Here is my story on Stepinac’s 78-56 loss in the CHSAA AA semifinals to Bishop Loughlin.
NEW YORK Underdogs can’t afford a slow start.
So as Stepinac struggled to shoot the ball at the beginning of the CHSAA AA semifinal game against Bishop Loughlin, hopes of the Crusaders going to their first AA final quickly began to fade.
“I think they came out and gave us the first punch and we didn’t really know how to react to it,” said Stepinac senior Josh James. “The whole game we were just falling behind and we just trailed the whole game.”
The Lions cruised to a 78-56 win at Fordham University as Stepinac had no answer for Loughlin’s fast pace. The Lions will face the winner of Christ the King and Cardinal Hayes in the AA final at Fordham Sunday at 3 p.m.
Stepinac was just 6 of 32 from the field in the first half, including 2 of 16 3-point attempts, as Loughlin jumped out to a 49-25 haltime lead.
Any type of run the Crusaders were able to build was stifled by the Lions’ ability to get the ball up the court quickly. The Lions beat Stepinac earlier this season, 83-70.
“Their transition offense is probably the best I’ve seen all year,” James said. “It’s really hard to stop. We just tried to contain, but they’re a little too much for us.”
James was one of the lone bright spots for Stepinac. Playing in his final game as a Crusader, the Monmouth-bound guard finished with a game-high 34 points and eight rebounds.
“He was consistent which is what I asked him,” said Stepinac coach Tim Philp. “Just be a leader on and off the court. Win every sprint, don’t ever quit and challenge your teammates every day.”
James is part of what Philp considers a special group of seniors that helped Stepinac to one of its most successful seasons in program history. Stepinac’s last appearance in the semifinals of the highest level of the CHSAA came in 1986
James Decker also had a strong performance in his final game. The forward had eight rebounds and five steals.
“One thing I can control is working hard for rebounds,” Decker said. “You can always control working hard and getting loose ball rebounds.”
Loughlin had no defined star as four players scored in double-digits. Michael Williams led the Lions with 17 points and nine rebounds.
For James, who played the entire game, a strong performance was a nice way to put a cap on a successful career at Stepinac.
“I just wanted to go out with a bang,” James said. “Whether we win or lose, I just wanted to fight hard every game and help my teammates win. Tonight I couldn’t, so I just wanted to go out with a bang for my last high school game.”