At the beginning of the week, before the CHSAA Class AA State tournament, Nazareth girls basketball coach Ron Kelley tried to help his team refocus by showing them a clip of their former coach Apache Paschall, who died in January of heart failure.
"We showed them to let them know he's still here, he's still watching us and loving them and no matter what, he's proud of them," Kelley said.
Saturday night, Nazareth certainly did their former coach proud. The girls repeated as CHSAA Class AA State champions as they defeated Moore Catholic, 68-46, in front of a packed crowd at Christ the King in Middle Village. The Lady Kingsmen (18-3) now will try to defend their State Federation championship in two weeks in Albany.
"(Paschall) brought us all together and we all came together to play basketball and he made us love it so much more, he made us really appreciate each other more than anything and want to fight for each other because we love each other," said sophomore guard Sadie Edwards, who led her team with 21 points. "We know that he's looking down on us somewhere and he's going to be proud of us. I think winning this game and winning this season for him, it's everything he could want and we want too."
Paschall, a controversial bu very successful coach who led the girls to the CHSAA State title last year, died on Jan. 3. The girls were devastated to lose him, as many of them had played AAU ball for him had followed him to Nazareth after St. Michael Academy closed in 2010.
His death even led to controversy in the league as two teams canceled games on it following his death, and then Nazareth requested those teams be hit with forfeits. All Nazareth wanted to do at the time was play to honor its coach, and since then, the team has been focused purely on winning the titles Paschall had wanted so dearly for them.
Saturday, Nazareth played the style of basketball that had become synonymous with Paschall-coached teams. A relenting pressure defense continually forced Moore Catholic into turnovers and kept the Mavericks (22-6) from finding a rhythm. The Lady Kingsmen also took away Moore's best offensive weapon, 3-point shooting, forcing tough shots.
The turnovers caused by their tenacious defense created a stream of fastbreak points, another staple of a Paschall team. His team excelled in transition, running up and down the court and scoring easily. Nazareth used two big runs, an 11-2 spurt to end the first half and a 20-0 surge spanning the third and fourth quarters, to pull away.
"I'm thinking about Apache right now and I love him to death," Kelley said. "I love him for bringing me into this. I love him for putting me on this stage with these talented young ladies. When we win games like this and we win championships, I always think about him first, man. It's great to do it and I wish he was here."
Nazareth also played this game knowing that it will likely be the final season for the school. The school announced earlier this year that it is closing at the end of the year, although it is still trying to round up enough support to stay open. Earlier on Saturday, the boys basketball team won the CHSAA Class B State title.
"It's good because we're trying to finish off something good for Nazareth," sophomore guard Bianca Cuevas said about the two titles.
When Kelley showed that video to his team before the week, he said some of the girls cried and others were choked up. Seeing their coach profess the love had an affect on them, ultimately culminating in Saturday's title win.
"We had to get refocused from last week (losing to Christ the King) and I think that's one of the things we did that helped us get refocused," Kelley said. "Hearing his voice, hearing that calm, relaxing voice that Apache had. Them understanding the reason why they're here and what they had to do."