YONKERS – During the one-hour, fifteen-minute-long bus ride that the Our Lady of Lourdes boys basketball team made down to Yonkers on Thursday, there were a lot of things the team had to think about.
The game plan. What to expect from their opponent, Saunders. Knowing that a trip to the Westchester County Center was a win away.
The group was focused. Even senior center James Anozie, who slept through the entire trip, mouth wide-open, agape and all.
What did he dream about?
“Winning, winning,” he said.
In a Section 1 Class A quarterfinal game filled with lead changes and last-minute drama, Anozie’s wishes came true in the end, as the Warriors survived to defeat the Blue Devils, 58-57, and secure their spot in the semifinals.
“Basketball is designed to have games like this,” coach Jim Santoro said. “I feel for Saunders, they played a great game, but it was anybody’s game down the stretch and the ball rolled our way and we were able to capitalize on it.”
With 3.9 seconds left in the game, Saunders had a chance to take the lead, inbounding the ball on its offensive end. Kevin Townes intercepted the inbounds pass, and Saunders was unable to get a shot off.
“We were a little nervous, but we knew we could get that ball,” Aiden Hildebrand said. “We wanted it more than ever.”
At the start of the game, Saunders shut Anozie out, denying him clean position and shot attempts inside. After a relatively quiet 10-point first-half performance, he began to emerge from his doldrums.
With 3:51 left in the third quarter and his team trailing, Anozie hit a putback to tie the game at 38, and then hit an inside shot a minute later to give Lourdes the lead back.
In a tight fourth quarter, he kept the pressure on the Saunders’ defense, scoring eight points in the session, including a pair of free throws to extend his team’s lead to 57-54 with 1:24 left.
The big man finished with a game-high 22 points.
“I’ve been double-teamed, triple-teamed my whole life, I’m used to it,” he said. “I wasn’t really getting the calls in the second half, I just wanted to go to the basket. I kept on pounding it.”
He got plenty of help from Hildebrand, a freshman who played with the poise of an upperclassman. He finished with 21 points.
“(James) is going to get bullied in there, but it matters how the team step up,” Hildebrand said. “Me, Kevin (Townes), Brady (Hildebrand), Joe (Meavey) and all the bench all had to step up and we came through.”
Lourdes have to make another long bus drive back down on Wednesday, when the team will take on top-seeded Byram Hills at the Westchester County Center in White Plains at 8:15 p.m.
In addition to having lost to them twice in the regular season, the Warriors also lost to Bobcats in last year’s semifinal game.
The Warriors hope for a different outcome this time. Especially for their big man.
“We know James wants it more than anything,” Aiden Hildebrand said. “He hasn’t gotten a sectional title yet, we want to do it for him.”
Adrian Szkolar is a producer for the Journal News in Westchester County. Follow him on Twitter: @Szkolar_Lohud.