South Philly’s Saints defeat Montour in AAA state championship

By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

The next time SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School won’t be favored to win the boys Catholic League basketball championship might not be for quite a while.

Considering their annual competition, that’s quite a compliment.

But what else could one conclude when considering this past season?

Against Allegheny County’s Montour High School, a team that showed little if any fear of taking on South Philly’s juggernaut, the Saints conducted a dominant second half to win their second straight PIAA Class AAA state championship March 25 at Penn State University’ Bryce Jordan Center in University Park. {{more}}

The Saints’ 55-45 triumph wasn’t a work of perfection, but it was more than enough to secure Neumann-Goretti (N-G) from becoming only the second boys’ team to win back-to-back Class AAA titles.

“We’re really proud of the kids,” said N-G coach Carl Arrigale. “We asked them to trust us about what we were doing, and from the very first day, they bought in to what we were doing.”

This was supposed to be a rebuilding project that would pay spanidends next year. Instead, the Saints ended up winning the Catholic League title, District 12 honors and a second consecutive state crown.

With a record of 83-8 over the past three seasons (27-4 this year), one might figure that N-G’s era of monarchical status is nearing an end. But since only one starter from this year’s class is graduating – albeit senior Lamin Fulton is going to be tough to replace – might next year be the year that N-G becomes the first team in Pennsylvania history to capture three consecutive Class AAA state championships?

“I don’t see why they won’t,” said Fulton, a St. Peter’s College scholarship recipient who scored more than 1,000 career points. “I wish I was going to be a part of it. They’ll be a great team, maybe even better than the past two. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

All season long, particularly when the Catholic League playoffs began, the Saints seemed to be a team that needed prodding to really focus. Several players supported that claim.

A case in point was when the Saints trailed Montour 34-33 in the third quarter. In a blink, N-G reeled off 15 unanswered points to turn a nail biter into a rout.

Freshman sensation Ja’Quan Newton fueled the outburst with three field goals and finished with a team-high 17 points. Junior Derrick Stewart was a force with 14 points and a game-best 10 rebounds. Sophomore John Davis tallied 12 points while grabbing eight boards. Junior Billy Shank (73 points in his last five games) scored five. Fulton contributed seven points and five steals; as a defense, the Saints forced 16 turnovers.

“In the first half, we weren’t as aggressive as we should have been,” Arrigale said. “We played our kind of game in the second half.”

Despite winning in comfortable fashion, the Saints still celebrated with fervor.

“Anytime you win something this important, it’s big,” Fulton said. “Winning never gets tiring.”

His teammates feel the same way. And all of them – all of them – will be returning come next November.

A dynasty continues.

John Knebels can be reached at