Lined up on the parquet floor at the TD Garden for the Division 4 state championship trophy ceremony Monday afternoon, Cadejia Matthews buried her face in her neon yellow warm-up shirt and her head in the embrace of a teammate.
The junior guard with braids and braces could finally exhale after helping Fenway High win its second straight state title against Greater New Bedford, 56-47.
The victory came after her 47-year-old stepfather, Robert Summers, died after suffering a heart attack on Saturday — just hours before Matthews hit a pair of crucial free throws in the Division 4 North sectional final to send the Panthers to the Garden.
“Some of me still feels hurt but some of me feels a little relieved,” she said after scoring a game-high 15 points Monday. “I did this for my father and I did it for my team and my seniors. It’s kind of both ways. I’m still thinking about him because he’s supposed to be at this game today but sadly he wasn’t.”
Matthews said Summers was taking his medication in the kitchen around lunchtime on Saturday when he started screaming that he couldn’t breathe.
Matthews said her mother called 911 but Summers was screaming so loudly that the operator couldn’t understand her mother.
“So I called 911 and I was like, ‘We need an ambulance,’ ” she said. “His medicine pump wasn’t working so when he fell to the floor on his knees me and my mom were trying to call his name but I saw his eyes roll back and I knew he was gone.”
Matthews said the entire episode took about five minutes.
She said funeral arraignments have not been made.
“He was an amazing guy, he did everything for me, he would always be at my games,” she said. “When I had troubles with my mom he would be the one talking to me. School-wise, he was always on me to get honor roll. He just always took care of me just like a regular father would do.”
Mathews said she never considered not playing on Saturday.
But playing is one thing. Hitting a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left to make it a two-possession game is something else.
“It doesn’t surprise me that she’s doing this,” Fenway principal Peggy Kemp said. “I’m sure it’s really difficult for her but given the fact that she’s really assumed a big leadership role I’m not surprised that she’s deciding to play. And it is her choice.”
Matthews also came up clutch at the Garden last year, scoring 10 points in the final quarter to help erase a 5-point deficit.
On Monday, she hit three 3-pointers, including banking in a bomb launched from a foot behind the NBA 3-point line.
“I’m thinking it’s going to airball and I see it going higher and higher and I’m like, ‘That’s going to go in,’ ’’ she said.
After the trophy ceremony Matthews climbed halfway up the steps of the lower bowl to her mother and brother.
“It was hard because I knew he wanted to come,” she said of Summers. “I knew he wanted to see me win. My heart was just broken just to see just my mom there, my brother. I gave my mom a hug. I told her I love her and I gave her a kiss.
“I played my heart out for him knowing he was still looking down on me.”