For as thrilling as that victory was on Wednesday night for the Our Lady of Lourdes High School boys basketball team, the challenge now is keeping everyone grounded, coach Jim Santoro said.
Lourdes stunned top-seeded Byram Hills, 54-48, in a Section 1 Class A semifinal. Byram Hills had eliminated the Warriors in the semifinals en route to winning the title last season.
But a portion of Santoro’s speech to the Warriors on Thursday was dedicated to issuing this reminder: “That wasn’t our goal.”
Lourdes, seeking its first section championship since 2013, will face Tappan Zee on Sunday, 5 p.m. at the Westchester County Center.
SEMIFINALS: Lourdes pulls upset to advance to sectional final
TOWNES FAMILY: Siblings spark Lourdes teams
James Anozie had 27 points and 18 rebounds Wednesday, and Kevin Townes hit a go-ahead three-pointer with two minutes left as fourth-seeded Lourdes erased a fourth-quarter deficit and pulled the upset against a powerhouse that had won 17 straight games.
The players — and their fans — were gleeful afterwards, sharing congratulations and celebratory photos on social media Wednesday night. This, clearly, was the highlight of their season thus far. But, Santoro said, they must now ensure the season doesn’t end with that moment having been their apex.
“It’s a tremendous feeling beating the No. 1 team in the state (in Class A), but our goal is to win a state title,” Santoro said, reiterating what his players have said openly since November was their mission. “We have to stay focused and we can’t be satisfied with just accomplishing this.”
CHARITY: Lourdes basketball went an extra few miles for holiday help
The Warriors (17-6) certainly can’t afford that. Because although they defeated the toughest team in their bracket on paper, standing in their way now of their first section title since 2013 is Tappan Zee … the second seed. So any let-up there could easily result in a let-down.
Tappan Zee eked out a 69-67 win in its semifinal against Albertus Magnus. But the Dutchmen, like Lourdes, feature a dominant 6-foot-5 center who poses a challenge to all opponents.
Kevin Lynch is long and nimble, and able to step outside and score from the mid-range. His skills, undoubtedly, will make him difficult for the Warriors to contain.
“He’s similar to James (Anozie) in that they’re both incredibly talented and effective big men,” Santoro said. “James is a little heavier and stronger, and more under-the-basket. Lynch is more agile and runs the floor well.”
And both teams have enough of a supporting cast to make the opponent hesitate in double teaming the center. Lourdes has a slew of perimeter shooters in Townes, Brady Hilderbrand, John Arceri and Aidan Hilderbrand. Tappan Zee, Santoro said, runs a number of diverse offensive sets and passes the ball well.
That battle in the post “will be epic,” Santoro said. It also will likely be key in determining which team captures the gold ball.
The teams didn’t meet in the regular season this year, but one can foresee a matchup in which Anozie and Lynch have difficulty guarding each other. Lynch will have an edge in quickness, and being able to attack from the elbow. Anozie, with his strength, could power his way in the low post. Keeping the big men out of foul trouble will be paramount.
“It’s so critical,” Santoro said. “If James isn’t on the floor, we’re gonna struggle. The same would hold true for Tappan Zee. It’ll depend on how the officials call the game … If they let them play a little, I think it benefits James.”
As it did in the days leading up to the Byram Hills contest, Lourdes is spending its afternoons in practice, followed by comprehensive film sessions in the evening.
“We’re already back in the gym, working and keeping focused,” Santoro said. “If complacency is a problem, you probably don’t have a championship team to begin with.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4