Nichols figured to take some lumps this season after losing three of the area’s top talents to graduation, and the Vikings did absorb their share of beatings.
That seems so long ago, especially since they’re now the ones dishing out the punishment.
How long will this ride last? At least one more game, and regardless of what happens from here Nichols’ losing season will always be remembered as a championship one.
And what an unlikely shining moment this is for the Vikings (10-17).
Nichols completed its run to the Manhattan Cup Class B title by dispatching Niagara Catholic, 59-44, Sunday afternoon before an estimated 800 fans at Villa Maria College.
In a showdown between teams that made Cinderella runs to the final, the glass slipper fit perfectly without question on the Vikings, who after managing just one league win during the regular season posted a 3-0 mark in the Manhattan Cup playoffs.
“We knew it was going to be a tough year after losing three of the best high school basketball players in Western New York last year and it was a tough year,” Nichols coach John Reinholz said. “But this young team stayed the course. They didn’t complain about some of the tough losses or the tough practices. They just seemed to get stronger as the weeks and days led up to the playoffs.”
The Vikings must wait until next weekend to find out who they will face in the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association Class B championship game. Should Canisius win its state Catholic Class A semifinal Saturday on Long Island, the Monsignor Martin would host both Catholic finals in two weeks.
Nichols may have a losing record but it is battle-tested as it faced nine opponents who made it to at least the semifinals of their respective postseason tournaments.
It came together over the last week as they stunned top seed and regular-season Class B champion Archbishop Walsh in the semifinals days after they defeated Cardinal O’Hara in the play-in game.
Nichols wasted little time seizing control of Sunday’s championship clash as it forced turnovers and scored in transition and sprinkled in some well-timed three-pointers.
After taking a 3-0 lead, the Patriots fell behind for good on a pair of Edward Roach free throws just 2 minutes, 13 seconds into the first quarter and never caught up. The foul shots were part of an 11-0 run in which Marcellus Cooper (21 points) and tournament MVP William Johnson (16 points) delivered the daggers in succession. Cooper threw down a breakaway dunk after a steal, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass, fed Johnson in the right corner for a three-pointer that forced Catholic to take a timeout.
It made no difference as Nichols led 18-8 after one quarter and increased the advantage to 33-17 by halftime.
“We fell behind early,” said Niagara Catholic coach Giulio Colangelo. “We tried to get back into it, and every time we cut into the lead they extended it.
Nichols dropped back to Class B after playing in Class A last season and losing a two-point decision to Canisius in the Manhattan Cup final. Sunday’s win means Nichols has won a Manhattan Cup championship twice in the last three seasons.
“They believed in each other,” Reinholz said. “They believed in what Nichols does as a program. … Our whole goal was let’s focus toward the playoffs. Our captains were like (the losing) doesn’t mean anything as long as we’re getting better.”
They did and the Vikings have the Cup to show for it.