By Five Boro Sports
HICKSVILLE, L.I. — The odds of Christ the King winning its biggest game of the year were greatly reduced even before the opening tip-off against St. Michael Academy.
During pre-game warm-ups, Royals star senior forward Tahira Johnson re-injured a nagging knee. As soon as she felt pain, the Christ the King coaching staff recommended she not attempt to play Friday night. Johnson was taken to a nearby hospital and the Royals were left to fight on without her.
“It took a little bit out of our game plan,” CK Coach Bob Mackey said.
Her absence certainly made an impact in what would eventually be a 63-54 loss to St. Michael Academy in the CHSAA Class AA state tournament quarterfinals at Holy Trinity High School Friday. Mackey had to switch sophomore Nia Oden to power forward and went with a smaller lineup — junior Ariel Edwards, Oden, sophomore Bria Smith, sophomore Eliana Scanlon and senior Geleisa George — throughout. St. Mike’s controlled the boards and the paint area.
“She’s a key facet of that,” Mackey said of Johnson.
Edwards added: “They’re so much taller. It’s easy for them to get rebounds.”
Christ the King (18-8) gave a valiant effort. After St. Mike’s (21-3) took control of the game just after halftime with an 8-0 run, CK came right back with a 10-0 run that tied the score at 41 via a Geleisa George mid-range jumper with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
SMA got some breathing room in the fourth quarter and held on despite two big three-pointers by Scanlon. Smith cut the Royals’ deficit to just 52-48, but they were never able to get over the hump once they were down.
“They shot the ball tremendously well,” Mackey said. “They had to beat us on the boards.”
Edwards had 12 points and 12 rebounds and Scanlon also had 12 points on four three-pointers for Christ the King, which will miss the state Federation Class AA championship for the third straight season. Smith had 11 points and Oden had nine points and eight rebounds.
“I’m very, very disappointed,” Smith said.
The rivalry between the two teams had hit a fever pitch in the past few days. Mackey was rumored to have filed a grievance against St. Mike’s for the Eagles allegedly losing purposely against St. Peter’s in the CHSAA Archdiocesan Class AA championship game on March 1. He said he never did that and he also denies that his team participated in an illegal scrimmage with Adelphi University last week.
St. Mike’s athletic director Jennifer Maxon did write a letter of complaint to the Archdiocese regarding that matter. The league told her Thursday that unless further evidence surfaced, Christ the King would receive no punishment.
“I don’t have the time and energy to do that,” Mackey said Thursday of trading verbal bards with St. Mike’s. “I just want to coach my team. … I’m an educator, I’m a teacher, I’m a dean. I don’t have time for this. … I think it sets a bad example for the players. It really does.”
While Smith, one of the top sophomores in the country, was down Friday night, there was plenty of reason to hope. Christ the King’s starting lineup included one senior, one junior and three sophomores. Especially with the way Scanlon and Oden played against St. Mike’s, the future is certainly bright.
“We’re just gonna come back with a vengeance,” Smith said.