PATERSON, NJ – The Kennedy High Lady Knights’ coaches and players have remained rather tight-lipped throughout the playoffs. But there was one goal no one had a problem expressing: we’re here to win a championship.
And that’s what they did with a 51-43 victory over Passaic County Tech on March 4, giving them the Group IV, Section 1 title.
Tech had made it to the championship game despite a mediocre 12-10 record. So JFK Head Coach Marquette Burgess told his squad not to be complacent: “Tech’s not here for nothing, so you might as well completely ignore what their record is right now.”
Even though it was a home game for the Lady Knights, Passaic Tech fans were far more prevalent, and a lot louder, throughout the gymnasium. But that was never enough to throw the Knights off their game.
The first quarter was tight, with plenty of turnovers, and ended with the score tied, 9-9. Tech looked like the better-oiled machine at this point, but four team fouls and poor shooting from the free throw line held them back from taking the game over.
In the second quarter Kennedy sophomore Erika Brown made her mark. She put forth a very gutsy performance in her first championship game - diving for loose balls and dashing to grab rebounds every chance she got. Additionally, her shooting was as precise as ever, popping off a pair of consecutive three-pointers toward the end of the half.
Just when it looked like Kennedy was about to pull away, Tech caused a late turnover and miraculously scored a lay up as time expired.
With a 21-16 score at halftime in favor of the Knights, this championship game was still certainly up for grabs.
At the half, Passaic Tech Head Coach Rodney Williams said that “there was no strategy” for his team in the second half. He told his team to simply “have fun and play the game. Savor the great experience; just to get here is an accomplishment.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that was the only thing they would get to savor on this occasion. The second half saw both teams get even more physical, with players from both sides leveling their opponents with hard fouls. Additionally, Kennedy’s forwards Kylla Champagne and Morgan Taylor really turned it on in the second half. Champagne had the game high 16 points, alongside 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Morgan Taylor was no less effective, with 14 points, five rebounds, and nine assists.
However, it wasn’t all good news for the Knights. They made enough miscues on rebounds and loose balls, and gave ball away on traveling calls, allowing PCT to get within striking distance, 34-31 at the end of the third.
In the fourth quarter, Tech closed to within one point several times. But Kennedy’s Tiara Marshall hit a clutch three pointer to swing the momentum to her team.
Just as Erica Brown was about to give the Knight’s some breathing room with a patented drive to the basket, she got drilled to the floor on a very hard foul. Despite being in obvious pain for the rest of the game, Brown continued to play hard for the rest of the game. Alisha Brown then sank a lay-up with 1:28 remaining and Kylla Champagne nailed a free throw with just 13 seconds remaining, giving Kennedy its final margin of victory, 51-43.
When Erika Brown was asked about what she though coming into the game, she simply replied that “I knew it would be close.” She also added though, “that I knew it would be physical” when asked about some of the hard fouls in the game. “PCT are intense rivals of ours…I know officially our biggest rival is supposed to be Eastside, but PCT is definitely a tough rival.”
Brown again kept it brief when asked about what it took to bounce back from the injury she sustained late in the game: “This is a championship game. I knew I had to suck it up for the team.”
And there was no question that Brown did just that. Despite not being the leading scorer for the first time in the playoffs, she played a key role with 11 points and seven rebounds on the evening. After the big win, Kennedy holds a very impressive 23-5 record for the season. The Knight’s next game will be against Edison, the Section 2, Group 4 champions on Thursday. The Eagles defeated Bayonne 68-53 in their championship game.