Monday's stage at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals was an unfamiliar one for Bryant Crawford. Injuries and upstart opponents had kept him and his Gonzaga teammates from escaping their opening game the last two seasons, leaving the senior with an unsettling feeling as the second half of the Eagles' semifinal against O'Connell got underway.
Unlike the previous times, there was no "next year" for Crawford. So with the No. 10 Eagles clinging to a slim lead, the normally pass-first point guard elected to take control in another fashion. With an eye on the basket and a hand in the passing lanes, Crawford turned multiple turnovers into thunderous dunks during a third quarter that sparked Gonzaga to a 67-48 win at American's Bender Arena.
The Eagles advanced to face No. 1 DeMatha, which was a 57-35 winner against No. 8 St. John's in Monday's other semifinal. The time and date for the final have yet to be determined.
“I came into these playoffs real hungry,” said Crawford, who finished with 13 points. “I feel like I’m overdue for this one.”
Crawford's appetite for victory initially surfaced in his role as a distributor, and he dished out seven first-half assists to help the Eagles (19-10) keep pace in the back-and-forth action. But O'Connell was often able to respond, riding the inside-outside play of Siyao Sun and Ako Adams to an early 19-13 lead.
In an effort to disrupt the Knights’ offensive flow, Crawford began the third quarter by hedging screens and passing lanes. The result was two steals and breakaway dunks during a 13-3 run that put the Eagles in control.
"Bryant's our leader, and he wants this championship just as much as anyone else; probably more than anyone," said Eagles senior Sam Miller, who had 15 points. "He has the most heart on our team, and that's what pushed him." . . .
As D.J. Harvey and Markelle Fultz saw their chemistry build on the court and recruitment rise off the court this past summer, the DeMatha guards found that their conversations often drifted beyond the high school level.
“We’ve talked some about being a package deal and picking the same college,” Harvey, a sophomore, said with a grin. “Me and Markelle are like brothers.”
The potentially high ceiling for the duo was on display in Monday’s win against St. John’s. Behind an array of pull-up jumpers and aggressive drives to the rim, Harvey (17 points) and Fultz (13 points) combined for DeMatha’s first 17 points of the second half.
Their play proved contagious on both ends, as the Stags (27-3) outscored the Cadets 22-8 in the final quarter to turn a competitive game into a comfortable cruise back to the WCAC final.
“Our chemistry has grown a lot since the beginning of the year, and we know where and how to look for the other person,” Fultz said. “It’s fun to be out there with him.”
Paul VI, Good Counsel reach girls’ final
Paul VI entered Monday's WCAC semifinal against St. John's with an understanding that rebounding and aggressive interior play would prove to be the difference. But when top scorer and starting center Jonquanae Cole was hampered with foul trouble early, the Lady Panthers' plans were quickly jeopardized.
By game's end, in pulling out a 61-49 win at home in Fairfax, Paul VI (28-2) had turned to an unlikely source — at least at this high-stakes juncture of the season — a freshman.
Kate Klimkiewicz scored a team-high 17 points and paced the team by hitting six of her eight free throw attempts to push the defending champions back into the final against Good Counsel, which beat Elizabeth Seton, 83-63, in the other semifinal.
“Every time we needed a big basket, the freshman came up with one,” Paul VI Coach Scott Allen said. “That helped get us going defensively, and we were able to stay in front of them and keep them off the foul line and glass.”
For Good Counsel, the formula for victory was a familiar one, with WCAC player of the year Nicole Enabosi tallying 26 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. But it's what the Falcons did to set up those opportunities for the senior forward and their other contributors that helped them overcome a defensively sound Seton unit.
To combat Seton’s suffocating full-court press, the Falcons (20-8) utilized a mix of disciplined passing and up-tempo yet controlled play to jump out to a 12-point first-quarter lead that they would never relinquish in advancing to their eighth WCAC final in the last 11 years.
“We started out with great energy and were able to put them on their heels early on,” Falcons Coach Tom Splaine said. "Any time we did dribble or move the ball, we had to have lots of discipline and our girls really did that well.”