Late surge gives Gators thrilling win over Catholic

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Courtney Julien led the Gators with a game-high 20--nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Photo by DKMoon Photography.

Catholic was well on their way to taking total command of District 5-5A on Friday night as they ran out to an 11-point third-quarter lead over St. Amant but as teams have seen throughout the season, there is not quit in the Gators.

Courtney Julien put the team on his back and ignited a 23-9 St. Amant run to end the game. The result was a thrilling 53-50 victory that saw the student body rushing the court and the Gators tying Catholic for the district lead.

"We just hung in there and at the end of the day, we have a kid named Courtney Julien. When we need someone to step up and make a play, that kid just seems to figure it out," St. Amant head coach Travis Uzee said. "He's a special kid, a special everything. He's just an amazing player. It's such a team effort. He stepped up in that moment, but it's everything else we did together that makes it special to me."

After Julien scored the opening basket of the game, Toliver Freeman sparked a 7-0 run for Catholic.

The Bears were nearly flawless from the field, but Julien was able to keep St. Amant hanging around at 16-12 heading into the second quarter with his six points.

After extending the lead to eight, Durell Smylie was able to cut it down to three after a tough bucket down low--which was followed by a free throw.

However, Catholic answered right back. After a Michael Francioni lay-in and two free throws by Freeman, the Bears were able to take a comfortable 30-22 lead into the break.

The struggles continued for the Gators in the third. Uzee's frustration with the officiating boiled over and got him T'd up. After a lay-in by Michael Giorlando, Catholic took their biggest lead of the game at 11.

With the deficit at 10 late, St. Amant desperately needed a spark, and they got one from Nick Griffin.

Griffin got a rebound with the clock ticking away. He raced downcourt, pulled up and drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Bear advantage to seven headed into the fourth quarter.

"That was a huge shot. I was very upset with the way we ended the third quarter," Uzee said. "We had two bad possessions in there and somehow, some way, they miss a free throw, Nick gets the ball, and Nick has a knack for making tough shots. It was big because it got us right back to being down seven after going down 10."

That's when Julien came alive. He started the final quarter with two straight contested jumpers to cut the deficit to three, but he wasn't done.

On St. Amant's next possession, he pulled up and nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 46.

The seven straight points by Julien fueled his teammates. On their next possession, Crandell Christoff made an acrobatic lay-in and one to give St. Amant a three-point lead. It was the first time they led since they were up 2-0 to start the game.

Catholic had their chances late, but they couldn't cash them in. Freeman missed two critical free throws at the two-minute mark that could have given the Bears the lead or at least tied the game.

After Julien and Griffin went a perfect 4-4 from the line, it all came down to one final shot for Catholic. Freeman got a good look from the top of the key for a 3-pointer that would have sent it to overtime, but the shot rimmed out.

The Gators took the 53-50 win as the Gold Dome exploded in jubilation.

"This was a monumental win for us because this is what we always wanted. When we got here two years ago, I told my coaching staff that as soon as we can, we have to get a good game in the Gold Dome," Uzee said. "I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know if that meant the finals of a tournament, but it ended up being this, and this is the game we wanted."

After a big first half, the Gators put the clamps on Freeman late. He ended up finishing with 14. Ethan Treigle was the Bears' second-leading scorer with nine.

As for St. Amant, Julien led the way with a game-high 20 with nine of those points coming in the crucial fourth quarter. Griffin had 12, and Christoff was right behind with 11.

The win was the fifth straight for St. Amant and their eighth win in their last nine games. It improved their overall record to 18-9 and their district mark to 5-1--which tied them with Catholic for the district lead.