After earning an invitation to the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament last week, Riverdale Baptist took little time to celebrate. The next two weeks will be filled with grinding practices and scrimmages ahead of the early April tournament in New York, and the Crusaders will enter the four-team field determined to bring home another championship.
“It’s an exciting time. . . to get an opportunity to play live on ESPN, it’s tremendous,” Riverdale Baptist Coach Sam Caldwell said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
While its season is not yet over, Riverdale Baptist will finish at No. 1 in the Post’s season-ending basketball rankings for the fifth time in last six seasons following a whirlwind four months that have seen the Crusaders live up to the lofty standards set by the perennial private school power in Upper Marlboro.
The Crusaders saw three players sign with Atlantic Coast Conference schools before the season began — guards Chloe Jackson (North Carolina State) and Chania Ray (Florida State) and center Khalia Prather (Miami) — and that core led Riverdale Baptist to a 27-3 record and a win in the National Association of Christian Athletes Championship game against national power New Hope (N.C.) two weeks ago. Jackson hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer for a wild 59-58 win.
Ray (20.1 points per game) and Jackson (17.1) accounted for over half of Riverdale’s scoring production this winter, and Prather, who transferred from North Point after winning a Maryland 4A title with the Eagles a year ago, gave the Crusaders a force in the middle. She averaged 10.3 points per game and made a number of key plays at the NACA tournament, where she averaged 12 rebounds and two blocks in three games.
“We’re taking it full force, because we don’t want our season to end without a win,” Prather said of playing in New York next month. “Coming from another school, to even play in the national championship, that’s just over the top for me.”
Ranked No. 10 nationally by USA Today, Riverdale Baptist traveled the country in an effort to boost its national profile, visiting Arizona and Tennessee to play out-of-state powers. But the Crusaders still took on area schools, beating DCIAA champion Bell, No. 5 Damascus, No. 6 Stonewall Jackson, No. 7 Elizabeth Seton and No. 10 Capitol Christian. Riverdale, whose lone area loss came by two points to Capitol Christian in late January, will head to New York riding an 11-game winning streak. The final will be held April 5 at Madison Square Garden.
“This was a goal ours, of course, all year,” Caldwell said. “An opportunity to play potentially in Madison Square Garden? That is crazy.”
Unbeaten Eleanor Roosevelt (26-0) capped its perfect season with a dominant performance against North Point in Saturday’s Maryland 4A title game to finish at No. 2. The Raiders end the season just ahead of third-ranked Paul VI (29-5), which won its first-ever WCAC title and seventh straight VISAA crown behind All-Met forward and Louisville recruit Ariana Freeman .