Four days of basketball excitement wrapped up Monday as a holiday tournament honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. produced two winning teams. It was the first time in two years that the popular sporting event made it to the hardwood at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School gymnasium.
And for the many fans that turned out to watch and enjoy, it did not disappoint. The thunderous sound of stomping feet and explosive cheers filled the gym as the contest between the Charlotte Amalie Chickenhawks and the Eudora Kean Devil Rays wound down to the final seconds. In the end, the Rays boys’ varsity team prevailed by a score of 46-44.
The fourth quarter of the matchup was filled with fast breaks and battles for possession of the ball. Fouls piled up, but free throws failed to convert into penalty points. In the end, the Rays disrupted rebound tries by the Hawks after one last attempt at a layup and hung on until the buzzer.
A similar outcome appeared in the final for the MLK girls’ championship. Central High Lady Caribs from St. Croix beat back a late-game rally by the Charlotte Amalie Lady Chickenhawks for a 24-22 victory. Central High coach Donald Baugh said he felt he and the team came to the tournament unprepared.
“Surprising in the sense that I didn’t think I put in the amount of preparation, given the activities taking place on St. Croix in December,” he said. But Bough said he was pleasantly surprised by the varsity girls’ team spirit.
Especially after they were beaten in the first round by the Ivanna Eudora Kean Lady Devil Rays, but in a later round, the Lady Caribs came back and beat them “handily,” he said. Then it was on to CAHS, which Bough said came on strong from the start of the final game.
Still, the feisty Carib girls refused to back down from an aggressive comeback try by their rivals. It’s worth noting here that at the last MLK tournament in 2020, the two teams went head to head for the title, with Lady Hawks coming out on top.
“It was surprising how well they held on,” their coach said.
Lionel Gumbs, coach of the Lady Hawks, said his team simply came up short. “My team played pretty well, game after game; we made some adjustments. But today, we just wasn’t concentrating; not making shots and we got a late start. We started playing at the end of the game and ended up coming up short,” Gumbs said.
The coach of the winning Kean High team also paid respect to the Mighty, Mighty Chickenhawks — also 2020 MLK champs — on the boys’ side. “I think there was a lot of nervousness involved there, but what I did see was them clogging up the middle; especially in the championship game because Charlotte, they’re full of big guys. But they clogged up the middle and they did what they’re supposed to do,” Cummings said.
Not once, but twice, as a last-second free throw in the last quarter of Sunday’s game between the two St. Thomas rivals gave the Rays a one-point win. CAHS Assistant Coach Elroy Carey called the effort “good, not great.”
“We had some quarters where we played consistently and then we had some quarters where we didn’t,” Carey said. “We made some mental mistakes down the stretch; not boxing out, missed free throws, missed layups.”
For their efforts, the winning teams took home the tournament trophies and $2,000 apiece from tournament sponsors Arcos Dorados, managers of the McDonald’s fast food outlets.
Ten boys’ teams and four girls’ teams took part in the 2023 contest. Participating schools included Good Hope-Country Day, Free Will Baptist Academy, Bregado Flax Educational Center, Gifft Hill School, Antilles School, Elmore Stout High School, Central High, Eudora Kean, CAHS, and St. Croix Educational Complex.
The MLK tournament is the first interscholastic basketball competition of the season. Next, up, schools compete in the Central High School basketball tournament over President’s Day weekend on St. Croix.