At this time of the year – late February, too cold outside to be comfortable, thus so much better to stay toasty indoors – basketball dominates the sports scene.
So if you were able to brave this ridiculous snow and traverse to some local arenas to watch some of the area’s finest high school players, you were in for a treat.
For instance …
In the first game of a Catholic League boys’ semifinal doubleheader Wednesday night at the Palestra, Roman Catholic built a 39-24 lead entering the fourth quarter before surviving a bullish comeback attempt by La Salle. Roman’s 52-45 victory improved its Catholic League record to a perfect 15-0 and put the Cahillites in position to win their first CL title since 2007.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” said Roman senior Shep Garner, whose nine points were complemented by Tony Carr’s 12, Manny Taylor’s 10, and Rashann London’s eight. “We did a lot to get here. We can’t let it stop here.”
Standing in Roman’s path is five-time defending champion Neumann-Goretti.
Behind Lamarr Kimble’s 17 points, Ja’Quan Newton’s 15, Jamal Custis’ 10, Vaughan Covington’s nine, and Troy Harper’s nine, the Saints defeated stubborn Archbishop Carroll, 67-62, offsetting a balanced offensive attack by the Patriots. Ernest Aflakpui scored 14, Samir Taylor 14, Austin Tilghman 11, and Derrick Jones 11, highlighted by his reaching the 1,000-point career scoring plateau.
“They’re a very good team,” said N-G coach Carl Arrigale. “They have some very good players and they play hard.”
Arrigale couldn’t help but rave about Newton, who late in the game became the school’s all-time leading scorer and punctuated the Saints’ triumph with a thunderous, athletic dunk.
“He refused to let us lose,” Arrigale said. “We’ve had a lot of special players come through our program….”
Arrigale didn’t have to finish his sentence. Even though there was no way the Saints would be facing the Cahillites for the CL championship 8:30 p.m. this Monday at the Palestra without his teammates, Newton consistently provides key plays that aggravate the opposition.
Three-point shot here. Drive to the hoop there.
Big contributions everywhere.
“Put it this way,” Arrigale said. “I’m glad he’s on playing on my team.”
For the first time ever, N-G’s boys and girls might capture a title in the same season. Heck, on the same night.
In the opening of a Catholic League girls’ semifinal doubleheader at Philadelphia University Thursday night, the Neumann-Goretti girls overwhelmed Bonner-Prendergast, 62-45, as Sianni Martin netted 23 points, A.J. Timbers chipped in 16, and Ella Awobajo added 13.
“We have a great boys team that everyone knows about, and that’s great,” said Martin, a junior. “Now we have two basketball teams that the school is talking about. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating both of us winning Catholic League championships.”
That would require Neumann-Goretti – undefeated at 23-0 – to overcome Archbishop Wood (20-2) for the girls’ title 6:30 Monday night at the Palestra.
The Vikings needed overtime to edge rival Cardinal O’Hara, 56-49, as Jess Kaminski compiled 20 points while Rachel Day scored 17 and Bailey Greenberg tallied 10. Mia Farmer scored 22 and Mary Sheehan added 15 for the Lions.
“That was a scare,” Kaminski said, noting that Wood had walloped O’Hara during the regular season. “They gave us all we could handle.”
In the Catholic Academies League, the champion was already crowned.
Last Wednesday, Mount St. Joseph’s Academy received 18 points from Alex Louin and 13 from Libby Tacka to thwart St. Basil’s upset attempt.
The Magic’s 42-30 victory – their second straight league championship – was meticulously orchestrated, but Louin was the major conductor at both ends of the floor.
“Alex played great, and we rely on her so much,” said the Mount’s John Miller, who has now won five CAL titles in his eight seasons as coach. “She wasn’t our only player to step up. It was definitely a team effort.”
And finally, this tidbit:
John McBride, a 1980 Cardinal Dougherty graduate, was the public address announcer Feb. 18 when Gwynedd Mercy Academy hosted a first-round, PIAA tournament contest against Upper Perkiomen and emerged victorious, 51-34.
A coaching veteran and lifelong lover of the game, McBride was highly impressed by something GMA coach Tom Lonergan did that might have gone unnoticed, but not by McBride.
“Towards the end of the game, (he) made a substitution to make sure the game ended with all five of his seniors on the floor,” said McBride, who was one of Lonergan’s assistants during his previous reign at Bishop McDevitt. “As this was (GMA’s) first winning season in a long time, and may have been their first AAA tournament win, and guaranteed to be the final home game for the team, Tom really gave this group of seniors something to remember.
“They’ve put four years into the program, and Tom — while being in his first year with Gwynedd but his 32nd overall — recognized what a significant moment it was for them.
“Was I surprised that he did this? No. Do I admire it? Absolutely. A great classy gesture, making sure these kids ended their home game careers celebrating together.”
McBride was quick to mention GMA’s five senior basketball players – Dia Veneziano, Christa Giordano, Jess Campbell, Tara Dingley, and Kristen Pollick – in hopes of receiving some much-deserved recognition.
Catholic League sports have thrived because of great people.
People like Tom Lonergan.
And John McBride.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.