St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes triumph over Episcopal in local rivalry clash

St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes triumph over Episcopal in local rivalry clash

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

At the final buzzer of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes’ 55-49 boys basketball win over local rivals Episcopal January 16, Saints junior guard Myles Lewis was mobbed by his teammates as well as friends, family and home fans who stormed the court.

Logging significant minutes from the bench, Lewis was crucial in the hosts’ recovery from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, not only through his 11 points on the final score sheet. Late in the third, he forced an offensive foul, hauled in a rebound and then snagged a steal on three consecutive possessions. In the fourth quarter, he grabbed two steals and hit two free throws in another three possessions to cap what has been a learning week for him.

“For the last week, [head coach Ronald Ginyard] has been riding a couple of us,” Lewis said. “I just felt like I needed to talk to Coach after one of the practices, and it was mainly about adversity, how to face it even in tough times. He told me to keep the mindset of playing tough and putting the team above myself and that will keep me going and playing hard all the time.”

Lewis scored 8 points in the fourth quarter alone as the Saints pushed hard to get ahead, including the go-ahead two-point bucket that made the score 41-40 in favor of the hosts, who would never trail again. After the game, his teammates were delighted to see such a big contribution from one of their bench players.

“If Myles didn’t play the way he did, I don’t think we’d have won this game,” said junior guard Denmark Slay. “It wasn’t just him. Harrison Bluestein came in in the first half and provided some good minutes for us, hustling and doing what he always does. But without Myles, we wouldn’t have won this game. I’ve got to go and buy him a milkshake or something after the game.”

Ginyard said he used those one-on-one conversations with Lewis in the days leading up to the Episcopal game to encourage him to make use of his physical attributes.

“I keep trying to explain to him that when he plays with a high motor because of his athleticism, because of his ability to lead a play defensively, he can really have a major impact on the game and he can do it without putting the ball in the basket,” Ginyard said. “It’s hard to get a young basketball player to understand the level of impact you can have on the game without scoring, and hopefully after today, he and everyone else has a full understanding of what that can look like.”

The game was highly anticipated, given the two schools’ geographic proximity and the strides both have made already in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s regular season. Coming in, the visiting Maroon was riding a five-game winning streak, while the Saints had won four straight. Both also were highly ranked in the first weekly Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association poll, which eventually will decide the pairings in the state tournament.

Amid a gym filled with supporters of both sides for a game dedicated to celebrating the work of the military after the Saints’ visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center earlier that week, it was the visiting Episcopal that started strongest. The away side raced to a 27-22 lead at halftime by making use of a strong transition game and freeing guards Nick Reed and George Mawanda-Kalema for several open shots. Reed and Mawanda-Kalema finished with 18 points apiece for the Maroon.

The visitors stretched the lead in the third but then were hit by a revived Saints offense driven by Lewis, Slay and sophomore guard Donovann Toatley, who led the hosts with 14 points. After Lewis’ consecutive defensive stops in the third, the teams began the fourth quarter separated by only two points, and once Lewis put his team ahead early in the final quarter, the Maroon could not recover.

“When two really good teams are playing, it really comes down to who’s going to be better at executing their style,” Ginyard said. “In the first half, the game was played at Episcopal’s pace, and in the second half it was played at [ours]. We just have to make sure we control the pace of the game.”

The win put the Saints at 12-3 overall, albeit with a number of tough tests to come in the IAC, including the rematch at Episcopal on February 2. Both Ginyard and his players agreed the victory in their home gym was an important tone setter for the rest of the season.

“Episcopal, they’re the team to beat because they won [the IAC tournament] last year,” Slay said. “A lot of the teams in the IAC like to sleep on us, and say that all our wins are kind of a fluke or that they might be lucky. This is a big one, a big statement win for us, and we’re just going to keep on moving on from this and keep on rolling ahead.”