Cardinal Hayes coach Joe Lods spoke to his players a few days after being eliminated as the top seed in the Archdiocesan playoffs to All Hallows. Lods quickly discovered his team was not willing to let the season slip away.
The young Cardinals responded triumphantly Sunday by capturing the CHSAA Class AA Intersectional championship in a thrilling 64-62 victory over Archbishop Molloy at Fordham University’s Rose Hill Gym.
“We lost to All Hallows in the diocesan and people said good season Hayes,” Lods said. “Like we were done and my guys wouldn’t have anything to hear of that.”
Cardinal Hayes overcame the size advantage Molloy had on the floor by spreading the wealth with five players scoring in double figures. Tyrese Williams had 15 points along with sophomore guard Joe Toussaint adding 12 points, nine assists and three steals to help the school win its first Class AA championship since 1990.
Williams grabbed the loose ball after Molloy guard Cole Anthony missed on his attempted layup with three seconds left in regulation to help Cardinal Hayes (21-8) advance to the Federation AA semifinals on March 24 in Glens Falls to take on PSAL champions Abraham Lincoln.
The school also became the first CHSAA school to win a basketball and football title at the highest level in the same year since St. Francis Prep accomplished the feat in 1957.
“Coach has been telling us all week that we are tougher than them and we played like that today," Williams said. "We outrebounded them, boxing them out and working so much harder to get this. It’s been since 1990 since our school won this, so we wanted this badly.”
The Cardinals, ranked No. 14 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, displayed poise and resiliency, according to Lods, while never allowing its inexperience with just three seniors to stop their run.
Williams picked up two fouls in the first minute and half of the contest, but Cardinal Hayes was able to pick up in the absence of the junior forward. Jontai Williams (13 points) had his 3-point basket followed up by teammate Mark Jackson completing a three-point play to help the Cardinals go up 13-8 after one quarter.
Brown had to sit out a portion of the second quarter after picking up his second foul and Molloy was unable to use 7-foot center Moses Brown to keep the Cardinals away from the paint. Terry Dawkins had a strong finish with 10 points to help Cardinal Hayes lead 35-29 going into halftime.
Molloy had to scramble early in the third quarter to recover from a double-digit defeciit after Williams knocked down the team’s seventh 3-point basket of the game for a Hayes 41-29 advantage. Anthony, who scored 13 of his 17 in the second half, converted an important three-point play with 0.7 left in the third quarter to put the Stanners down 49-46.
Brown threw down a slam dunk with 5:54 left in the fourth quarter to give Molloy its first lead since the opening minutes at 50-49. Yet the Cardinals never relinquished momentum on the next possession when Toussaint found Tyrese Williams in the left corner for a 3-point shot to retake a two-point lead.
“One thing you never do is quit. We’re a bunch of tough guys. That’s what the coaching staff tells us to never do,” Jackson said. “So when we got down by a couple of points, we went to the bench and Lods told us basically the game is not over yet.”
Jackson had some clutch baskets down the stretch, none more important than absorbing contact from Khalid Moore to finish off a strong drive to the basket along with converting a three-point play with 1:01 left to give Cardinal Hayes a 61-60 lead.
Molloy was down two points, but Toussaint knocked the ball away from Anthony near the free throw line and the Hayes sophomore hit two free throws to extend their lead to four points.
Jontai Williams could not convert the front end of a one and one free throw with 7.5 left and Molloy seemingly looked to have tied the game when Anthony dribbled past three defenders en route to the basket. But the sophomore guard had his layup attempt hit the front end of the rim and Tyrese Williams grabbed the rebound to help end Molloy’s campaign.
Brown had 19 points and 17 rebounds and John Herring added 12 points as Molloy, ranked No. 7 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, ended the season at 21-8 in its first trip to the final since 2000.
“It was hard playing without Moses because he was such a big part of our team,” Molloy guard Cole Anthony said. “Everyone on the team toughened up and competed. I thought we competed today.”
Cardinal Hayes will attempt to win their first Federation title after falling short in 1990 and the 2007 Class A title game to Peekskill.
“It’s our 75th year as a school being open. Every team this year has almost won a chip. Soccer won one [Class B city title], football [AAA], basketball now, so we’re going to put the pressure on the baseball team to win one too,” Tyrese Williams jokingly said.