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Saints slip, then grip state title

03/22/2013, 9:39pm PDT
By Terry Monahan

St. Augustine's Kell provides spark with 30 points, 11 rebounds, crucial free throws.

Saints players are in a mood to celebrate as the school's basketball team is about to win its first state championship.

They have waited in North Park ever since St. Augustine High was opened in 1922 to get one.

Finally, after 91 years, the long wait is over.

For the first time, St. Augustine has claimed a state championship in basketball, but it was hardly an easy task.

For a few moments, the historic achievement appeared to slip into the hands of San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral before junior Trey Kell rallied the top-seeded Saints for a 59-52 victory Friday afternoon at Sleep Train Arena.

It was the 14th consecutive victory for the Purple Gang, who dropped a 67-56 decision to Santa Cruz in their first state title appearance back in 2005.

“This thing is going on my dashboard,” Saints coach Mike Haupt said, holding the State Division III championship trophy. “Winning this means everything to us. It’s a big deal.

“This is what I like about this school. It’s more than athletics. It’s a family.

“Win or lose, this is an unbelievable community.”

One that now can claim to be a state champion, one year after the Saints won a Southern California title in boys soccer.

“I was losing my mind in the final minutes,” Haupt said. “I could feel it slipping away.

“We had controlled the whole game — ‘When one guy scores half your points, it’s special,’ Haupt said — and to have it slip away at that point would have hurt bad.”

Thanks to Kell, who had 30 points and 11 rebounds, the Saints (29-4) got a second chance after having a 10-point lead in the first half and still leading 44-40 with 26.8 seconds left following Kell’s two free throws.

Liam O’Reilly’s jumper put the Fightin’ Irish (21-12) ahead 45-44 and David Parsons added two free throws with 10.2 seconds to play.

Kell responded again. He was fouled by O’Reilly, at 6-foot-5 the only Sacred Heart Cathedral player taller than 6-2, taking a 3-point shot with 2.9 seconds to play.

Kell calmly hit all three free throws to send the game into overtime.

“I was a little nervous there,” Kell admitted. “I had missed some free throws earlier and I had to let that go.

“All I was thinking was I have to make the next one because my teammates are depending on me.”

In overtime, Drew Madsen gave Saints a 49-47 lead with a layup and Kell added a 3-pointer for a five-point advantage with 3:00 to play.

Khalil James’ bucket and a 3-pointer by Herman Pratt, who led his team with 17 points, all after halftime, for Sacred Heart Cathedral tied the game 52-52 with 2:04 left in the four-minute OT session.

Sacred Heart Cathedral did not score again.

“Typical Cathedral, we have spurts where we can’t score,” Fightin’ Irish coach Gary Cannon said. “You think you have one for a brief moment and it gets away.

“We made plays that were uncharacteristic of us. We broke down against a really good team.”

Kell’s two free throws with 1:39 left in OT were followed by two by Brynton Lemar, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. Kell added another free throw with 29.3 seconds left and Lemar hit two more with just 6.4 seconds to go.

The celebration was in full swing by the time the second charity hit the twine.

“We knew they would make one last run and we had to keep our composure,” said UC Davis-bound Lemar, a senior. “We controlled the whole game until the final two minutes of regulation.

“Standing there, I knew Trey would make those free throws.”

Because 91 years is a long time to wait for anything.

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