By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – New Hope Academy of Landover Hills, Maryland left no doubt: National Champions.
In perhaps the greatest field ever assembled for a girls’ basketball postseason tournament, the Tigers were on the prowl and prevailed on Saturday morning.
New Hope is a relatively new team on the national scene and in less than two years, the Tigers are atop the girls’ hoop planet.
Please, point the index finger skyward because New Hope Academy is No. 1. That’s the facts and no one can deny it.
Sticking to the basics with all players buying into a blue collar work ethic, New Hope were crowned the queens of the court after dispatching second-seeded St. John’s College (Washington, D.C), 45-34, to capture the GEICO High School Nationals championship at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
New Hope entered the annual tournament as the fourth and final seed and heads back to Prince George’s County as the National Champions. Two years ago, Sam Caldwell was coach in need of a job and New Hope wanted to build a girls’ basketball program in the DMV, which is perhaps the nation’s deepest talent pool.
Caldwell was hired at New Hope after a highly successful run at Riverdale Baptist School (Upper Marlboro, Md.), including two GEICO Nationals’ championship. Saturday morning he came the first girls’ coach in the 11-year history of the event to bag three titles.
Honestly, New Hope made a great hire.
“From the first day of workouts in August our players and coaches have made great sacrifices to reach this point. I’m not the easiest coach to play for but I haven’t done too bad over time at Riverdale Baptist and now at New Hope Academy,” Caldwell said. “We won because our school gave us tremendous support and the kids bought into our philosophy. It is so gratifying the win all those people. I’m humble because our school believed in the formula and we have succeeded.”
The Tigers concluded at 39-3 and won its third postseason tournament title. The GEICO Nationals is the only one that counts. GEICO gathered the top-4 teams in the nation with the winner getting all the booty. Yes, New Hope is the best of the best.
There is no debate, only celebrations for the Maryland private school.
New Hope clinched the National Championship by outscoring St. John’s, a team they scrimmaged back in November, during a 15-2 run in the fourth quarter. Trailing 32-30, the Tigers just poured it on and when Kylie Kornegay-Lucas scored with 4:24 left in the game, there was no turning back at 34-32.
Delicia Pinnick topped the Tigers with 13 points and Lucas-Kornegay had 11. Sophomore Jada Walker collected nine points, five rebounds and four assists and tabbed tournament Most Valuable Player.
“Since the beginning of the season we’ve bonded as sisters,” Walker said. “We did not have team chemistry in the beginning because we were a new team.”
And now they are champions.
St. John’s (36-2), which won a third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in March, scored two points in the final six minutes and the grind of two games in less than 24 hours, following a month long layoff, was evident.
Sophomore Azzi Fudd, who was named Gatorade’s national player of the year, was limited to 14 points on 5 of 19 shooting, including all six misses from three-point land. Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo and Carly Rivera added six apiece. The Cadets were a woeful 12 of 40 from the floor for 30%.
“We executed today and our team had the right mix,” Caldwell said.
New Hope forged the second tie of the second half when Delicia Pinnick sank two free throws at 5:21 and regained the lead just 32 seconds later when Kylie Kornegay-Lucas scored.
The picked up in the third quarter as the teams combined for 33 points. SJC held a 20-13 advantage as Fudd scored 10 points. SJC were up 32-30 with the dramatic fourth quarter left.
Finally the game had life. Fudd nailed four free throws and Rivera, the hard working point guard, drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing at 3:49 of the third quarter to pull the Cadets within two points at 23-21.
The second tie of the game and first since early in the second quarter occurred when Cowan sank two free throws and then Kelis Corley scored in transition and Rivera hit her second three in less than a 1 1/2 minutes.
It wasn’t a pretty opening half as the scoreline read 29 points—that’s total between two of the nation’s best teams. Friday’s semifinals were physical and the wear and tear took its toll.
New Hope led 17-12 at the break.
Fudd, who scored 27 points in the semifinals versus Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) netted two points and that wing 17-footer did not occur until 27 seconds left in the second quarter. Thshitenge-Mutombo had four points and Fudd was active on the glass with nine rebounds.
Pinnick netted five points for the Tigers, including a 3-pointer at 4:34 of the first period.
Ten points were totaled in the opening eight minutes. Suffice; it took time for the game to find a rhythm.
About the most notable storyline of the opening four minute was Fudd picked up two quick personal fouls and New Hope led 6-4. Both teams were scoreless the rest of the period.
Joining New Hope’s Walker on the all-tournament team were Fudd and Tshitenge-Mutombo of St. John’s, and Jennifer Ezeh and Kornegay-Lucas of New Hope.
“Congratulations to New Hope; they played a great game today,” SJC coach Jonathan Scribner said afterwards.