The circumstance and the stage may have made for the most defining athletic moment in St. Augustine’s 91-year history.
It wasn’t that the Saints pulled away from San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral in overtime Saturday in Sacramento and won the State Division III championship, 59-52. That would be second.
No. 1 would be the gutty, cold-as-ice performance at the free throw line by the Saints’ Trey Kell.
After leading almost all 32 minutes St. Augustine was about to blow the championship sky high to the resourceful Fightin’ Irish, who come from a school that had been around 48 years before the Augustinian priests founded St. Augustine in 1922 at the intersection of 32nd and Nutmeg in North Park.
Surrendering a four-point lead with 26.8 seconds to play and trailing, 47-44, the Saints had a last chance when Kell attempted a three-point jumper.
3 OR OUT
Trey was fouled on his trey with 2.9 seconds remaining. The Sacred Heart blunder gave the Saints hope, but Kell would have to make three successive free throws, with everything on the line.
The 6-foot, 4-inch junior guard drained all three. Each attempt hit the bottom of the net. It was a remarkable demonstration of poise and skill.
Kell finished the game with 30 points and 11 rebounds in another superlative performance that begged the question:
Why wasn’t Kell (or teammate Brynton Lemar) chosen San Diego Section player of the year, instead of 7-foot Kameron Rooks, whose Mission Hills team took a 17-point beating in the Southern California regional final against Santa Monica?
Kell is a difference maker.
The victory gave coach Mike Haupt his first state championship in Haupt’s 17-season run (330-173 overall record) with the Saints (29-4), erasing some of the disappointment of a 67-56 loss to Santa Cruz in the D-III championship in 2005.
Haupt told Terry Monahan of UT-San Diego that “I was losing my mind in the final minutes. I could feel it slipping away.”
As he did in the Saints’ 11-point, fourth-quarter comeback against West Hills Chaminade in the Southern regional the week before, Haupt kept his hand on the rudder and his team rode out the storm.
DEFEAT WAS ON THE HORIZON
Horizon’s finish with Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame in D-V was just as frantic as the Saints’.
Sophomore Ethan Underwood launched a running jumper from beyond the NBA three-point line as time expired and Horizon, No. 1 seed from the South, pulled out a 47-46 victory over the top seed from the North.
Coach Tyrone Hopkins’ Panthers closed with a rush, winning their last nine games to finish with a 21-11 record and their fourth state championship.
Horizon won D-IV titles in 2002, ’04, and ’06.