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Sunday, February 12, 2012
Thy Kingdom (finally) Come

By Glenn Nelson
HoopGurlz

Sierra Calhoun
Sophomore Sierra Calhoun had 20 points, including several key baskets late in the game, as Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) upset No. 8 Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.) 66-60 during The Mecca in the Bronx, N.Y., on Saturday.

BRONX, N.Y. -- This past holiday season, Bob Mackey's tree was figuratively bare and he wondered if he'd been too Grinch-like with his young girls' basketball team at Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.).

Back then, Mackey's Royals were a royal mess. They had opened the season with losses to one of the area's top teams and a nationally ranked team from Pennsylvania. From there, they played in the top division of the Nike Tournament of Champions and were swept by four other nationally ranked teams.

"When you're 0-6 at Christmas, you start scratching your head," the Royals' head coach said. "I had a young team that I put on a national schedule, and hoped. They could have easily folded after that."

Sophomore Sierra Calhoun could have bypassed her passage to stardom. Junior Amani Fernandez could have foregone paving her road to redemption. And people could have continued writing off one of the country's most storied programs.

But then they would have missed out on Christ the King's shocking, 66-60 upset of Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.), which was ranked No. 8 in the POWERADE FAB 50 and featured the nation's top senior, Breanna Stewart.

Sunday's was the second major upset at The Mecca, a high-school shootout hosted by South Shore (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and the Lady Choz club program. St. Anthony's (Huntington, N.Y.) stunned No. 2 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) 49-48 on Chastity Taylor's free throw with 2.5 seconds left on Saturday.

The event, which produced a parade of individual talent and evenly matched contests, also saw No. 7 Nazareth (Brooklyn, N.Y.) have to claw its way to an 83-73 win over upset-minded Manasquan (N.J.) on Sunday. Earlier in the day, No. 20 Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) broke open what had been a tight contest against H.D. Woodson (Washington, D.C.) to win 69-53.

The highlight of Sunday's six-game slate was the duel down the stretch between Stewart and Calhoun, a 6-foot-1 wing ranked No. 11 in the 2014 class by ESPN HoopGurlz.

Like most teams, Christ the King didn't have a lot of answers for Stewart, who had a game-high 31 points.

"You plot and you plan for a (6-3) guard who can do everything," Mackey said. "You just pray."

And make plays.

Brenna Stewart
Kollyns Scarbrough (21) and her Christ the King teammates couldn't do much more than keep Cicero-North Syracuse star Breanna Stewart entangled.

Defended for much of the game by Stewart, who has a 6-10 wingspan, Calhoun struggled with her shot early, but went into I'm-not-going-to-let-us-lose mode in the third quarter. Her 3-pointer with 6:06 let in the period gave Christ the King its first lead, 33-32, in a while. She shortly increased the margin to six by getting past Stewart off the bounce, making the layup and drawing a foul for a three-point play.

During the final minutes, Calhoun continued to one-up Stewart, snatching an offensive rebound out of her foil's hands for a put-back with 2:01 to play, then hitting a baseline jumper with Cicero's Sarah Bowles swinging from her shooting arm with 1:22 left. Those set up the back-breaker, a put-back by 5-2 Alyssa Gatti, who was all alone on the weakside for the offensive board.

"She's a tall, long player," Calhoun said of Stewart. "I tried to lock in and make the big shots. I knew my team needed me."

Stewart was frustrated afterward that she couldn't respond in kind. Her team had taken an approach to this game in stark contrast to Christ the King, reaching the semifinals of the TOC in December and then riding a wave of confidence -- until recently. While Stewart has competed at this level, with a top club team at elite events and on more USA Basketball national teams than any high-school girl ever, this all is new to her teammates, and they've struggled in the past couple weeks.

"There's something missing," Stewart said.

Alas, the Royals once thought a lot of things were missing. With the postseason just around the corner, they picked a great time to start finding them.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.