The Cardinal Newman boys and the Heathwood Hall girls closed out December on high notes Saturday by winning their respective classes in the Home Pest Control Holiday Classic.
Both teams dealt with injury issues and a parade of high-level foes. But the Cardinals and Highlanders are now healthy for the start of the region campaigns next week.
Cardinal Newman needed a late charge to dispatch first-year Westwood, 59-55, and secure its first championship trophy at the Heathwood tourney.
The Highlanders scored an easy 66-39 win over Hilton Head in the girls finale to claim their second straight title.
“The (tough) preseason schedule finally paid of for us,” said Cardinals coach David Ross, whose team improved to 6-6 with the three-game sweep.
“We’ve seen this kind of defensive intensity, but this was the first time this season we were able to match it for four quarters.”
Westwood’s defensive pressure caused the Cards some trouble, but in the end the more veteran team made the plays when they mattered the most.
Clemson-bound Austin Ajukwa led Cardinal Newman with 23 points, but it was junior point guard Zakki Parker who doomed the Redhawks. Parker’s 3-pointer immediately after Ajukwa blocked a lay-up attempt by Westwood’s Cameron Grant tied the score at 52 with 2:28 remaining.
On Westwood’s next possession, Parker rebounded a Redhawk misfire and drove the length of the floor for a score with 1:45 to go.
Ajukwa, who was named the tournament MVP, took it from there — scoring Cardinal Newman’s final five points in the last 51 seconds.
“We live off our defense, and when (Cardinal Newman) went into that zone, the game slowed down and we couldn’t restore the tempo,” said Westwood coach Terry Dozier. “Plus, we rushed things and made a couple of critical mistakes at the end.”
Inside players Austin Madison and Adonus Lee led Westwood (4-7) with 12 points apiece.
Parker backed Ajukwa with 12 points.
• A’ja Wilson, who returned to the Heathwood lineup last week for the Highlanders first-ever visit to the girls Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, put the finishing touch on a tournament MVP performance in the title bout.
Playing about three quarters, the 6-foot-5 junior scored 32 points on 15-for-24 shooting from the field, collected
10 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and two blocks.
“We brought our game from Myrtle Beach back to Columbia,” said Highlanders coach John O’Cain. “We grew up last week against some great competition and we showed that this week.”
Heathwood (8-6) was never in trouble. A 26-2 run in a five-minute stretch blew it open — expanding a 32-18 lead to 58-20 by the 4:55 mark of the third quarter.
Victoria Dickerson and Gadson Lefft both backed Wilson with 10 points.