SOMERS – With games scheduled against one another on consecutive Sundays, Kennedy and Monsignor Scanlan were poised to finally break their deadlock atop the CHSAA’s ‘A’ division. The anticipation only heightened after the first meeting on Jan. 24 was postponed in the wake of the blizzard and the teams played with the expected intensity Sunday night in a tip-to-horn thriller.
“It was in our favor because we got to play home first,” Kennedy senior Kevin Buron said. “Yeah, we were excited for this game. We had to wait an extra week, but it was worth it.”
Especially for the Gaels. They secured the first half of the home-and-home, beating Scanlan 86-82 behind 28 points and 11 rebounds from Malachi de Sousa. The 6-foot-5 junior delivered the key offensive and defensive play of the night in the final 1:07 to keep Kennedy unbeaten in the league and help it retain sole possession of first place.
“It gives us one step on them and gets us closer to achieving our goal,” de Sousa said.
De Sousa and Buron led the Gaels back after they fell behind by seven points late in the third quarter. De Sousa sank a right corner 3 at the buzzer to end the third and Buron scored five quick points to open the fourth, which helped push Kennedy in front.
The contest remained tight throughout latter stages of the fourth quarter. With the score tied 80-80, de Sousa hit a pull-up jumper from the right edge of the foul line with 1:07 remaining. He then picked himself up and sprinted back to block the floater of Scanlan’s George Pena, who had matched him with a game-high 28 points.
After the block, Kennedy quickly moved the ball ahead to Jordan Wright, whose ensuing three-point play with 56.2 staked Kennedy to an 85-80 lead.
The five-point cushion was enough, even in this rematch of last year’s city championship game. The Gaels improved to 11-0 in the CHSAA, a game-and-a half in front of 9-1 Scanlan.
“I told them, if we could keep this close until the final two minutes of the game, the smartest team those two minutes is going to win,” Kennedy coach Al Morales said. “Thank God it happened that way.”
Morales said he never envisioned his Gaels in this position, not after stars Elijah Hughes and Dominick Cristiano transferred to prep schools over the summer.
“I did not expect to be 17-2,” he said. “I just hoped to be one, two or three games above .500.”
Although the games have been more competitive this season, Kennedy has continued to play at a high level. de Sousa, who has received interest from Iona, Fairfield, Monmouth, Hofstra and St. Joe’s (Pa.), has emerged as a star, highlighted by Sunday’s effort and a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Xavier earlier this season. Buron and Wright also returned after serving as role players last season, and junior Alex Benson transferred back after spending last season in Mississippi.
On Sunday, Benson scored 19 points, Henry O’Reilly had 14, Buron had 12 and Wright added 11 points and nine assists.
“It wasn’t probable, but it was possible if we all came together,” de Sousa said. “We came in before the season and said, ‘All right, this is who we have to work with.’ We’re not going to dwell on who is gone, and I think we’ve come together.”
That will have to continue on Thursday. Kennedy will travel to Scanlan at 7 p.m. for the rematch, likely with the league title on the line.
“It’s a whole new day Thursday, but I want to savor this,” Morales said.