Navy falls in Patriot final

Holy Cross completes turnaround, ousts Mids in OT, 68-64 Holy Cross wears out Navy, captures Patriot title in OT

March 10, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

WORCESTER, Mass. -- While heavy snowfall pelted the area for the second time this week, Navy and Holy Cross moved inside the Hart Center yesterday to play a barn burner of a Patriot League championship game.

And for the third time this season, the Crusaders' size, bulk and resilience were a tad too much for the Midshipmen, who dropped a 68-64 overtime decision before 3,148 spectators and a national television audience.

"It's been a long, long journey," said Holy Cross senior Juan Pegues, a native of Aberdeen, who prepped at St. Mary's. "Up and down and going through really difficult times. This game played out the only way it could have for us, being down and coming back again and again."

The Crusaders (22-7) thus completed the largest turnaround in school history, improving from a 10-18 record during an injury-decimated season to gain their first NCAA tournament berth since 1993.

"They did a fine job of continuing to hang tough," said Navy coach Don DeVoe. "We had numerous opportunities, but we just didn't polish them off. They were just a little bit better at being disciplined than we were in the end."

Navy, which finished with a 19-12 record, eventually succumbed to foul trouble, some poor shot selection, the unusually effective free-throw shooting of Holy Cross' 7-foot-1, 275-pound Josh Sankes, and two big three-pointers by the Crusaders' underrated point guard, Ryan Serravalle.

"We sort of saw the game slipping away," said Navy's All-Patriot forward, Chris Williams, who topped all scorers with 25 points and had one spurt at the beginning of the second half in which he was unstoppable. `They kept going inside, and we couldn't stop them after Mike [Cunningham] went out. Slowly and surely, they kept doing what worked."

Cunningham, the 6-11, 250-pound senior, neutralized Sankes for the majority of the game but picked up his third and fourth personals within a 13-second span midway through the second half. With him watching helplessly, Holy Cross simply threw the ball over the top to Sankes, who packed 10 of his 15 points into a Crusaders counter-attack that overcame what was once an 11-point Navy edge.

Holy Cross gained the lead at 57-55 on a Serravalle drive, but Navy captain Robert Reeder answered with a turnaround jumper with 17 seconds to play in regulation to force overtime.

Despite two free throws by Sankes and a three-pointer by Serravlle, Navy nursed a 63-62 lead following a Chris Williams run of six straight points and a steal and layup by John Williams. But the Midshipmen were practically through on offense.

Then, Seravalle (17 points) somehow got a three-point try from the corner to roll home, and the Midshipmen never regained the lead.

"I just willed it to go in," he said. "I got a lucky bounce and some angels guided it into the basket."

Sankes, who has been playing with an ailing Achilles' for two months, was named the most valuable player after scoring 15 points and amassing 17 rebounds, the most ever by a Holy Cross player in the tourney. He played 40 minutes, almost twice as long as coach Ralph Willard planned to use him.

"I felt like I was going to pass out, I was so tired," said Sankes. "But I told the coach I felt fine. I wanted to be out there."

Senior Jared Curry carried the Crusaders' offense most of the way with Patriot Player of the Year Tim Szatko (0-for-7, two points) under wraps by John Williams and helpers all evening.

After a convincing victory in the women's final by Holy Cross here Thursday night, the Crusaders' win marks the first time in league history the same school is sending both the women and men to the NCAAs.

The Midshipmen -- up 10 points at the time -- lost what could have been a 13-point lead when a John Williams' three-pointer was nullified. Official Joseph Pescitelli had whistled play dead at the other end of the court because Crusaders guard Brian Wilson was on the floor, injured.

"There never should have been a whistle," said DeVoe. "It was the wrong call, and it took three points off the board. But that wasn't the ball game, just a momentum killer for us."

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