They're young and fearless, and any boys basketball fans who haven't seen the Niagara Catholic Patriots play this season may want to do so because they're fun to watch.
They're also a championship outfit as youth was served in a big way Tuesday night.
Behind the MVP performance of freshman Jalen Bradberry, the Patriots captured their first Manhattan Cup in 56 years by defeating Cardinal O'Hara, 73-65, in the Class B final before an estimated 1,500 at the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center.
Bradberry scored nine of his a game high 27 points in the fourth quarter and also finished with 10 rebounds as a crew that starts two freshmen, two sophomores played with poise of an experienced playoff veteran against the regular-season division-champion Hawks in earning its first Cup since its days as Bishop Duffy back in 1962.
"It's really amazing," said junior Haakim Siner, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. "We're all happy. We're really enjoying this."
"I'm very proud of our effort," said Catholic coach Giulio Colangelo, who now has a Manhattan Cup to go with the two Section VI Class AA titles he guided Niagara Falls to on his resume. "It's a great feeling."
Catholic, the News' seventh-ranked small school, broke the deadlock five times in a game that was tied seven times – including the last instance in which the contest was all-square. With the score 37-all midway through the third quarter, the Patriots went into refuse to fall behind mode and closed with a 14-7 burst.
Several contributed to the run that gave Catholic the lead for good. After a free throw by Siner, Raejaun Smith followed with consecutive layups in transition. After a Siner putback, Bradberry canned a three. Jaemon Turner and Smith layups closed the blitz for the Patriots.
The sixth-ranked Hawks pulled within four on two occasions during the final eight minutes but each time they did that, Catholic came up with huge baskets to quell the momentum.
"We did a heck of a job keeping our composure and fighting when they tied the game up," Colangelo said. "We extended the lead a little bit more, and we were able to maintain."
After the teams played to a 13-13 first-quarter draw – a period that featured an authoritative put-back jam from Bradberry, Niagara Catholic sped up the game and created some cushion between it and the Hawks. A 12-6 run in which the Patriots scored their baskets via layup or dunk put O'Hara in catch-up mode. Bradberry had four of those points.
However, the Hawks did in fact tie things at 27-27 on Justin Hemphill's strong jumper in the paint. Bradberry responded by sinking a three-pointer to give Catholic the lead. Siner's layup and a free throw from Smith enabled the Patriots to go into halftime with the 33-29 lead.
Justin Hemphill led Cardinal O'Hara (14-11), which was trying to win its first Manhattan Cup since 1994, with 23 points.
Niagara Catholic (17-8) will return to action March 10 in the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship game against a downstate diocese still to be determined.
"They're fearless," Colangelo said. "They work hard. They want to win. They're competitors."