January 7, 2008

Undefeated St. Rays Drops Holy Cross

St. Raymond High School, the city's throne, at least for now, is yours. With a convincing 79-69 home victory over Holy Cross on Sunday - as well as numerous other impressive wins in the past month -- the 13-0 Ravens have now established themselves as the team to beat in the five boroughs.

In front of a packed house at its Bronx, NY Gym, St. Ray's took Holy Cross' best shots, yet the Ravens never appeared to be on their heels, never fell behind by much, and most significantly, never let up once they built a significant lead.

Holy Cross of Flushing, NY struck first, scoring the first four points of the game, but senior point guard Blaise Ffrench blew two breakaway lay-ups that would've given the Knights early separation.

St. Ray's was quick to capitalize, going on a 10-2 run to grab a four-point lead of its own with 4:18 left in the quarter, but Holy Cross star guard Sylven Landesberg, who was held scoreless through the first four minutes, responded for the Knights. Landesberg notched six points in the final 3:32 of the period to help keep Holy Cross stay within three, 18-15, at quarter's end.

St. Raymond guard Justin Alston - who started in place of a late-arriving Darryl Bryant - nailed a three-pointer 42 seconds into the second quarter to put the Ravens up 23-18, but Holy Cross came back with a 6-0 run to retake the lead with 5:40 on the clock. St. Ray's took a three-point lead, 33-30, at the 3:04 mark, but the Ravens, committing bad fouls and uncharacteristically missing free throws, allowed Holy Cross to hang around, and the Knights eventually managed to take a 39-37 lead into the locker room.

With Holy Cross up by a point, 41-40, early in the third quarter, it looked as if the Knights would seize momentum when St. Raymond forward Delroy Daley was called for an intentional foul on Holy Cross center Ernest Freeman. Freeman, however, missed both free throws, and the Ravens took advantage, reeling off a 9-2 run -- capped by a three from guard Omari Lawrence at 4:16 -- to take a 49-43 lead.

The Knights would answer with a 6-0 run to draw even at 49-49, but St. Raymond was unshaken, responding with a 9-0 run, during which Ravens' junior forward Kevin Parrom drew a charge on Landesberg, the Virginia-bound senior's fourth foul.

St. Ray's looked ready to pull away, but Ffrench, making up for his first quarter mistakes, kept Holy Cross in the game, scoring the last four points of the third quarter and the first one of the fourth to pull the Knights within four, 58-54.

The firepower of the Ravens, however, would be too much for Holy Cross the rest of the way. Following Ffrench's five, St. Ray's put up a 7-0 run to take its lead into double digits, 65-54. The Knights, unwilling to concede, would cut the gap down to six on three separate occasions, but would get no closer. "Holy Cross is a great team," said St. Raymond head coach Oliver Antigua. "We knew we were going to be in a dogfight tonight."

In the first half, foul trouble precluded St. Ray's from being adequately aggressive in its press. After halftime, however, the Ravens' press was more effective, helping with the all-important task of keeping Landesberg in check. "In the second half, our zone trap took the ball out of Sylven's hands. He had 15 in the first half, and he had 10 in the second, but it was quiet."

Antigua went on to extol the contributions of his bench, particularly Daley, who scored multiple important baskets and finished with 17 points. "We can throw different lineups out there," said Antigua, "and it's good when other guys step up. Tonight, Darryl was off a little bit, wasn't his normal self, but then we had Delroy fill in the gap and be that third scorer for us."

A third scorer was something Holy Cross couldn't come up with. Landesberg finished with 25 and senior forward Tim Beinert contributed 21, but the next highest scorer was Ffrench, who had 11. "I just kept waiting for (senior forward) Kayvon (Roberts) and Blaise to start making some shots," said Holy Cross head coach Paul Gilvary. "We weren't as balanced as we are in a lot of our best performances."

Aside from Daley, high scorers for St. Ray's included Parrom with 17 points and Lawrence with 15.

The Ravens, while sitting on a hill of accomplishment, will get little time to relax in their role as the city's top team, hosting what promises to be an angry Rice squad next Saturday.

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