South Kent wins AAA title
SPRINGFIELD — The South Kent School Cardinals won the New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC) Class AAA Tournament with a 74-55 victory over the Brewster Academy Bobcats in the March 5 final in Springfield, Mass.
Brewster handed South Kent their only in-conference loss of the year, so the showdown between the top two teams in NEPSAC Class AAA was sure to make for a memorable conclusion to the tournament.
South Kent got off to a quick start and pulled ahead 7-0 in the first two minutes. The Cardinals’ size and intensity on defense subdued the Bobcat offense that had been red-hot in the preliminary rounds. Brewster was consistently forced to put up prayers from the perimeter as South Kent denied any player who drove the lane.
Cardinal senior guard Elmarko Jackson defined the tone early. He racked up a block, a steal and took a hard charge on defense. The McDonald’s All-American played the role of a quintessential point guard as he facilitated his teammates with clutch assists and sank his free throws every time he stepped to the line. Jackson, who has committed to the University of Kansas, finished off the first half with 14 points. South Kent held a 38-26 lead at intermission.
The Cardinals kept pushing the tempo into the second half and never allowed the Bobcats to threaten their lead. South Kent won by 19.
The tournament win came on the coattails of two hard-fought matchups in the first two rounds. South Kent defeated Vermont Academy 84-77 in the quarterfinals and then matched up against visiting New Hampton School in the semifinal on March 4.
After falling behind 15-7 early on against New Hampton, the Cardinals picked up steam with an 11-0 scoring run midway through the first half. South Kent controlled the post on each end of the court, led by 6’10” senior center Papa Amadou Kante. The future Michigan Wolverine raked in rebounds like a Hoover and swatted down a pair of blocks. By halftime, the Cardinals had established a 50-38 lead.
New Hampton responded to South Kent’s supremacy in the paint by switching their line-up around and playing small-ball in the second half. They fed their guards on the perimeter with increasing success and started to mount a comeback.
As soon as South Kent lifted their foot off the gas, New Hampton revved up and tied the score at 63. With 10 minutes remaining in the game and the season on the line, Cardinal Coach Raphael Chillious regrouped and urged his team to get back to basics. “Simple! Keep it simple,” he shouted from the sideline.
South Kent senior Elijah Wilborn heeded the call and dominated the glass, reeling in a few crucial offensive boards to help stop the bleeding. The explosive 6’9” forward threw down a couple colossal dunks, fired up the crowd, and helped his team seize control as the game neared conclusion.
The Cardinals took back the lead and resumed lockdown defense on the inside for the rest of the game to win 87-80.
Next up for South Kent is the National Prep School Championship at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., with games set to begin on March 8.