Mike Meitzner and Clay Gordon sat together in awe on Thursday night near the top of the bleachers inside the Kapaun Mount Carmel gymnasium.
They peered down and watched as the Crusaders delighted their home crowd with seamless plays that only happen with chemistry, as they turned the night into a celebration with a 65-60 victory over South to win the City League championship outright with a 14-2 record.
Kind of like Meitzner and Gordon did together some 42 years ago at Kapaun during the 1974-75 season, which so happened to be the last time the Crusaders had won the league title outright.
“Except we didn’t play in this gym,” Meitzner said.
“And they’re way more talented than we ever were,” Gordon added, laughing.
Although Kapaun coach John Cherne has stated winning the City League championship was never a goal for his team, he can appreciate the significance of finishing the season as the best team in what he called the best league in the state.
“As historic as this league is, to be able to say we’re outright champions is tremendous,” Cherne said. “Even though this wasn’t the overall goal, I think everyone is excited about this. I know the kids are really excited about it.”
Kapaun put on a show in the second quarter, roping together quick passes to find open three-pointers, scoring off touch passes in the paint, and doing what they do best — scoring in transition. By the time halftime came, Kapaun had turned a competitive game into a 42-26 lead.
“When we use team ball and play together, that’s when we’re at our best,” Kapaun senior Thomas Wells (14 points) said.
Kapaun would never return to the extraordinary level it reached in the second quarter, but it wouldn’t have to after building a 16-point lead.
South (15-5, 12-4) possessed enough talent to mount a comeback and its length once again bothered Kapaun, but not until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Once South began to press, Kapaun committed turnover after turnover as the Titans raced back into the game with back-to-back three-point plays from Malcolm Tate and Matthew Papamie.
Kapaun’s lead was whittled all the way down to 58-56 as the clock ticked under three minutes, but Mitchell Woodward (12 points) rose to the occasion and pulled up for a mid-range jumper that connected with 2:38 remaining. Kapaun would always have at least a two-possession lead after Woodward’s shot pushed the lead to 60-56.
South was led by four double-digit scorers in Tate (16), Deahvian Manning (14), Papamie (12), and Jariah Taylor (12).
“We showed that we have some heart and some fight in us,” South coach Chuck Gunter said. “But now we have to play like that for all four quarters. We can’t pick and choose when we want to play hard.”
Back in the stands, Meitzner and Gordon marveled at the speed in which Chris Meitzner (16 points), Mike’s nephew, and Wells operate the offense.
They seemingly accelerate at will while dribbling and Meitzner and Gordon were impressed at how they always seemed to know what the other was about to do.
“Those guys are just quick on quick,” Mike Meitzner said, looking at Gordon. “We were never that fast.”
“We played as a team and I think we did that better than anybody else,” Gordon said. “From a talent standpoint, we may not have been as good as everybody else but we played together pretty well.”
These Crusaders have the talent and the chemistry.
And now, for the first time in 42 years, they have a City League championship all to their own.
“It’s hard to believe it hasn’t happened for that long,” Wells said. “It just goes to show you how good the City League is and how tough it is to win. It feels good to be rewarded with this and to be able to win it with teammates I’m very close with.”
WEST: M. Tate 16, D. Manning 14, M. Papamie 12, J. Taylor 12, D. Jones 4, R. Lemovou 2.
KAPAUN: C. Meitzner 16, M. Hutton 15, T. Wells 14, M. Woodward 12, J. Bell 5, S. Channell 3.