Grace Christian boys, girls win MERCS tourney titles
Jones, Allen named tournament MVPs
GLEN BURNIE — Although neither team was expected to advance to their respective title game of their last tournament of the season, the Grace Christian Academy boys and girls basketball teams captured the championship games of the Mid-Eastern Regional Christian Schools tournament at Granite Baptist School on Sat- urday evening.
Grace boys (17-13 overall) sprinted to a 12-2 lead before the end of the first quarter against Veritas Christian Academy (N.J.) en route to a 62-46 victory over the Lions, while the Knights girls (12-11) also gained command early against Cumberland Christian School (N.J.) and pulled away late for a 51-44 triumph.
As expected, GCA players were well-represented on the respective all-tournament teams with Knights senior Josh Jones being named the Most Valuable Player of the boys tournament, while GCA junior Anastasia Allen was selected as the MVP of the girls tour- nament. For Jones and Allen it marked a fitting end of the sea- son, although a different point in their careers.
Jones, who plans to play col- lege next season and continue his biblical studies, appeared emotionally and physically drained after the Knights captured the boys title in a game that was never close. Allen, however, still has one year remaining for the Knights girls team which returns all nine players on the roster and won the Mid-Eastern crown for their absent coach, Keith O’Kel- ly, who was injured in a car acci- dent on Thursday.
“He’s doing fine,” said GCA girls assistant coach Russell Al- len, father of the tournament’s MVP. “He texted me after the game to say he was doing OK and was proud of the girls. I thought the girls really played good team defense tonight. They had to focus on [Cumber- land junior Shannon Connolly] and we made her work for every point and she eventually got tired. But we have every- one back next year, while a lot of teams graduate a lot of good players.”
It did not take long for Allen and his players to realize that in order to upend Cumberland Christian they would have to hinder Connolly. Although she was not selected as the tour- nament’s MVP, Connolly was clearly the most talented player on the floor at all times and she led the Crusaders with 27 points in a losing cause to become only the third player in the program’s history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau.
“She was a bulldozer,” GCA junior guard Karleigh Cohen said of Connolly. “We had to do whatever we could to deny her. I thought we played really well together as a team. Ev- eryone made plays. It was a team effort.”
While Connolly accounted for over two-thirds of her team’s production on Saturday, Grace got balanced scoring as Allen (17 points), Cohen (14 points) and freshman Katelynn Per- rotta (14 points) — all of whom were named to the all-tourna- ment team — combined for 45 points. Allen was a primary threat inside, while Cohen and Perrotta both his pivotal shortrange jumpers.
Connolly had scored seven points late in the third quarter to bring the Crusaders within 32-30, the first time since the opening minute of the game in which they had been within a bucket. But Allen opened the fourth with a pair of layups and after Perrotta hit one jumper, Cohen followed with two more. Another Connolly layup brought the Crusaders within 45-40, then a 6-0 run on two layups from Perrotta and another from Allen gave the Knights their last double-digit lead of the game.
Grace, the fifth seed in the tournament, defeated fourth-seeded Parsippany Christian (N.J.) 44-36 on Thursday, then followed up with a 35-30 win over top-seeded Veritas to reach the final against third-seeded Cumberland.
While the Grace girls constantly fought off the attacks from Connolly, the Knights boys wasted little time gaining the upper hand on Veritas,