Leading off today:
If next season turns into a raging success, members of the Nazareth girls basketball team can look back to this month as the moment they turned the corner.
Playing a brutal league schedule in the CHSAA's Brooklyn-Queens division and a string on non-leaguers vs. 20-game winners from across the Northeast left the Lady Kingsmen with a 6-19 record and out of the running for what they really coveted -- Class AA championships in the CHSAA and Federation tournaments. On Sunday, they headed for home with an 11-19 final record and a nice consolation prize in the form of a 64-54 win over Williamsville South and the Federation Class A championship at SUNY Albany.
"We had a bad season, lost a lot of games, but a championship is a championship," Nazareth junior Niya Johnson told The Daily News after finishing with 14 points. "But next year, we're aiming higher for 'AA.'"
Said coach Ron Kelley: "It's so easy to give up and give in after the season we had. It's Nazareth High School, there is an expectation and pride that we have. We're proud and happy to keep the tradition going and maybe next year, we'll play for the 'AA.'"
Williamsville South began the third quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 31-29 lead, and the game stayed close until the Lady Kingsmen went on a 10-1 run in the fourth quarter.
Erkyah Russell grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and scored 17 points to help Nazareth, with a roster dominated by underclassmen, snap the 25-game winning streak of Williamsville South, which won the NYSPHSAA Class A crown a week earlier.
"They were a very talented team," Williamsville South's Erin Egan told The Buffalo News after finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds. "They played a fast game. They took a lot of the things we do away but we stuck together as a team."
SIA looks A-OK: Senior Sam Spadaro and junior Corinn Baggs combined for nine points as Staten Island Academy scored the game's first 11 and rolled to a 50-33 win over Mount St. Mary's for the girls Class B crown.
Spadaro made a 3-pointer -- SIA's only made shot of the game from beyond the arc -- just 27 seconds into the game and Baggs (20 points, eight rebounds) made a floater in the lane on the break before hitting Spadaro for a baseline jumper. After Cameron Corbett converted a turnover into a layup, MSM coach Michael McCarthy called for a timeout. Another MSM turnover led to a Baggs basket off the break as the Tigers' lead reached 11-0 with 4:11 left in the first quarter.
"We've been talking about the perfect start all year and it's the first time we've done it," coach Rose Bruno told The Advance. "Besides jumping out to a quick lead, we also talked about not committing any fouls in the first four minutes and we were able to do that, too."
A Corbett layup with 4:37 left in the half ignited a 10-1 run that helped give the AIS representative a 25-10 lead at the intermission.
Park School wins: Park School won a tournament that coach Mike Battaglia admits he didn't know existed until two weeks ago.
Jordan Nwora finished with a game-high 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help beat PSAL champ Maspeth in the Federation boys Class B final.
Park School won its first state CHSAA championship two weeks ago, at which time Battaglia -- a neurologist by trade -- was surprised to learn the season wasn't over. He scrambled and began investigating the Federation tournament, tracking down information on potential opponents.
"I had five, six other coaches from the Monsignor Martin text me or call me, coaches from other leagues, coaches who played Westhill call me," Battaglia said. "To be a part