Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
M.A.T’s LeSean Chatfield and Jamar Easterling in Sunday’s championship game against Baruch.
Heartbreak for M.A.T.’s and I.S. 89’s ‘unbeatable’ teams
Sunday was a heartbreaking day for Downtown basketball as two undefeated Lower Manhattan teams lost their championship games.
The undefeated I.S. 89 Cougar girls team lost their last game of the season to Baruch at Baruch and the Manhattan Academy of Technology Dragon boys then took the same court and also lost to Baruch, suffering their first defeat of the season.
The Cougars were riding high coming into the game having beaten the M.A.T. girls Friday. The Dragons jumped ahead quickly on a 14 - 2 run, and a shocked crowd thought they were witnessing a huge upset in the making. Instead, 89 fought back and went on to win by one point, 19 - 18.
“I thought we had them in that game,” said Dragon coach John DeMatteo said. “I thought to myself, finally, this will be the year where we beat them. It wasn’t to be, though, as they played a tough second half and came through in the end. It was an unbelievably exciting game to watch!”
The Cougars were led all year by strong play from Alexsa Ramos, Talulah Gilory, Sonia Bloom and Anna Bernath.
The lady Dragons finished with a record of 16 - 4, and defeated a tough Tompkins Square Middle School team by 20 points to reach the final four with I.S. 89.
The girl Dragons were led all year by 8th grader Akiele Lewis, who averaged 15 points a game and was one of the best players in the league.
“Akiele was the M.V.P. of this league without a doubt,” said DeMatteo. “Without her, none of these games would be close at all and she demonstrated just how much she matured since the 6th grade when she also led our school to a championship vs. 89. She’s going on to play high school ball at Christ the King and I know she’ll do well over there.”
The Dragons were also led by point guard Gabby Wallach, who DeMatteo cited as being the leader for next year’s team, center Safiyah Riddle who came onto the team late but still gave some great minutes and forwards Elan Halpern, Amani Scott and Shirley Dong.
The Cougar boys also had a strong season, but they lost to Wagner in the playoffs last week. Ledell Robinson, Ayotunde Summers, Noah Neacsu, Nicholas Chiu and Jayson Brebnor all played well.
As for the M.A.T. boys, they were dominant all year, drawing a No. 1 ranking in Manhattan and finishing with a regular season record of 18 - 0. Looking like they were the team to beat, the M.A.T. boys ran through schools in the playoffs like a hot knife through butter.
And then came the championship game. In a closely competed contest, the Baruch Lions defeated the M.A.T. Dragons by a slight margin in the last seconds, in a game that saw 10 different lead changes.
“The boys played their best, but in the end, it’s the little things that make games and we didn’t take care of the basketball down the stretch,” said DeMatteo. “We were up by 2 points with the ball with one minute left and we just gave it to them. It’s tough to have the season we had and then lose in the final seconds, but that’s the way basketball goes. We got beat by a team with tremendous heart who showed it when it counted.”
The Dragons were led by a monster squad of 8th graders featuring LaRon Holt, a 6’3” forward going to play next year at JFK high school.
“LaRon has great ability and if he shows more love for the game, he will excel at the next level and beyond,” said DeMatteo.
Malik Crossdale, an 8th grader who is also the second-ranked 400-meter runner in the United States, played small forward and excelled on defense. He’s headed to Fordham Prep.
Jamar Easterling, an 8th grade point guard, was crucial to M.A.T.’s comeback down the stretch in the championship game.
Jason Montanez, an 8th grade shooting guard, was the silent assasin for the boys all year. LeSean Chatfield, an 8th grader, was the other big man down low that M.A.T. needed so badly and was exceptional all year in the paint.
Next year, the Dragons return a strong core of players, including guards Anthony Peralta, Raleek Tanner and big man Xavier St. John.
“I’m just blessed to have had the season we did and I told the boys that there are lessons to learn through losing, and most of the time, you’re stronger in the long run for the losses you take now,” DeMatteo said. “They’ve learned that life can knock you down, and it’s important to get back up and not quit when things don’t go your way. In the end, they’ll be better off for having learned that now rather than winning and believing life is just that easy, because it’s not. I will miss this group with all of my heart.”