queens Division I) led for much of the second half.And when the Hilltoppers extended their lead to 38-32 with 2:19 left in the third quarter, concern started to set in with Mackey.But Smith followed a made free throw by Jael Pena with the final four points of the quarter and the Royals trailed by just one, 38-37, heading into the tense final eight minutes of regulation.With Christ the King (8-7, 6-0) trailing 47-45, Smith tied the game with a 16-foot jumper and gave the Royals their first lead since late in the first half with a runner in the lane with 2:37 remaining.Burakoski quickly answered with a corner three-pointer, but after a pair of Pena free throws and one by Mary Louis freshman Karin Robinson, Smith scored on a baseline drive to give Christ the King a 53-51 lead with 1:15 left.Although Mary Louis tied the game on a Busch layup with one minute left, Christ the King would never trail again. Geleisa George, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, scored the eventual game-winning layup with 24.6 seconds left in regulation."Once again, the kids rise to the occasion," Mackey said. "You set the bar high and they rise."Despite the heartbreaking defeat, Mary Louis coach Joe Lewinger said his team's goal is to beat Christ the King in the diocesan final March 9, and that's still attainable. But it doesn't take the sting out of the loss for his players."I've never wanted to win a game so much before," said Kelly Carman, Mary Louis' teary-eyed senior forward. "I know we're going to see King two more times. I know for sure."

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