NEWARK – Sanford girls basketball coach Marcus Thompson will tell anyone who’ll listen that his senior, Alison Lewis, is the best player in the state. On Friday night, Lewis did nothing to dissuade that notion, putting the Warriors on her back and carrying them to the state championship with a 58-37 win over St. Elizabeth at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.
Lewis, who will play next season at Boston University, was simply sensational in the season’s biggest game. She scored a game-high 27 points on 12-for-18 shooting, tied for the team lead in rebounds with five, dished out five assists, had all four of her team’s blocks and added seven steals. St. Elizabeth just had no answer for her.
“She came out today and decided that ‘I’m going to try to get everybody involved,’ and I think that’s why we had a little sluggish start,” Thompson said. “But then she decided, ‘I’m going to take over,’ and the other players said, 'Fine, take over. We’re going to do what we can on the defensive end,' and they did it.”
St. Elizabeth coach Frank Aiello said his team tried everything to slow Lewis down but had no answers.
“She just took over. She took control of the game, her and (sophomore Chrishyanah) Alston. We tried to mix up our defense, we tried anything we could. We just couldn’t stop her tonight,” Aiello said.
Looking only at the final score, one would never guess that the Vikings started fast and owned a 10-2 lead five minutes into the first quarter. In fact, Sanford did not score a point until 4:13 remained in the first. But the Warriors’ pressure defense began to produce results, and Sanford outscored St. Elizabeth, 25-6, to take a 27-16 halftime lead.
For the game, Sanford caused 19 St. Elizabeth turnovers and converted them into 25 points. Defense is critical to the Sanford philosophy, Thompson said.
“We always say the offense will come. If you take care of defense, everything else will take care of itself,” he said.
Lewis had 11 points in the second and was directly involved in four of the other 10 her team scored. She hit one bucket each following a turnover, defensive rebound and steal. She added assists on field goals by Alston and Taylor Sparks-Faulkner.
Sanford kept the heat on after halftime, going up by as many as 21 in the third. St. Elizabeth senior Macy Robinson, playing in her last high school game, drilled a three-point shot – the Vikings’ lone trey on 14 attempts – to make the score 43-25 heading into the final quarter.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play and they did. They’re a really good team. They got us,” Robinson said.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, the only question was how high Lewis’ point total would rise. She added six more. Her last field goal as a scholastic star was a jump shot that gave Sanford its biggest lead of the night at 56-39 midway through the fourth.
With the clock stopped with 1:23 remaining, Aiello cleared his bench. Robinson and classmate Sabrina Hackendorn left the floor first to a standing ovation from the Vikings faithful. The pair said after the game that despite the outcome Friday, their memories of St. Elizabeth are overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, we’ve done a lot of things. We’ve had highs, we’ve had lows. I love the group of girls that I’ve been with and I couldn’t ask for a better four years,” Hackendorn said.
Robinson added, “Going to St. E’s, it’s a great school. It was definitely one of the best decisions of my life, and I’m happy I did.”
Fourteen seconds after the Vikings starters left, Thompson called a timeout to get his subs into the game, and Lewis walked off the court for the final time. She called the feeling of winning a championship – the school’s fourth overall and third in the last five years but first since 2011 – “total bliss.”
“It feels great, top of the world. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire high school career,” she said. “Now, I know both ways, and this one’s definitely a better way to go.”
Alston joined Lewis in double figures with 12 points. Sanford finished the season 23-1, with the lone loss coming to St. Elizabeth in the second game of the season. Thompson said this team was perhaps the hardest-working he has had at Sanford.
“It was a great performance all the way around. I feel great for our kids and the school,” he said.
Vikings freshman Alanna Speaks recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Hackendorn scored eight in her last game, while Robinson added seven.
After the game, Aiello reflected on the task he was asked to take on this year. He replaced former coach Tom Ferrier just a few weeks before practice began in the fall after not having coached high school students for more than 15 years. He took over for a coach who was very popular with his team and guided them to a 17-6 record.
He agreed to coach the team for one season following Ferrier’s dismissal and said he was not ready emotionally or physically to skipper a high school program. The players, he said, liked the former coach, so the transition was not easy on them either. But they bought into his program quickly, making it easier for Aiello to get back into the groove.
“I thought the kids did a tremendous job of accepting me and learning from me and listening to me and our staff,” he said. “I thought it would be a little tougher on them, but they didn’t show that at all. It ended up being a great experience for me. Not only are they great basketball players, they’re great kids and great human beings. I’m really proud of them.”