NEW CANAAN — When titles are on the line, you want to lean on your seniors. When closing moments demand composure and excellence, you look to your captains.
In the final 32 seconds of the Fairchester Athletic Association championship final Thursday night, the St. Luke’s boys basketball team had senior tri-captains Gavin Greene and Chuck Clemons to turn to.
Greene and Clemons each made two free throws, securing St. Luke’s 56-52 victory over Greens Farms Academy and the 2019-20 FAA Tournament trophy for the Storm.
“I had a lot of anxiousness as I stepped to the foul line,” Greene admitted. “But we practice free throws every day in practice. I just composed myself and shot them the same way I always do. The atmosphere in our gym was crazy. But I acted like I was shooting in practice.”
And practice was made perfect as No. 1 seed St. Luke’s (21-4) captured its first FAA Tournament crown since 2016-17. The championship trophy made last year’s 88-82 double overtime loss to Hamden Hall in the FAA Tournament final a distant memory.
“It feels so great to hug this championship trophy,” Clemons said. “This was the reason behind all the hard work we put in all season long.”
St. Luke’s will chase one last goal next week at the NEPSAC Tournament. The pairings for the eight-team division bracket will be released Sunday afternoon. The Storm last won a NEPSAC title in 2016-17.
It was a 32-minute battle Thursday that featured defense as St. Luke’s and No. 2 GFA (17-8) met for the third time this season.
“We threw the kitchen sink at them. Ultimately, St. Luke’s made just a couple more plays than we did,” said second-year GFA coach Mike Jarvis II. “We executed our plan. We did a lot of different things. Even though the kids had just one day to prepare for this, their effort was great.”
St. Luke’s jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 17-8 only to have GFA close to 27-23 at halftime.
A12-4 surge put St. Luke’s ahead 41-31 with 7:32 left. The Storm led 47-37 at 7:25 and 50-44 with 4:40 left.
GFA, which was looking for its first FAA Tournament crown since 2013 and had the star of that squad Sean Obi in attendance Thursday, did not fold. Tyrone Holloway paced the Dragons with 16 points.
Subbing offensive and defensive platoons at each stoppage, a 3-pointer by Jack Seegers brought the Dragons to 52-50 with 1:23 to go.
But GFA got no closer as the free throws by Greene (14 points) and Clemons (game-high 22 points) gave St. Luke’s a four-point, two-possession cushions.
“Give credit to GFA’s defense. But we found a way. Our defense got enough stops,” said St. Luke’s third-year coach Tony Newsom. “We’ve been in close games all season so the situation wasn’t new. Our older guys kept their composure. It’s a testament that Greene and Clemons made those free throws. And (junior tri-captain) Cole Bryant (14 points) made big shots as well.”
And history was on St. Luke’s side. Thursday’s triumph was the Storm’s 18th consecutive victory over GFA dating back to February of 2014.
“The championship trophy represents our legacy for the seniors. It will always be on display as will the banner in the gym,” Clemons said. “But this trophy is always the first title trophy for coach Newsom. That’s the sweetest part for us.”