Grace Chris­tian boys, girls win MERCS tourney ti­tles

Jones, Allen named tour­na­ment MVPs

Maryland Independent - - Sports - By TED BLACK tblack@somd­

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,

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