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Late lead escapes Cardozo to end memorable season

Cardozo's Elijah McNeely heads to the basket. Photo by Ken Maldonado
TimesLedger Newspapers

ALBANY — Benjamin Cardozo was starting to believe its dreams of upsetting Christ the King were going to become reality. The Judges led the defending state champion Royals by five points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter after a big run.

“At that point, everybody was excited,” sophomore guard Rashond Salnave said. “We had the crowd. Kids were jumping off the bench. When we got into the last timeout, coach was telling us to relax, it’s not over yet.”

Christ the King made sure it wasn’t.

The Judges let their emotions get the best of them. The Royals rallied to force an overtime before holding on for a 54-51 victory in the state Federation Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals at the Times Union Center in Albany Friday afternoon. Cardozo was unable to claim another title after winning its first PSAL city crown since 1999.

“I’m not going to take this loss like I’ve taken losses over the year,” Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio said. “This would have been a tremendous cherry on top of the sundae, but nobody is going to take away the city championship, which is really what they want.”

His team nearly had a chance to play for the state championship. Cardozo went on a torrid 12-0 run in the fourth quarter after a questionable offensive foul call on the Judges’ Elijah McNeely erased a potential three-point play early in the frame. Carl Balthazar scored all six of his points during the spurt and the Judges went up 48-43 on a McNeely layup with 2:23 left in the game.

Turnovers gave CK, which had led by as much as 10 earlier in the game, the opening it needed to rally. Rawle Alkins hit a top of the key three-pointer off a set play with 50 seconds to go in regulation to knot the score at 48-48 and help push the game into overtime. Naclerio said it was the one play he hadn’t prepared for and it shifted momentum back to CK.

Dozo grabbed a 51-48 lead briefly in the overtime before two Adonis Delarosa free throws and a jumper by Andre Walker with 17 seconds left in the game put the Royals up for good at 52-51. Salnave on the next possession drew contact on a jumper, but no foul was called.

“I thought I got hit, a couple of people thought I got hit, but we didn’t get the call,” the sophomore said.

Salnave led all scorers with 20 points, but took 22 shots to reach that number for Cardozo (30-3). McNeely had 12 points and Francisco Williams added 11. Balthazar chipped in six points and 10 rebounds for the Judges. Alkins scored 18 points and Delarosa had 13 points and six rebounds for CK (24-6).

The Judges took solace in their strong showing after hearing friendly barbs from other teams and some Royals players about how they were going to get blown out in the semifinal matchup. Cardozo went further than most people thought in a year when Abraham Lincoln was expected to win the city title.

“When we started the season, nobody thought we’d be this good,” Williams said. “I didn’t even think we’d make it here. It was just a blessing being here.”

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