For the second time in three seasons, the Riverdale Baptist School girls’ basketball team has won a national championship.
A last-second layup from senior Chania Ray gave the Crusaders a 59-58 victory over Edgewater (Fla.) in Friday’s semifinals and the girls defeated Fremont (Utah) 60-35 Saturday to win the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Girls’ Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The title capped off a dominant season for Riverdale Baptist (29-3), which won the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament title in February and ended the season on a 15-game winning streak.
“I feel like the end of the season couldn’t have gotten any better,” said Ray, an All-Gazette First Team guard.
Riverdale Baptist trailed Edgewater by as much as 19 points and was behind 58-57 with just 8.2 seconds remaining. Coming out of a timeout, Ray saw an opening to drive to the basket and capitalized, blowing by the defense for the game-winning layup.
“With her speed and her ability to push the rock, she got to the basket and the rest is history,” Riverdale Baptist coach Sam Caldwell said.
Ray, a Florida State recruit, followed up her 19-point performance in the semifinals victory with 22 points in the championship. The senior was named Most Valuable Player of the national tournament, previously known as the ESPN High School Basketball Invitational.
This wasn’t the first time that Riverdale Baptist needed late-game heroics to win a national tournament this season. In the NACA finals, trailing New Hope Christian Academy 58-56, the Crusaders came away with a last-second steal and senior Chloe Jackson hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to give her team a 59-58 victory.
“We are extremely resilient,” Caldwell said. “I think we’ve displayed a championship mentality pretty much all year.”
Riverdale Baptist has four seniors, including Ray, Jackson (North Carolina State), Khaila Prather (Miami) and Alysha Berry.
“I’ll remember [this team] as one of the best,” Caldwell said. “They have the national championship banner, which proves that they’re one of the best.”
— Eric Goldwein