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CCA tops Evangel in OT for state title

“Unbelievable.”

That’s one of the only words Crenshaw Christian Academy head coach Michael Malpass could use to describe the Cougars’ 66-63 overtime win over Evangel Christian to claim the AISA AA state title last Friday.

The win gave CCA their second state championship in as many years, but it didn’t come easily.

“This year was harder,” Malpass said. “We worked all year to stay focused.”

Despite the bullseye on their back all season, this second title is just as gratifying as the first for at least one player.

“This feels better than the first one,” said Jake Hataway, who was named the state tournament’s MVP. “We worked harder all year to get back here and win it again.”

For much of the fourth quarter, there was doubt about whether or not CCA would take home a second trophy for the trophy case.

The Cougars held a 27-23 lead at halftime and held Evangel to a mere three points in the third period, but ECA wasn’t done.

With four minutes left, the Lions started to make a run with aggressive offense and tough, full-court pressure.

Evangel took the lead for the first time since the first quarter with 1:50 to play in the game at 45-44.

From there, the two teams went back and forth, and both squads had missed opportunities and crucial mistakes that could have won the game.

CCA’s center, Jelle Vermeyen, fouled out with seven seconds left to play, and Evangel’s Michael Graham tied the game at 51 with the ensuing free throw.

The Cougars had the ball at half court with 1.2 seconds remaining, but they were unable to get a shot off and the game went to an extra period.

Crenshaw led by as many as seven points in overtime, but Evangel refused to quit after hitting several key three-pointers to stay in the game.

However, the Cougars hit free throws when it counted as Sebastian Deburchgraeve, Marino Bolling and Hataway all went 2-2 from the line in the last 1:05.

A Tate Welch free throw sealed the game as CCA held the Lions at bay to claim the 66-63 victory.

“I didn’t think we’d survive the overtime,” Malpass said. “We had two guys on the bench from fouling out, and our young guys really stepped up and made key free throws.”

Hataway led the team with 27 points, while Deburchgraeve had 16 points and Austin Brown added 14.

Vermeyen had nine blocks, and Hataway was one rebound away from a double-double.

There was one big key to the game for Malpass: the play of Hataway.

“Jake Hataway is the man,” he said simply. “When we got thin and it was obvious who we were going to, he got it done.”

“I did have to step up, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Hataway said. “Whether it’s handling the ball, rebounding, passing it, blocking shots or whatever, they’re the ones that help me out.”

In addition to Hataway’s MVP honors, Deburchgraeve and Vermeyen were named to the all-tournament team.

Following the win, there was a huge outpouring of emotion from fans, coaches and players, but possibly no one was more overcome than Deburchgraeve.

“I left my family and my home in Belgium to come here and win a championship,” said a choked-up Deburchgraeve. “This means everything to me.”