District girls basketball: King's Academy fends off Cardinal Newman upset bid
WEST PALM BEACH — King’s Academy girls basketball held off Cardinal Newman 61-58 Friday night to repeat as district champions, adding yet another banner to the program’s collection.
This one, though, had a different feel. Unlike uncharted waters of years past, this iteration of the Lions' (20-4) squad has been there, done that — and the hunger for more was plain to see.
Jade Jones led King’s with 18 points, while Janessa Williams tallied 15.
Jordan Race had 14 points on the offensive side of the ball and helped ice the game with an important steal on Newman’s final possession.
The Crusaders (17-10) built off their momentum in the program’s semifinal win over Benjamin, giving King’s all they could handle in a contest that went down to the wire.
Julia Vazquez led Newman with 17 points, directing much of the offense.
While King’s left the building with a first-place trophy, both teams will get a shot at regionals — and if Friday’s contest proves anything, no opponents will be lucky drawing either matchup.
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Here are three takeaways from Friday night.
Collective effort, defense help King’s repeat
With three players scoring over a dozen points, King’s got offensive contributions across the board.
While Jones’ shot was working all night, Williams helped set a physical tone with her drives to the paint in the first half.
“She is the ultimate competitor,” King’s Academy head coach Chris Race said. “She gives every ounce of everything, every single possession.”
In fact, Williams recently committed to Long Island University, and Race relayed part of that exchange with their coach.
“He called me, ‘what does she bring to the table?’ and I was like, ‘what are you looking for?’” Race said. “And he was like, ‘I need toughness, I need someone that’s going to get loose balls, that’s going to be physical and fight every possession,’ and I’m like ‘she’s your person. I don’t know who you’re looking at but that’s the girl you need right there.'”
The same effort was true on the other side of the ball, as Jordan Race acted as a constant thorn in Newman’s side, notching several deflections as the Crusaders tried to ramp up their comeback attempt.
That was our main focus point the whole season, defense was our main focus,” Jordan Race said. “That’s how we win games. That’s what we bring momentum from.”
Race — the coach — echoed her daughter’s comments.
“I felt like, collectively as a team, the defense — all of them — were getting deflections, and we were actually able to get a few breakaways to get a little bit of space because it was right there, two, three, four points most of that second half.”
It was the little things, the details that sometimes get lost on the stat sheet, that made the difference on Friday night.
Crusaders impress in tight loss, enter regionals playing hot
After besting second-seeded Benjamin in the semifinals, the Crusaders clearly came ready to play.
The underdogs took the Lions to the brink in Friday’s contest, remaining in striking distance the entire contest in addition to forcing a tie on two occasions.
“We might’ve lost by three, but at the end of the day, I thought they played a great game,” Cardinal Newman head coach Tytionia Adderly said. “They actually impressed me tonight. If they play like this the rest of regionals, hey, I think we’ve got a shot at states this year.”
If Newman is reaching its potential, it’s been a journey getting there.
Down the road, Adderly says team chemistry improved, something that was reflected in the squad’s results as the second half of the season wore on.
Prior to Friday’s loss in the title game, Newman had won its prior four contests, averaging 54 points scored while giving up just 38, on average.
“This season has been a little bumpy, but toward the end, the girls started picking it up,” Adderly said. “They knew they had a mission to accomplish. They might not have accomplished it tonight, but look, we’ve got three more games to get to states.”
Lions hungry for more after last year’s exit
King’s Academy defeated the Crusaders, but the trophy presentation was less screaming cheers, and more business as usual for the Lions.
They’ve been there, done that, certainly, but Rice suggested that the subtle celebration was a result of players not feeling that they’d performed to their potential in the title game.
A similar feeling to — and perhaps a reminder of — last year’s defeat at Lakeland.
“As bad as that felt for us to go through, we have to win those types of games, and we’re going to have to win more games like that at some point,” Race said.
Williams lamented her subpar free-throw shooting on Friday night.
“I couldn’t make a free throw to save my life tonight,” she said. “But I’m definitely happy we came out with the win.”
Several other players, too, appeared to be more calm than anything else as they went about their postgame routine.
“For a coach, the good thing is that they’re disappointed in how they played,” Race said. “I haven’t said anything about anything other than ‘hey, good win.’ When we lost last year in Lakeland, we all felt like we could have had a better showing, and they’re working for that goal.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: King's Academy girls basketball fends off Cardinal Newman upset bid