By Jack Herron / Special to Scrimmageplay.com
St. Anne’s-Belfield’s boys basketball team was trying to do something they’ve never done in the history of the program on Saturday — win a VISAA D-1 State Championship.
STAB faced off against a Paul VI team that is considered to be one of the top teams in the country, ranked No. 5 in the most recent ESPN Poll. However, they knew that the Panthers were beatable, as the Saints beat PVI in the summer at the DMV Live Period at DeMatha.
While most teams play cautious against a PVI team that features seven players that are nationally ranked in different recruiting services, STAB’s Damin Altizer wasn’t going to change his run-and-gun strategy and was in attack mode early.
The Saints jumped out to a quick lead that was matched by the Panthers, as they were tied 10-10 at the end of the first.
However, STAB’s usual high flying and hot shooting wasn’t going down early. They struggled from the field early, missing open shots from deep and struggling to convert at the rim against the much bigger Paul VI front court.
PVI started to flex their muscles in the second quarter, but a couple of timely shots midway through the quarter by sophomore Austin Williford kept the game close. Then the Panthers started to turn up, as the shooting woes continued for the Saints and you won’t be able to hang in a game with a team this good if you don’t make shots.
The back-to-back state champions started to get it going, going through their star senior Deshawn Harris-Smith, as the WCAC Player of the Year used his strength and athleticism to get to the rim and get fouled, despite great defense from the Saints. He was a load to handle all game, as the Maryland commit really got it going and his teammates fed off of his play.
Through a flurry of a run late in the second quarter, PVI headed into the locker room leading 28-18 after a three-pointer by junior Duke commit Darren Harris.
It looked like it was going to be a blowout, as PVI came out in the second half with the same momentum they went into the half with, ballooning the lead to 18 points. But if there’s one thing you know about this STAB team if you’ve seen them play, they’re capable of making a run at any time.
While it was a quiet night for sophomore guard Chance Mallory so far, he got fouled on a three-point attempt early in the fourth quarter and he made all three free throws. Seeing the ball go through the hoop must have helped him, as he came out and knocked down two straight three-pointers to cut the deficit to 12, and STAB looked like they had new life.
Senior point guard John St. Germain came alive too, slicing through the lane for a couple of tough finishes at the rim. Senior big man and Vanderbilit commit Carter Lang must have fed off the energy too, with a couple of big time buckets as well.
However, every time the Saints were able to cut it to single digits, PVI had an answer, led by Harris-Smith who just stayed in attack mode and kept making plays. The Maryland commit finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
While the comeback effort from the Saints was valiant, they were never able to cut it to less than eight and the Panthers went on to win their third straight state championship.
The season may not have ended the way STAB had planned, but there’s no doubt that Altizer is building something special. He’ll graduate five seniors that were instrumental in building the program, but he returns two sophomores that were in the starting lineup and another that was a key bench piece, as well as two freshmen who played key roles as well.