In its first year with a girls’ basketball team, New Hope Academy couldn’t live up to the prestige of its coach, roster or schedule. It had a proven winner at the helm and plenty of Division I talent but hovered around .500, an experiment still in progress.

New Hope’s second year with a girls’ basketball team ended in New York City on Saturday when its bench players streamed onto the court to meet their teammates in stunned celebration. They held their trophy high and tried on hats and shirts declaring them champions. Sophomore guard Jada Walker did an ESPN2 postgame interview with tears in her eyes.

The Tigers had beaten Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse St. John’s, 45-34, to win the Geico Nationals championship at Christ the King High. The program, just two years old, now can argue that it is the best in the nation.

“That’s the reason I came to this school,” Walker said. “It was to win. I had a feeling we would be in this position. I didn’t know when it was going to be, but I knew that were going to be number one.”

New Hope played stout defense throughout to set itself up for a late run. It took its largest lead, nine points, with 1:30 remaining.

The Tigers (40-3) quieted a skilled and experienced Cadets offense that battered opponents all season. The third quarter was New Hope’s only weakness: The Tigers allowed 20 points. They gave up just 14 in the other three quarters combined, including only two in the fourth.

“If you look at our schedule, our goal was always to hold teams under 40 points,” Coach Sam Caldwell said. “And we did that a lot of times. But more importantly, we did that today. We held a very good team to under 40 points.”

Guard Delicia Pinnick, one of four senior starters for the Tigers, led the team with 13 points. Senior guard Kylie Kornegay-Lucas, a Virginia signee, added 11, and Walker had nine.

St. John’s star Azzi Fudd, who recently became the first sophomore to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year award, struggled against New Hope’s stout defense. She led her team with 14 points but shot just 5 for 19 from the field and 0 for 6 on three-pointers.

St. John’s (37-2) looked like the team that has dominated the D.C. area in the third quarter, when it put together a 10-0 run and took a five-point lead. But New Hope hung around, went back on top with 4:30 left and surged to the win.

Saturday brought Caldwell his third national title; he won two as coach at Riverdale Baptist. He paced in front of a festive bench in the game’s closing moments, with his hands clasped calmly behind his back.

“We actually thought we were the best team in the country,” he said. “And I don’t think you can compete at a high level unless you think you’re the best team in the country. We played the schedule we played because we wanted to go out and prove it.”