Ford in driver’s seat for fourth straight division title

Long before playing its first game, the Bishop Ford boys basketball team met at the Park Slope, Brooklyn school and set three goals for the season: To remain academically eligible throughout the season, to claim the CHSAA A-South division title and to advance to the Class A intersectional semifinals.

No one has failed off and the Falcons took a giant step forward to achieving its second goal last Saturday afternoon, beating rival Monsignor McClancy, 60-48, in East Elmhurst, Queens.

Had the result gone the other way, the Crusaders would have captured the division title as a result of sweeping the regular-season series. But now Ford, which has won seven games in a row, is in the driver’s seat to win a fourth consecutive division title with two games left in the regular season.

“It puts us in a real comfortable position going into the playoffs, the ability to scout some teams and keeps us down on our side of the bracket,” Bishop Ford coach John Infortunio said when asked about the importance of winning the division title. “It puts us in a nice place.”

It didn’t come easy, though.

Both teams struggled in a first half that seemed to have more hard fouls and near flare-ups than points scored. The Falcons went into the locker room clinging to a 19-18 lead and it was there that Infortunio made wholesale changes for the second half.

“[We changed] defensive assignments, lining up certain players against box-and-one, tweaks with the press,” Infortunio said. “We really spent a long time downstairs going over some stuff.”

The Falcons (16-5, 10-2 A-South) were more aggressive on the glass and Andrew Williams, a 5-foot-4 sparkplug, joined Justyn McMichael to key a more determined defensive effort.

“When you have him and Justyn and they’re clicking defensively, that’s tough to handle if you’re a guard,” Infortunio said. “That just wears you down.”

If McClancy (11-10, 10-3) fails to win the division title, it will rue a bevy of missed opportunities Saturday. The Crusaders were 15-of-30 from the foul line and were unable to convert just about as many chances around the basket.

“We had a drought in the second and that drought stayed in the third,” said Patrick Modzelewski, who scored a game-high 15 points. “We started getting down big and everyone started putting their heads down. That’s what ultimately led to our downfall.”

While Matt Hall was frustrated by McClancy’s box-and-one defense and was limited to just four points. Melsun Haliburton had 11, Nick Jones added 10 and Chris Best had nine for Ford, which went on a 14-1 run in the third quarter to take control.

“We crashed the boards because we definitely needed to rebound,” McMichael said, when asked about the difference in the second half. “Our bigs stepped up, we finished around the basket, we were just making good plays and breaking the press easily.”

For McMichael, who scored a team-high 14 points, the victory was sweet revenge for a demoralizing 55-54 home loss on Dec. 8.

“We couldn’t wait for this game. It just feels real good,” the senior guard said. “The first time we played them, we underestimated them. But we’ve just taken off from there. This really means a lot to us.”