- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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NEW YORK -- Chavaughn Lewis never doubted his decision to play basketball for St. Mary's.
Sure, he could've been enjoying success at his hometown schools of Christ the King or Holy Cross, instead of enduring a losing record at St. Mary's on Long Island early in his career. But there was no fun in that. Teams like that are stacked. He wanted to build a team. Make a name for himself.
And he kept faith that his team on Long Island would turn it around.
"When I first came here, even in the beginning, we had a little slump, we knew what we were going to have senior year," Lewis said. "So I stuck with St. Mary's and we came out victorious."
Victorious came in the form of a NY State CHSAA Class A Championship as the Gaels defeated Mount St. Michael 78-70 in overtime in the Saturday afternoon at Fordham. Lewis' game-high 30 points powered the Gaels to 28-0 as they advanced to the NYS Federation Basketball Tournament of Champions Class "A" semifinals against the Public Schools Athletic League champion March 25 at 8:30 p.m.
"As a senior, I just want to give it my all," Lewis said. "I didn't want this to be my last game, so I just came out and tried to do what I had to do for the team and I did."
A native of Jamaica, Queens, Lewis joined the varsity team at St. Mary's his sophomore year, when the team won just eight games. Last season, he helped boost the team to 20 wins. This year, he helped the school win its first NY State CHSAA title since 2004. He's considering several low-tier schools like Marist, Central Connecticut, Norfolk State and New Hampshire.
With a great high-low game and a wingspan that allows him to be a force on the boards, Lewis' fourth quarter performance was key in allowing the Gaels to overcome a rare deficit. With roughly six minutes left, St. Mary's trailed 57-47, but the Gaels went on a 14-2 run to take a 61-59 lead on a lay-up by Lewis with 3:46 remaining. He scored 11 of his team's 18 points in the rally that eventually sent the game to overtime after Mount's Anthony Maestre missed a game-winning 3 with the score tied at 63.
"Chavaughn has been great and I'm going to go on the record and say this, and I mean this, if he's not one of the top players in New York State, I don't know who is," St. Mary's coach Bill Harkins said. "He brings it every game. He's done it all year against the great non-league schedule we've had. He gets it done, night in, night out, every single day."
In overtime, the numbers came finally caught up to Mount St. Michael (26-2) as the Mountaineers lost leading scorer Peter Aguilar (30 points) to his fifth foul with 3:17 remaining and Mount trailing 65-63. He joined fellow starters Omari Manhertz and Malik Gill on the bench, forcing Mount to try and rally with bench players.
While Mount made an admirable attempt, cutting the score to 73-70 with 47 seconds left, St. Mary's made its free throws in the final minutes and walked off the court as champions, punctuated by a dunk with two seconds left by senior Khalif Chaplin.
"We got in foul trouble late. Manhertz came out of the game and that was rough, " Mount coach Thomas Fraher said. "We had two turnovers that were key. St. Mary's had a run in them and we didn't weather it. They are a heck of a team and we're a heck of a team. For that championship game to come down to the wire, and we get a good look at the end, Maestre is shooting, I'll let him shoot that 10 more times."
Had Lewis chosen to attend Christ the King, he would be playing for a CHSAA Intersectional Class AA title tomorrow afternoon in this very arena. But Lewis wanted to play somewhere where he would be able to find playing time. A school where he would be comfortable.
Saturday, while he cut down the nets inside Rose Hill Gym, he looked as comfortable as ever.
"It feels great to win," Lewis said. "Especially as a senior, it's amazing."
Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.