The offseason was a tough one for the Archbishop Curley basketball team, with several morning workouts in the blazing Baltimore sun. Tires were flipped, hills were run and sweat was poured out.
The hard work resulted in a win in Sunday’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship game, as the Friars defeated St. John’s Catholic Prep, 64-54, at Harford Community College. It’s the Friars’ first B Conference title since the 2000-01 season.
“It was big. Those kids, I love them to death, and they played their heart out,” Curley coach Darnell Hopkins said. “I thank God that I have them. Bless those guys, there were seven seniors. So, it’s amazing, man. I watched those guys here for four years, come up, just mature and just get into a rhythm as a team. We won this as a team.”
Caleb Johnson hacked and slashed his way to the basket, making his mark with his midrange game as well. The senior guard finished with 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. He saw this day coming since early in his career.
“I’ve been ready ever since my sophomore year when I first started playing varsity and we just had one goal,” Johnson said. “This is like the first championship in 19 years. So, we made history today.”
Josh Knapp, another senior for Curley, ended his varsity career with 13 points and an MIAA title. He’s headed to Virginia Military Institute to play free safety for the football team, but he’ll fondly look back on his time as a high school basketball player.
“It’s incredible. Just knowing that this will be my last basketball game with a team like this, it’s a great feeling going out like this,” Knapp said. “I’m just really excited, I’m at a loss for words right now. It’s hard, but it’s an incredible feeling.”
The first quarter was dictated by Curley’s Dinari Boykin and Knapp. While Boykin attacked the interior with six points in the quarter, Knapp drilled a 3-pointer to kick his day off and ended the quarter with five points for a 16-11 Friars lead.
St. John’s guard Matt Contreras picked up his pace of play in the second quarter with nine points, hitting two 3-pointers. With Contreras’ offensive awakening came Johnson’s for Curley. The Friars shooting guard scored twice on the fastbreak and hit a midrange jumper for six points in the quarter to help Curley take a 35-23 lead at the half.
The Vikings cut the lead to 47-38 at the end of the third. Winston Moore Jr. and Brandon Pilgrim were the leading contributors with five and four points, respectively. Curley’s Niyon Campbell had five points of his own, hitting a 3 and adding two free throws.
Curley set out to wrap things up in final quarter, with Johnson scoring eight points and Boykin adding six. With four fouls, Moore Jr. did all that he could with six points in the fourth, but his efforts weren’t enough.
Vikings coach Stu Wilson has built up the St. John’s program with several athletes, including sophomore Masai Troutman, who finished with 11 points. Wilson likes where his young starter is headed.
“He’s a special kid. He’s going to be a really solid basketball player as he goes forward in his future,” Wilson said. “To be a sophomore and to be able to go toe-to-toe with seniors — that difference in age is stark, and all of that experience that you have. You’re talking about a kid that scored almost 500 points in his sophomore years in a variety of ways, where he’s probably a big guard.”
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Wilson made no excuses for his team’s free-throw shooting performance, as the Vikings missed several attempts in crunch time. Despite cutting the deficit to nine points entering the fourth quarter, they couldn’t dig out of the early hole.
“We were great in big arenas all year long,” Wilson said. “Everywhere that we played that had a big arena, a college atmosphere and lots of space, we always shot it well. So, I was confident coming in this big of a place that we would be able to shoot it well.
“Again, big game jitters. High school kids — this kind of thing happens sometimes. Maybe the focus or whatever, but I really wish that we could’ve hit some of those to make the game tighter. It just changes the outlook. Maybe the outlook would be a little different.”
AC (23-6, 13-2): C. Johnson 19, D. Boykin 16, J. Knapp 13, N. Carroll 8, D. Brandon 4, S. Walter 2