By Marc Raimondi
By their own estimation, the Royals were not playing like the defending CHSAA Class AA intersectional champions. They dropped their first league game last month to St. Raymond's and had a disappointing performance in Delaware's Bay Ball Classic two weeks ago.”As a team, we should be way more confident,” said senior guard Erving Walker, who is headed to the University of Florida next year.Consider that swagger back in Middle Village.Led by Ryan Pearson's 31 points, Christ the King beat rival and previously undefeated Rice, 65-62, at home Friday night in front of more than 1,800 people. The Raiders, ranked as high as No. 6 in the country by scouting services, beat the Royals in the CHSAA Class AA state finals last year to earn a trip to Glens Falls for the state Federation tournament. CK was happy to get revenge.”I think it had a lot to do with playing Rice,” Christ the King coach Bob Oliva said of his team's advanced motivation.”I love playing them,” Pearson added. “It's always intense.”That seemed to be the key word surrounding Pearson. Aside from his scoring, the George Mason-bound senior forward made two hustle plays in the fourth quarter to stymie Rice.Pearson saw Rice point guard Kemba Walker rolling the ball up the court on inbounds plays to stop time from running off the clock. Thinking he could stop the Connecticut-bound Walker from doing that, Pearson stepped in front of him with 27.3 seconds left after a Christ the King basket. It surprised the Raiders senior, who turned the ball over with Rice trailing, 63-59.”I don't think our guys really matched his intensity,” Rice coach Maurice Hicks said of the 6-foot-5 Pearson. “We never really stopped him.”It didn't seem like he could be stopped, at least not on the boards. With 6:40 left and Christ the King up comfortably, 51-37, Pearson wrestled one offensive rebound away from three Raiders players and finished with a hard-fought layup.”I just wanted it,” the Far Rockaway native said. “Coach tells me rebounding is about the player who wanted it more. I wanted it more.”It didn't seem like a huge play at the time, but it turned out to be. Rice turned a 14-point deficit with 6:40 left into a 59-56 game after a 13-3 run, capped by a Jeff Harris three-pointer. Senior guard Chris Fouch (21 points), who is headed to Drexel next year, had eight points in that stretch.But up 61-59 with 28.9 seconds left, Christ the King turned to an unlikely hero: junior guard Marion Smith, who had not played until that point. Rice fouled him and he made both free throws to make it into a two-possession game.Erving Walker had 13 points and sophomore center Roland Brown added 12 for Christ the King (7-2, 1-1 CHSAA Class AA). For Rice (9-1, 1-1), James Stukes had 16 points, Kemba Walker chipped in 10, but the Raiders really never could figure out the Royals' match-up zone.”Chris (Fouch) is a shooter,” Hicks said. “He would have gone off earlier. We couldn't get him looks.”Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.