PCL boys’ basketball

Sports Columnist
John Knebels

It had the potential to be considered an all-time classic, but key injuries have a tendency to detract from the overall attraction when two outstanding sports teams meet each other in a mega-important contest.

Take, for instance, the Catholic League boys’ basketball championship Monday night at the jam-packed and extremely loud Palestra.

Earlier in the season, it would not have been a stretch to predict that Roman Catholic and Neumann-Goretti would at some point battle for the coveted crown. After all, Roman has the most titles in Catholic League history with 28, and Neumann-Goretti has the second most with 14.

Oops, make that 15.

With Roman Catholic star and Villanova University-bound Maalik Wayns still unable to play after a season-marring injury several weeks ago, the Cahillites were, quite frankly, no match for the electric Pirates.

The final score of 86-53 might seem like a misprint, but it isn’t. Nor is the fact that N-G has now won five basketball titles this decade, three against Roman.

But here is the catch for why a 33-point margin of victory meant a lot to Neumann-Goretti’s players – it strongly suggested that with or without Wayns, the Pirates probably would have found a way to win.

“A lot of people will probably say that’s why we won because they were without their best player, and I understand why they would say that,” said junior guard Tyreek Duren. “But when you think about it and are fair about it, I think it’s pretty clear that we are the better team.”

From the plentiful screaming Pirate fans in the stands to the players who, after the final buzzer, raced in just about every conceivable direction – including up into the stands – inside the distinguished hoops venue, it would have been almost impossible to find someone who disagreed with Duren.

Even the Cahillite rooters seemed deflated by halftime after their team had fallen behind by 35-23.

Duren led all scorers with 26 points while teammates Tony Chennault (19), Daniel Stewart (16) and Andre Gillette (14) reached double figures as well. For Roman, Rakeem Brookins did his best to maintain some semblance of a close affair, but his 24 points and 15 more from teammate Andre Horne weren’t able to close the constantly widening gap.

In defense of the Cahillites, the Pirates (23-2 and winners of 12 straight heading into PIAA play) were on a mission from the very first practice of the season, according to 11th-year coach Carl Arrigale.

“We lost (in last year’s quarterfinals) and it left everyone with a very bad taste in their mouth,” said Arrigale. “I was proud of how prepared our players were. I think tonight showed how badly they wanted this by the way they performed. I can’t say enough about their effort.”

And, hence, the triumph via blowout.

“If it had been a close game, then an argument could have been made about Malik’s absence being the reason we won,” said Duren. “I honestly don’t think anyone can say that.”

The scoreboard certainly didn’t.

John Knebels can be reached at jknebs@aol.com.