By Joseph Staszewski
Christ the King took the first step to finding its new identity without Rawle Alkins.
The Royals’ players struggled to fill their new roles in the first half of a season-opening loss to Iona Prep. But the three-time defending CHSAA Class AA boys’ basketball champions righted things quickly in its next game. It looked more like the team it hopes to be during an 81-67 victory over host Cardinal Hayes on Dec. 11.
CK got balanced, with four players scoring in double figures. It showed off its depth and watched junior point guard Jose Alvarado do a masterful job of spreading the ball around in the second half. It was exactly how the Royals need to play with last year’s league MVP Alkins playing his senior season at World of God (N.C.)
“[Iona] was our first game without him, so guys were unsure about taking shots or who to pass to,” senior guard Jared Rivers said. “Today everyone was focused and confident. Everyone played their regular game.”
Rivers (17 points) was the main catalyst to Christ the King grabbing control of the game. He connected on three of the Royals’ eight first-half three-pointers. The game could be the start of a breakout season for Rivers, who quietly played well behind Alvarado and Alkins a year ago.
“I tried to tell anyone who would listen that he is going to be a guy that is going to lead us in scoring,” CK coach Joe Arbitello said. “He did a lot more than score today. He played some really good defense, made some really good passes.”
Tyson Walker (10 points) came off the bench to hit two of the Royals’ nine treys for the game and Rivers made one in the closing seconds of the second quarter. It capped a 14-0 CK run that gave it a 40-31 lead at the break. The Royals shot the ball well, cut down their turnovers and limited Hayes to one shot during the run.
“It showed our grit,” Arbitello said. “We fought back and built a nine-point lead and never relinquished it.”
The spurt hit 18-2, thanks to a two-handed slam by Yashawn Bright on a Hayes defender to make it 44-34 CK with 6:14 to play in the third. Alvarado scored 10 of his 17 points in the second half and Tracy Cleckley had 16. Clive Allen paced Hayes, who plays four underclassmen, with 25 points and Baron Goodridge had 14.
Christ the King was again without Robert Morris-bound center David Cole, who was not even on the bench. Arbitello said his absence was not academic or disciplinary, but would not disclose a reason. He does expect him to return soon.
“He should be back in the middle of January,” the coach said.
The Royals, who will play on without him, saw Hayes (1-2) pull as close as 64-57 on a three-point play by Allen with 6:04 left in the game. Christ the King (1-1) quickly shut the comeback down with a 13-4 run to pick up an important bounce-back win
“It feels good,” Alvarado said. “There is more to come, but it felt good. It got our chests pumping.”