By Marc Raimondi
Two of the city’s top players, Kerwin Okoro and Daniel Dingle, led St. Ray’s to a 66-58 win over Holy Cross at Fordham University for the program’s first CHSAA Class AA intersectional title since 2004.
In front of a sellout crowd, the Iowa State-bound Okoro had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks and Dingle, headed to Temple, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“This group has cemented their name in St. Raymond’s history,” Antigua said. “It’s special because of what we went through.”
It wasn’t easy when Dingle and Okoro were sophomores together on the varsity going through growing pains. All the senior stars had fled and it was up to them to keep the program afloat.
“There was a point I was definitely thinking about leaving,” Dingle said. “I was like, what’s going on? But [Antigua] said things were gonna work out. I trusted him.”
Added Okoro, “Really, that was a blessing in disguise. If that didn’t happen, maybe we wouldn’t be here right now.”
St. Raymond (21-9), which has won eight straight after a blowout loss to Cardinal Hayes, will meet the PSAL champion in the New York State Federation Class AA semifinals March 23 at the Times Union Center in Albany. But first the Ravens can bask in the glow of bringing the elite program back to the level it had reached six times previously: city champions.
“They leave with this [title] under their belts,” said junior guard Shane Rector, who had 16 points.
The 6-foot-5 Okoro, who was awarded playoff MVP, made every big basket, including a pair of free throws when Cross (24-5) creeped within 54-52 with 3:09 left. He was draped all over Holy Cross senior guard Will Davis (21 points) in the second half, limiting his effectiveness after halftime.
“The guy who’s been with me for four years had the biggest game of the season — of his career,” Antigua said.
Dingle, on other hand, struggled with his shot, but deferred nicely to his teammates, facilitating instead of scoring. Afterward he spoke a lot about sacrifice, including staying with the program during the tough times.
“Those guys who left didn’t sacrifice,” Dingle said. “I made it.”
Antigua has now won three city titles as head coach and two more as an assistant. St. Ray’s has seven now total. The other two also featured Antiguas — his oldest brother Orlando, now an assistant with John Calipari at Kentucky, was on the 1991 championship team, and his middle brother Omar won in ’93.
“So as long as you have an Antigua, you’ll win,” the 10th-year head man said with a laugh.
It didn’t hurt to have Dingle and Okoro, that’s for sure. Dingle said Okoro was complaining about his leg hurting in the postgame scrum.
“Shut up,” Dingle said he told his teammate with a laugh.
He busted out laughing when asked about Dingle tackling him to the floor.
“That’s my brother,” Okoro said. “I knew I was gonna be his first target when the buzzer sounded.”