NORTHAMPTON >> In the end the trophy was in the proper hands, the 6-foot-10 John Bol Ajak holding it high above as Church Farm celebrated another District One Class AA Championship.
“We’ve kind of established ourselves as folks who try to get here,” said Griffins coach Marc Turner, whose team has now won six district crowns in the past seven years, “and this group did not want to let down the previous teams.”
Defense, rebounding, Ajak’s towering presence and a big-time block by Naseem Bryant in the final seconds allowed the top-seeded Griffins to survive a fierce fourth-quarter comeback by second-seeded Dock and hold on tight to a 47-45 victory over the Pioneers at spacious Council Rock South High School Saturday afternoon.
“Naseem came in clutch,” said junior Abdul Ogunsanya, who was clutch himself, scoring a game-high 16 points. “I was looking at the play and I thought (Dock had an open shot), but Naseem comes in with the block and I was just waiting for time to run out, waiting to hear the horn.”
Once it sounded, Church Farm players poured onto the floor in celebration, with Ajak doing a Nestea plunge into a team pile-up.
The sophomore center’s multiple blocks down the stretch helped Church Farm stay in front for good, as did the fourth-quarter play of Ogunsanya, whose drive to the hoop with four minutes to play extended the Griffen lead to 38-32.
Faustas Kulbickas’ turnaround jumper later made it 42-38 Church Farm, but — with both teams in the penalty — one of two free throws by Dock’s Deins Bergis cut it to 42-39.
A basket by James Lawton boosted the gap to 44-39 but then hot-shooting Jackson Scialanca hit for the Pioneers, his three making it 44-42 with just two minutes to play.
Dock, down by 12 entering the fourth, had a chance to seize the title.
“There’s no quit in our kids,” Pioneers coach Mike Fergus said. “I’m so proud of their effort and how much they’ve improved this year, how far we’ve matured.”
After Ogunsanya again delivered for the Griffins, making a pair of free throws to provide a 46-42 edge with 1:07 to play, Church Farm’s Augustas Veniukevicius fouled out and was also hit with a technical foul.
Nick Schnable made one of two for Dock, Scialanca made a pair, and Dock had the ball with a chance to take the lead, down 46-45 with 52 seconds left.
However defense kicked in again for the Griffins. Ogunsanya pulled down a key defensive board and then made one of two free throws at the other end for a 47-45 Church Farm advantage.
“Coach is always telling me to be ready,” Ogunsanya said of the crucial moments. “And my teammates also give me that confidence to go out there and play well.”
In the final seconds, Dock had one last drive to the hoop and a chance to tie but Bryant swooped in and provided the game-winning block.
“(In the final minute I told the team) to just breathe, just drink and breathe,” Turner said with a smile. His squad now gets ready for a state battle with Constitution. “I said this is what you play all year for. Enjoy it.”
Early on, Church Farm was in control.
Kulbickas nailed a three in the opening moments and soon after the Griffins were out to a 6-0 lead.
The Pioneers battled back to draw even, a three by Scialanca tying things up, but Church Farm closed out the first quarter in convincing fashion.
The Griffins got Ajak established down low and also got out running, with James Lawton passing to Abdul Ogunsanya to finish off a fast break and spike the Griffen lead to 14-9 at the end of one.
Church Farm had a 9-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, with Ogunsanya finishing off another fast break then spotting up for three, helping the Griffins to a 24-15 advantage at the break.
Church Farm took a 34-22 lead after three but Dock made it a fourth quarter to remember. Scialanca had 14 points for the Pioneers, Denis Bergis scored 11 and Justin Burkholder added 10 in the contest.
“I just can’t be down after that game, after the effort that we had today,” Fergus said, after his team put together a 23-point fourth quarter. “That’s a high-scoring team over there and we just did a great job defensively. You’re not gonna play too many teams with a 6-10 center who is athletic. Whoever we play in states, we’ll be ready.”
Top Photo: Church Farm School’s John Bol Ajak holds up the District 1-@A Championship trophy after the Griffins defeated Dock Mennonite in the final on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)