The scoring of guard Jim Pieri and the inside dominance of 6-foot-8 center Bill Ewing led Nichols to a record-setting fourth New York State Federation crown with a commanding 74-44 rout over Sacred Heart of Yonkers in the Class C final Sunday afternoon.
An estimated crowd of 1,000 at the Civic Center saw Pieri, the tournament's most valuable player, pour in 29 points and Ewing record the fourth triple-double in Federation tournament history (20 points, 12 rebounds, 13 blocked shots).
Coach Jim Kramer was happy to see Pieri, Ewing and fellow senior Randie Torgalski go out on a winning note. Torgalski joined his teammates on the all-tournament team.
"It's one of those things where hard work really does pay off," Kramer said. "I couldn't be more happy for them, especially because of all the effort they put into this season."
The Federation tournament has been a Torgalski family affair. Randie joins brothers Ron and Rick as state champions.
"Now I can hold my own at the dinner-table conversations," Randie said. "We were so close to getting here the last two years but lost the one game that would have got us here. This is sweet for me and my brothers."
Nichols (22-4) blew open a close game by outscoring the Irish, 47-19, in the second half. Not surprisingly, Pieri, Ewing and Torgalski were a big part of that surge.
Pieri, who had 17 points in the second half, was unstoppable with his quick pull-up jump shots and slashing drives to the basket.
Sacred Heart simply could not match Ewing's size as he altered shots on defense and scored easily over the smaller Irish players.
Torgalski didn't score many points (seven), but he handled the ball and made the right pass to open shooters. He had six assists and six rebounds.
"Realistically, we knew it was going to be tough to win it all," said Pieri, who scored 57 points in two games. "We had some low points, but two of our losses were to LaSalle, a state champion, and one to Traditional, which almost won one. We came out determined in this postseason. We've won 16 of our last 17, so that proves we have come together as a basketball team."
After being bottled up for most of the semifinal against Peekskill, Ewing felt relieved to finally have some room to operate.
"It's a lot different when you don't have a 230-pound guy (Peekskill center Elton Brand) banging on you all day," he said. "I was able to get good position inside and Randie and Jim kept finding me. I had a lot more fun today than I did against Peekskill."
After a slow start, Nichols began to come around behind Pieri and Ewing. The pair combined for 22 first-half points to give the Vikings a 27-25 lead.
Ewing also had six rebounds and six blocks as his presence forced Sacred Heart to shoot only 27.8 percent from the field in the first half.
"No one likes to have their shots blocked," Sacred Heart coach Tom Vernile said. "Although I told them to keep taking it to the basket, Ewing's size did have an effect on our kids."
Nichols outscored Sacred Heart, 21-8, in the third quarter to go on top, 48-33, but Kramer still had reason for concern.
The Irish overcame double-digit deficits to win their previous two games, including last week's state Catholic final over Turner/Carroll.
"We knew we had to continue to play hard because this team wasn't going to go away," Kramer said. "They outworked us in the first half and even though we built that lead in the third quarter, we couldn't let up. Against this type of team, you have to go get them. And we did."
Indeed. Pieri scored 10 points, including eight straight, as Nichols put Sacred Heart away with a 19-2 run during the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to open up a 67-35 lead.
Nichols shot a torrid 59.6 percent (31 of 52) from the field, while holding Sacred Heart to 25 percent (17 of 68). Forwards Troy Warwell and Sean Manning, the Irish's top players, combined for just 18 points on 9 of 32 shooting. Joey Loughlin led Sacred Heart with 10 points.
"The old truism that defense wins applies here. We just shut them down," Kramer said. "It was a great run for this team. There may have been some doubters along the way, but I think these kids proved that they belong with the best teams around."