Episcopal edges past SSSAS in gripping IAC tournament final

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Episcopal edges past SSSAS in gripping IAC tournament final
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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

At the end of a topsy-turvy game, it was fitting that the Interstate Athletic Conference tournament final between Episcopal and St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes came down to the final five seconds of the fourth quarter.

With the score tied at 54 and 5.8 seconds left on the clock, Maroon junior guard George Mawenda-Kalema buried a jump shot to put his side up 56-54. Then, on their last possession, the Saints went up the other end of the court and drew a foul, forcing two free throws with 1 second remaining.

One foul shot went in, but the second looped around the inside edge of the hoop before falling back into play. Time expired, and Episcopal won 56-55, adding the IAC tournament crown to its regular-season conference title in incredibly tense circumstances.

“In my mind, all I was thinking was that he was going to miss one, and that I was getting the rebound,” said Maroon senior forward Edwin Ebube. “That’s exactly what I went and did.”

The final bucket capped off a 13-point fourth quarter for Mawenda-Kalema, who finished with 24 points.

In a tight game between two evenly matched teams, the contest came down to shifting momentum. The home side went on a 9-0 run to start the game. It took the Saints almost four minutes to score their first bucket, but they soon kept pace, with Episcopal never leading by more than 8 points.

Both teams’ efforts were impressive given the short turnaround following the IAC semifinals, which were held the previous night. The No. 3-seeded SSSAS traveled to No. 2 Bullis and won 64-54, while No. 1 seed Episcopal needed three periods of overtime to knock off No. 4 Georgetown Prep 93-90. But Mawenda-Kalema felt the game was about far more than physical toughness.

“It was a mental game,” he said. “We had to be strong mentally so we could finish it off and do whatever we had to do to win.”

Meanwhile, Maroon head coach Jim Fitzpatrick said there were no excuses for his players to be tired, especially with the prospect of another title so close.

“It’s hard to quantify, but I just told the kids there’s no time for fatigue,” he said. “They can rest on Sunday, they’re young teenagers, they should have a lot more energy than I do. I’m glad the coaches weren’t playing tonight. We would have been exhausted, but I think the kids gutted it out.”

Next up for the Maroon — and the Saints — is the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament early next month. Having won both the conference championship and tournament titles, Fitzpatrick said his team have the talent to win states, but he refused to get ahead of himself.

“I think that what we can do is our team can compete to put us in a position to compete for a state title,” he said. “I think we have that ability, I think a lot of factors have to happen in a state tournament: you’ve got to be healthy, you’ve got to make shots, you’ve got to see how the brackets play out.”

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