The rise of the fallen is complete for Apache Paschall and his team. This time last year they were without a school when St. Michael Academy closed, only to find a new home and bring back to it a Federation title.
“A couple of months ago we were all on the phone,” Paschall said. “It was like the party line. All 15 kids and me on the phone with some parents on, frustrated, crying, cursing people out. … It was just one day, boom, we gone. The journey from there to now, you’ll never see that ever again.”
Nazareth’s 60-54 win Sunday over Murry Bergtraum at the Times Union Center in Albany gives the school its first-ever New York State Federation Class AA girls basketball crown after not even having for the last seven years. Paschall and much of his roster were also part of St. Mike’s first title in 2009.
“That was to the world, to all our haters — look what we doing,” said senior forward Taylor Ford, who stuck out her jersey to the crowd after the win. “While you are at home watching college basketball, we are winning a state championship.”
Syracuse-bound forward Tiffany Jones, who could find herself in the Big Dance next year, will enter college off the best performance of her career. The game’s MVP scored 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked five shots for Nazareth (29-3), ranked No. 7 in the country by USA Today. Ford had nine points and 13 boards and Darius Faulk added 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Cori Coleman led the Lady Blazers (23-4) with 25 points and seven rebounds and Dionne Coe added 11 points.
“I wanted to be remembered as a champ,” said Jones, who had 10 first-quarter points.
The Lady Kingsmen led just 33-27 at the half after Bianca Cuevas answered a Coe 3-pointer with a dish to Jones for a score in the final seconds. Bergtraum, which connected on seven 3-pointers, shot just 27.1 percent for the game and watched its jumpers not fall in the second half. Nazareth went on an 11-2 run over the third and fourth quarters, including a Ford 3-pointer to open the final period, to build a 55-40 lead with 7:08 left to play.
Nazareth caused matchup problems all game with three-guard and three-forward lineups against a much smaller Bergtraum team. The Lady Blazers, who were unable to string enough stops together, went on a 7-0 spurt to end the game, but fell short of another comeback.
“You try to take away their guards and their post players will beat you,” Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky said. “Their post players were stepping out and hitting jump shots.”
Nothing could take away Nazareth’s desire to win a Federation title, to do it for themselves and the school’s teachers, administrators alumni and fans who made the trip to Albany. Naz has not won a Fed title since the boys did it in 1989 with superstar Rob Phelps.
Paschall called principal Providencia Quiles “amazing” for how she took them in. They repaid her and the school with the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I regular-season and diocesan titles and a CHSAA state crown. Now they have risen to the top of New York State.
“We didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” Faulk said of St. Mike’s closing. “We just made the best of it and it got us a state title.”