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National Christian, national power: Eagles stun New York powerhouse Christ the King

The National Christian Academy bench erupts late in the Eagles’ upset of Christ the King on Friday in Fairfax.
The National Christian Academy bench erupts late in the Eagles’ upset of Christ the King on Friday in Fairfax. (Will Newton/For The Washington Post)

Anissa Rivera waited until she saw the ball drop through the hoop before clenching both fists and taking two big stomps up the floor. Her putback had given No. 13 National Christian the lead with 30 seconds left, and the Eagles held on to stun national power Christ the King, 51-49, on Friday night at Paul VI in Fairfax. 

“I just put it right back up. I was just thinking: ‘I have to make this. I have to,’ ” Rivera said of her team’s win against a powerhouse from New York City in the opener of the Art Turner Memorial Showcase.

Then all her team had to do was play defense, and it produced one final stop — not even allowing a shot — to complete an upset of the team USA Today had No. 2 in its preseason rankings.

The Eagles (3-2) were stingy on defense all night, harassing the Royals’ prized forwards and keeping their deficit within single digits. National Christian trailed by six at the start of the fourth quarter before discovering its offense just in time.

“Coming into this, we knew we just had to play defense,” guard Promise Cunningham said. “Just play defense, and everything else will come.” 

Cunningham was hot down the stretch and got a good look at the basket with the score tied at 49 and less than a minute remaining. But her shot popped off the rim and fell to Rivera, who was standing all alone right in front of the basket. Calmly, she laid the ball in. 

The Eagles’ defense clamped down one last time on the Royals’ final trip, and Christ the King dropped its season opener.

“Defense was huge tonight,” National Christian Coach Henry Anglin said. “They really defended. They stepped up to the challenge, and that allowed us to play through some of our mistakes.”

Rivera finished with 15 points and Cunningham had 18, including two big three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The victory helped the Eagles, who play one of the area’s most ambitious schedules, end a two-game skid, with both losses coming to national powers: defending WCAC champion St. John’s and famed North Carolina squad Southeast Raleigh.

Rivera said this win shows her team that it can compete on that level.

“We just lost to two ranked teams, so a win over a nationally ranked team feels like the start of a good season,” she said.

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