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Friday, March 8, 2019: Stepinac (14-15) reaches CHSAA championship game

   Leading off today: Injuries put Archbishop Stepinac in a hole at the beginning of the encore to the Crusaders' 2018 Federation boys Class AA championship.

   With sophomore Adrian Griffin Jr. and junior R.J. Davis now healthy enough to contribute at their usual standards, Stepinac is now the most dangerous 14-15 high school basketball team in the country.

   Griffin (32 points), who was 11-for-14 from the field, and junior R.J. Davis combined for another 57 points Thursday in a 77-65 win over Cardinal Hayes that advanced the Crusaders to Sunday's CHSAA championship game. Stepinac led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter.

   Griffin missed five weeks with a foot injury, sitting out two regular-season losses to Hayes, and was off his game a bit for a short time after his return, but Stepinac has now won 10 of 12 games since early last month.

   "We got here but we're still not done," said Griffin, who started on last year's title team. "I was trying to come back as soon as possible. My coach kept telling me to be ready for the playoffs and just stay confident and positive."

   League MVP Joe Toussaint scored a team-high 24 points for Hayes.

   Stepinac's opponent Sunday will be Christ the King in a rematch of the 2018 final.

   Christ the King (18-10) is another team with a double-digits number in the loss column, but that's irrelevant because the return of 6-foot-11 sophomore Moussa Cisse from season-long injuries issues has made the Royals far more dangerous this month.

   Cisse makes Christ the King a threat to ride Thursday's 72-61 win over Bishop Loughlin to a championship Sunday. Cisse finished the game one block away from a triple double after scoring 22 points and pulling down 19 rebounds

   Christ the King went on an 11-0 run in the first quarter to lead by 13 through eight minutes, and the score was 32-17 at the half.

   LuHi star wins Gatorade honor: Senior guard Celeste Taylor of Long Island Lutheran has been selected Gatorade's New York player of the year in girls basketball.

   The University of Texas signee is averaging 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game against one of the most difficult schedules played by a New York school. Taylor was member of the gold medal-winning USA Basketball U17 Women's World Cup Team last summer.

   The Crusaders' Lauren "Boogie" Brozoski captured the honor in 2015 and Emily Engstler of St. Francis Prep was the recipient a year ago.

   Support for coach: Seven Sleepy Hollow players spoke in front of the district's school board on behalf of Ryan Fischer, who was fired as assistant coach one day before the team's scheduled playoff game on Feb. 16.

   The team made headlines for forfeiting the playoff game in support of Fischer, who allegedly told JV players they "should go back to modified" if they could not handle the intensity Pearl River played with in a Jan. 16 game. Parents at the meeting believe this comment led to his dismissal.


   "For the past three years, the Sleepy Hollow girls basketball team has been exposed to multiple coaches and it has been influenced by parent comments," junior Emma Briante told the board. "We are here because we feel our voices have not been heard."

   Ryan O'Rourke is the third varsity head coach in as many years for the Horsemen.

   "Each year when I think that we're gonna start to become a family and our program is gonna grow, it gets stopped because we have a new coach coming in every single year," senior Taylor Burnett said. "I just think it's really tough for us when we know in our hearts that these coaches put so much time away from their families, away from their jobs to come to practice -- every morning, every afternoon, on Saturday mornings -- to spend with us and build a program.

   "O'Rourke and Fischer are both great separately, but together it was really magic," she added.

   Judy Kelly, president of the Teachers' Association of the Tarrytowns, called Fischer's termination "abrupt and hasty"

in a statement at the meeting.

   Coach alleges ulterior motive: Thomas Jefferson coach Lawrence "Bud" Pollard says he is bewildered by his PSAL-issued suspension for the remainder of the boys basketball postseason.

   The news came down shortly before game time Wednesday and stemmed from issues over the eligibility of Thomas Porter, though Pollard insists the paperwork needed to clear the junior guard was presented to the PSAL on Tuesday morning.

   "Up until 12 p.m. the PSAL informed us that we were good and that we were playing and that Tommy was eligible because someone reported him ineligible," Pollard said. "Then about 30 minutes before our game we got an email from the PSAL saying I was suspended for the rest of the year for using an ineligible player."

   But Pollard said the letter announcing his suspension alluded to some unspecified behavior during a game last month.

   "We didn't break any rules but they found a way to try and punish me. I think it's personal with (PSAL Executive Director) Donald Douglas and the PSAL because he mentioned in the email about something I did a month ago in the game against South Shore but I don't know," Pollard said.

   Douglas and PSAL Basketball Commissioner Danny Harris declined comment.

   Good reading: How can you read the first four paragraphs of this story and not dive in the read the remainder of it?

   "Charlie and Michele Cirillo were still coming to terms with their son, Paul, being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma when the 15-year-old got out of bed the night of Feb. 11, 2017 and asked his parents a straightforward question.

   "'So, if I don't do this, I'm gonna die?' he asked, referring to his pending treatment.

   "'We said, "Yes,"' Michele recalled. 'He said, "Well then, we've gotta do this, people. So, stop your crying."

   "'We have no choice,'"

   Cirillo, a 17-year-old junior at Lakeland High, will compete in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships in Syracuse this weekend. He averaged a career-high 206 and finished fourth overall at sectionals to qualify.

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