By Joe Kozinski
SOUTH BEND — The culmination of four months of practices, contests and a 13-game tournament ended with one team being crowned Inter-City Catholic League Champion.
Saint Joseph High School was the scene of the crescendo that culminated the 2015-2016 season, which was still abuzz from the third-place game that saw a double overtime thriller. That game was decided on Braden Kaniewski’s last second shot, giving Corpus Christi a 76-73 victory.
With the fans still on the edge of their seats the main event was between two highly touted squads from different divisions as the St. Martin De Porres champs, the Panthers of St. Anthony matched up against the northern most team in the league, the Kings from Christ the King School.
The Kings had been a dangerous team all season with only two blemishes on their resume, one coming in December in the same location to the Panthers.
Jitters ruled the early stanza as both teams missed on shots that traditionally fell throughout the campaign until the Kings broke the spell a minute in. The Panthers countered with a layup by Mitchell Floran that was beautifully set up by dribble penetration and a pass by Peter Royeca.
The Kings would score the next three buckets, a layup by JR Konieczny and a couple including a three from talented guard Jack Futa.
A quick timeout by the Panther Coach Nick Dalton tried to settle his squad down and they stopped the onslaught with a Tobias Patton bucket.
King Futa hit another shot before the quarter ended pushing the lead to seven along with the momentum squarely in Christ the Kings’ favor.
The Panthers got on the board early in the second quarter with baskets by dependable guard Phillip Robles and Floran, however the Kings answered twofold with a layup by John Driscoll and three piercing drives by Adam Wozniak making it a double-digit deficit going into the locker room, 21-10.
It looked as though the Kings would end it as the only points in the first three minutes of the third were scored by Futa until the Panthers caught fire. Successive makes by Patton, Royeca, Robles and Tyler Deboe started a 10-0 run that brought the maroon-and-gold-clad warriors within six to end the quarter.
The Panthers’ shots that couldn’t find the goal in the first continued to drop as Royeca knocked down one to start the fourth quarter tightening the noose a little more on the stunned Kings.
But the Kings had the answer in Futa as the guard took over on the offensive end by hitting a three-pointer and a couple of layups matching basket for basket with the surging Panthers.
Up by nine with just over a minute to play pressure and scores by the Panthers and foul shooting by the Kings would decide the fate of the championship.
It would all be decided by a six for six demonstration on how to hit clutch foul shots down the stretch by Wozniak of the Kings.
The guard, with ice water in his veins, went to the line shooting one and ones three times and owned the final pressure-packed minute and helped Christ the King hoist the championship plaque high as time expired on the upstart Panther team.
“Defense, defense, defense had to be the key against St. Anthony. Team defense is what it took to stop their well-coached ball club,” explained Kings Coach Ted Mandell. “I am so proud of what these 13 kids did this season. They hung tough, had great attitudes, played together and gelled as a team.”
“I have so enjoyed coaching this team, one of my all-time favorites. They never stop trying,” remarked Panther long-time Skipper Nick Dalton. “Our shots didn’t fall early but I thought we had our opportunities down the stretch. Congratulations should really go to Coach Mandell and his team.”
“Overall I was pretty happy with the league this year, it was very competitive and there was more than a handful of talented teams that could have won the championship,” touted league Director Ben Wiginton. “The coaches did a great job developing players and teaching Catholic values. And it looks like we have some nice young players coming back next year.”
The Colors Championship was won by St. Joseph Blue, 32-28, over Holy Family Blue behind Luke Thomas’ 13, despite the double digit efforts of Trojans Kyrell Franklin and Harry Jeffers.
The Fort Wayne CYO/ICCL Invitational Tournament for the diocese will tip off Sunday, March 6, at Marian High School in Mishawaka at 1 p.m.
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