By Marc Raimondi
With all five starters from last year lost to graduation and just three regulars back, expectations at Monsignor McClancy were justifiably tempered. Longtime Coach Don Kent really just had one goal.
“I told them, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “We lacked experience. I told them to get better each and every game, which they did.”
Apparently, that culminated in a significant 43-41 win over Xavier in CHSAA Class A boys; basketball Dec. 19 in Chelsea. McClancy (5-5, 1-2 ‘A’) picked up its first win in league play and handed Xavier (5-2, 2-1) its first ‘A’ loss.
“This is a great win, because they’re like at the top of our league,” senior guard Chris Ramos said. “It means very much that we can compete at the highest level and show the league what we’re made of.”
Ramos, Brian Berrios and Levon James are the only three players who saw significant time last year. McClancy doesn’t really have a star nor much size, though the Crusaders can shoot the ball well and are hard-working and scrappy. Ramos and lengthy, 6-foot-2 forward Austin John-Higgins each had 13 points and Berrios added 11 against Xavier.
“We’re the type of team, we’ve gotta go after loose balls, we’ve gotta hustle, guards have to go after rebounds,” Kent said. “We don’t have what Al McGuire would call an aircraft carrier.”
But maybe McClancy has landed, so to speak, with this victory. The Crusaders gained valuable experience last weekend at their host Brother Arnold Tournament, falling to St. Dominic (L.I.) in a tight semifinal and winning the third-place game against St. John the Baptist (L.I.).
Xavier came in off its first loss of the year, Dec. 17 to Chaminade. Before that, the Knights had reeled off five straight, including an overtime thriller against ‘AA’ foe Fordham Prep. This was their first time stumbling in league play.
“They spread us out,” Xavier Coach Joe McGrane said of McClancy. “They shot it real well. We didn’t do a great job defensively.”
Matt Crockett had 20 points for the Knights, their only player in double figures. McClancy was far more balanced and able to come back from down seven at halftime to pull out the victory. John-Higgins’ putback with 40 seconds left put his team ahead for good and the Crusaders didn’t allow the Knights to get a good shot on their final possession.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous,” said Berrios, who transferred to McClancy from Xavier after his freshman year. “But you gotta come through at the end. That’s when you need to do it the most.”
Sounds like McClancy’s season. With all the inexperience, the Crusaders are shooting for February to hit their peak. They think Monday’s performance proved that they can be right up there with the league’s elite.
“We’ll definitely develop as the season goes on,” Ramos said. “We’re gonna have a winning record this year. I promise you that.”