Mark Squilla faced a dilemma four years ago after graduating from South Philadelphia’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. He had exhibited enough basketball prowess to play in the Catholic League, but if he attended nearby Neumann-Goretti High School making the team wouldn’t be guaranteed.
In Monday night’s Catholic League championship amid a packed house at the famed Palestra, Squilla joined his triumphant teammates as they celebrated Neumann-Goretti’s 75-59 victory over Archbishop Carroll. The fact that he only received one minute of playing time at the end of the fourth quarter did little to detract from Squilla’s euphoria.
“It’s a great group of guys,” said Squilla. “Being a part of this is special. It’s been that way since the beginning, especially the past two seasons.”
The Saints’ second consecutive league title and fourth in the last six years didn’t come easily. After building a commanding 41-27 lead at halftime and leading by as many as 17, Neumann-Goretti needed to withstand a furious rally by the defending state champion Patriots.
With 1:29 remaining in the third quarter, Carroll (21-4) was down only five points, and ghosts of last year’s stunning state quarterfinal upset of the Saints appeared to be aroused. But as they have done so often during their 24-1 season, the Saints turned their game up another level and won in decisive fashion.
Neumann-Goretti senior stars Tyreek Duren (19 points), Tony Chennault (12 points, seven rebounds) and Danny Stewart (14 points, 15 rebounds, four blocked shots) joined junior standout Lamin Fulton (15 points, six assists) to offset the noteworthy production of Carroll senior Ben Mingledough (16 points, 10 boards) and junior Juan’ya Green (20 points, six rebounds, four steals).
Since taking over the Neumann-Goretti program 12 years ago, coach Carl Arrigale’s teams have now reached eight Catholic League finals in his 12 years at the helm, winning six of them. Each has forged its own inspanidual personality, but according to Arrigale, this year’s team has been particularly coachable.
“I think this group really understands the game and plays unselfishly,” said Arrigale. “They’re a joy to be around.”
That would include Squilla.
“Mark very easily could have gone somewhere else and been a starter,” said Arrigale. “He knows that he won’t get the same playing time as he would somewhere else, but that isn’t because of a lack of talent. Mark is a good player. He works hard. He adds a lot to our team.”
Squilla said that in addition to winning championships, there has been another distinct advantage of playing at Neumann-Goretti.
“I’m going up against spanision I players every day in practice,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better because of that. You can’t take any plays off.”
Squilla isn’t certain where he will attend college. A number of spanision III schools have shown interest in him. The son of former St. John Neumann High School player Mark Squilla (Class of 1980) said he was almost certain that playing hoops will be a key factor in the final decision.
In the meantime, Squilla and his teammates will prepare for the PIAA District 12 playoffs in hopes of seizing a state championship that eluded them at the hands of Archbishop Carroll last year.
“That’s the goal now,” said Squilla. “Winning the Catholic League championship last year was great and right now that’s probably more special because it was the first one for most of us, but if we can win the state championship this year, that will definitely make this year the most special.”
And should he be on the court for extended minutes, said Squilla, so much the better. If not?
“I just want us to find a way to win a state title,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.