As “classics” are concerned, it might be too early to label any regular-season game with such distinction.
But if it could be argued otherwise, there were two terrific Catholic League contests this week that were worth the price of admission.
On Sunday, Jan. 16, Neumann-Goretti defeated Archbishop Carroll 74-68, and about 24 hours later, La Salle celebrated the Martin Luther King holiday by toppling Roman Catholic 64-58 in overtime.
What makes those games particularly compelling is that each of those teams has a legitimate chance of winning its respective spanision crown (AAA and AAAA) a little more than a month from now.
“That was special,” said La Salle senior standout point guard Eddie Mitchell, who contributed 14 points, six rebounds and five assists to the cause. “Every win is great, but some are better than others. There are a lot of great teams in the Catholic League, and Roman Catholic is one of them.”
Along with Mitchell’s performance, senior Joe Brown collected 13 points, 12 rebounds and six assists while senior Mike Poncia and sophomore Amar Stukes netted 15 points apiece. Brown joined senior Brennan Woods and senior Steve Collins (seven points) as defensive catalysts.
The result left both teams at 3-1. They join Archbishop Carroll and Father Judge in a four-way logjam for third place behind undefeated Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood, both 4-0.
“It will be interesting to see what the records are before the playoffs,” said Mitchell. “I don’t think there is a lot that separates the top teams.”
In the Neumann-Carroll game, it featured two teams that have won the past two state championships (Carroll in 2009 and N-G last year). Both squads returned to the locker room with something to be pleased about.
The Saints, behind four double-digit scorers led by senior Lamin Fulton’s 22, needed to erase a 13-point, third-quarter deficit. Although Carroll didn’t win, the Patriots realized that they have what it takes to defeat a team dominated by young players, with a reputation of being the defending state champions.
“A great game,” said Neumann-Goretti sophomore Hanif Sutton, who only scored one point but was cited by N-G coach Carl Arrigale as “the difference maker” because of his gnat-like defensive pressure throughout the second half. “It doesn’t matter how you get there. It’s all about winning. We found a way to win and that’s all that counts.”
Carroll, which also had four players in double digits, was a bit despondent after the game.
“We should have closed the deal,” said Green. “We need to do a better job of finishing the game.”
While this season is already off to an interesting start thanks to several teams emerging as frontrunners, next year is shaping up to be just as good, if not better.
Among the top scorers through four league games, a significant number are underclassmen. And on many of the teams, it has been the youngsters who have provided most of the offense.
After leaders Joe Getz of Archbishop Wood (25.5 per game, including an epic 41 against West Catholic), Juan’ya Green of Archbishop Carroll (19) and Lamin Fulton of Neumann-Goretti (17.8) – all seniors – nine of the next 12 are underclassmen.
That list includes St. Joseph’s Prep sophomore Steve Vasturia (17.5), junior Brahieme Jackson of Bishop McDevitt (16.5), sophomore Steve Griffin of Father Judge (16.3), junior Derrick Stewart of Neumann-Goretti (16), junior Jamal Nwaniemeka of Conwell-Egan (15), junior Gene Williams of St. Joseph’s Prep (14.5), sophomore John Davis of Neumann-Goretti (13.3), junior Jaleel Reed of West Catholic (12.8) and sophomore Amar Stukes of La Salle (12.3). Seniors Eric Fleming of Archbishop Ryan (16), Eddie Mitchell of La Salle (14.5) and Chris Hays of Lansdale Catholic (12.8) are also among the leaders.
Then there are the teams that are dominated by non-seniors. For instance, all three of the Prep’s leading scorers (Vasturia, Williams and sophomore Miles Overton) still have a long way to go. Same with Roman Catholic’s Montana Mayfield (junior), Shep Garner (freshman) and Shafeek Taylor (sophomore), all of whom trail senior Fortunat Kangudi by only a few points.
At Msgr. Bonner, juniors Craig Slade (11.75) and Josh Hoho (10.75) lead the way; at Bishop McDevitt, juniors Jackson and Markeise Chandler (10.25) do likewise. At Neumann-Goretti, after Fulton come junior Stewart and sophomore Davis. In fact, the entire N-G roster includes only two seniors.
Of those aforementioned prime-time players, Mitchell (first team), Williams (second), Fleming (third), and Slade (third) are returning All-Catholics.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.