The basketball team that's won it before did it again, and Canisius High School earned the right to celebrate another championship season by capturing another wild Manhattan Cup Class A final.
The Crusaders are champions of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association.
They earned that status by hanging on for a 57-53 victory over regular-season co-champion St. Francis on Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of more than 2,000 at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Six different players scored for two-time defending state Catholic champion Canisius, with four hitting double figures. Jayce Johnson and Nick MacDonald each scored 13 points for the Crusaders, while Manhattan Cup Tournament MVP Colby Moultrie added 12. More important than his offense, he played tough defense against Red Raiders top scorer Bo Sireika, who burned them for 24 points in a Red Raiders win a month ago.
The title is Canisius' third in row and seventh in nine years. It also beat regular-season co-champion Bishop Timon-St. Jude during this title run to reach the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Class A semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at Villa Maria College against Chaminade.
While winning coach Kyle Husband said every championship feels great, this one felt different to Moultrie.
"Last year felt good but this feels way better," said Moultrie, a senior. "We came in underestimated. Everyone thought we were going to lose. Everyone wanted us to lose and coming out here and beating both the No. 1 seeds feels amazing."
It should considering this edition of the Crusaders, who also came out on top of a pair of two-point wins in the past two Cup finals, overcame its share of adversity in finding their game at the right time.
That includes Moultrie. He's been one of the 'X' factors for Canisius (18-9) this postseason, as he found his on-court rhythm after missing some time due to mono and an extended football season in which he helped the Crusaders win a state championship.
Moultrie scored a team-high 16 points in Saturday's semifinal win over Timon. In the play-in game triumph over St. Joe's last week, he shared the team-high in points with 12.
Moultrie's defense is what has helped Canisius succeed on the court the past two seasons. He proved that again Wednesday in helping hold Sireika to one field goal and eight points – all of which came in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't want him to touch the ball," Moultrie said. "I didn't want him to get the ball and I think I did a pretty good job at that."
"I couldn't be happier for Colby," Husband said. "He did a great job for us down the stretch and especially tonight."
Moultrie had nine points in the first half and helped Canisius (18-9) surge ahead for good late in the first quarter. He made a nice pass to Ryan Bradley for a layup that broke a 9-9 tie with 1 minute, eight seconds left in the frame. He then scored four straight points to complete a 10-0 run that turned a St. Francis lead into a 17-9 Crusaders edge.
Moultrie drained a three with 5:10 left that made it 48-34 and after Joe Jamison hit two free throws with 4:17 left to give Canisius a 14-point lead, a title seemed like all but a formality.
The Red Raiders (21-6), trying to win their first Manhattan Cup since 1978, didn't go down quietly. Roburt Welch's three-pointer sparked an 11-0 run capped with 1:33 left by two Julian Cunningham free throws as St. Francis pressured and trapped Crusaders ball handlers into mistakes.
Welch's three-point play with 27.3 seconds pulled the Red Raiders within 54-53. But MacDonald hit three free throws in the closing seconds to end the comeback, the last foul shot coming after Canisius' defense forced Sireika to miss on his game-tying three-point attempt with 10 seconds left.
Cunningham had 19 points, while Welch added 18, including 10 in the final quarter.
"These guys never gave up," Frannies coach Brian Ferris said. "They gave me everything they had all year. I'm proud of what they accomplished. I feel bad for them because I feel they deserved more."
Moutrie had fouled out as the final minutes played out. But his confidence on the bench, much like his teammates' on the court, never wavered.
"Everybody stayed calm and did what they had to do," Moultrie said. "I knew we were going to pull out the win."
— Miguel Rodriguez (@miggyrod33) March 2, 2017