First came the scramble, then came the charge.
That's what this Catholic boys basketball semifinal came down to Sunday -- not Vinny Abbondola's hot hand (though that certainly did help St. John the Baptist), and not St. Mary's stubborn refusal to give in after trailing by as many as 18 in the second quarter.
The scramble -- three wild attempts by Travis Whitfield and Christian Vital to corral possession under a clogged basket and make what would have been the game-winning layup for St. Mary's . . .
. . . and the charge -- Charles Joyner Jr., standing perfectly still near the baseline and getting fouled with 0.2 seconds to go. He made both ends of a one-and-one for No. 7 St. John the Baptist, which shocked defending champion St. Mary's, 56-53, at LIU Post.
"The bottom line is that the kids finally bought into the system," said coach Andre Edwards, whose team went from winning one league game all season to knocking off second-seeded Holy Trinity and No. 3 St. Mary's (14-12). "I told them, basketball has two seasons -- a regular season and a postseason, and in the postseason, we're a hot team."
One that plays tight defense and, thanks to Abbondola, makes it rain from the three-point line. The junior had four of his six threes in a 25-10 first quarter. "I was just knocking them down," Abbondola said. "After the first quarter, they switched to a box-and-one on me and I had a harder time."
So did SJB. St. Mary's had a 13-0 third-quarter run to draw to within 38-37 and the Gaels tied it at 41 on Whitfield's alley-oop off the backboard. The Cougars (6-20) regrouped for a 48-41 lead, but the Gaels went ahead 53-52 when Omar Woods scored on Wilson Molina's quick dish with 2:42 to play. Tavon Ginyard (13 points) hit two free throws to give SJB a 54-53 lead with 1:17 to go.
Sure, it was nerve-racking, Abbondola said, "but we were 5-20. We've got nothing to lose."
To recap: The scramble, the charge, and finally, the upset almost no one saw coming.