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Park’s championship victory comes in threes

On an evening of firsts, it was all about the threes for Park.

Park hit 12 three-pointers, including six in a tone-setting second quarter, as they won the school’s first Monsignor Martin Association championship with a 69-55 victory over St. Mary’s in the league’s Class B title game before about 1,000 at Canisius College’s Koessler Athletic Center.

It was the first year that the Monsignor Martin Association had a separate Class B bracket, and the victory comes in just Park’s second varsity season in the league.

“This is huge,” said Park coach Michael Battaglia. “Five years ago we were in the IAC,” referring to the Independent Athletic Conference. “It wasn’t until last year that we joined the Manhattan Cup, which is a prestigious league and the best basketball in Western New York. To be able to win it in our second year is unbelievable.”

Six-foot-6 junior Jordan Nwora, who received both the league’s Class B and playoff MVP awards after the game, led Park with 24 points, including four three-pointers.

“It’s really big for us,” said Nwora, who transferred to Park from Amherst. “Before the game I had butterflies, but getting those threes really helped.”

Park will play for the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association title at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 15 at Fordham University. Its opponent will be the downstate Class B representative, with the winner advancing to the Federation tournament, the state’s overall championships, March 27-29 in Albany.

Matching Nwora’s four three- pointers Wednesday night was junior point guard Kyle Harris, who had 14 points.

Three of Harris’ three-pointers came in the Pioneers’ pivotal second quarter, in which they outscored St. Mary’s, 23-13, to take a 39-28 halftime lead.

“That’s been our story this year,” said Battaglia. “These guys can shoot it. It’s got nothing to do with me, they’re all born shooters, and we were making them tonight.”

Park hit four threes in the final four minutes of the second, including two by Harris, one off an inbound play with about a minute to go, and one just before the halftime horn.

“I just let the game come to me,” said Harris. “I’m the point guard, so I’m supposed to pass it, but if I have a good shot, I’ll take it.”

St. Mary’s could never burrow too far into the lead in the second half, thanks in large part to Park’s threes. Back-to-back three-pointers by Hunter Anderson and Harris put Park up, 51-34, late in a third quarter that would end with the Pioneers up, 53-40.

In the fourth, Park went up 60-44 on an Anderson three, and Nwora’s three with just over two minutes to play made it 66-50.

Junior standout Takal Molson had 26 points for St. Mary’s while senior center Sean Wilson had 15.

“We played a 2-3 zone all year and we played man-to-man all game,” said Battaglia. “We pressured the ball and wanted to help on Molson, who is an outstanding player, and I don’t know if they were ready for that.”

Park’s victory also came without senior Randy Golda, who suffered a bruised foot in Sunday’s semifinal.

“He’s a big component of what we do – he hustles, he rebounds,” said Battaglia, who said he expected Golda would be back for the state Catholic final. “We had to make it up with the rest of us, and we were able to do that.”