One team needs to be reintroduced to the Catholic League championship final.
The other, not so much.
When Archbishop Ryan and Neumann-Goretti take center stage in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship Feb. 28 at the Palestra, however, history won’t have anything to do with the outcome.
“It’s a different experience for every person, and every year is different than the past,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale. “In the end, it’s all about the final two teams that have a chance of doing something special. There’s nothing like it.”
In the PCL semifinals Feb. 23 at the famed Palestra, Arrigale’s fourth-seed Saints defeated top-seed Roman Catholic, 62-60. In the second game of the doubleheader, six-seed Archbishop Ryan stunned two-seed West Catholic, 59-55.
During the regular season on Feb. 11, Neumann-Goretti edged the Raiders, 52-49. This will mark the second time that the two schools have met in the final, with then-St. John Neumann coming out on top in 2002.
Since 2001, Neumann-Goretti has captured 11 of its 21 overall titles. Under Arrigale, the Saints have seized a coaching-record 11 crowns overall, including seven since 2009.
This season, however, has been like no other. Literally. After playing its first league game on Jan. 5, Neumann-Goretti was shut down because of COVID.
When play resumed, the Saints were forced to play an unsightly 12 games in 21 days. They somehow recorded a 10-3 record.
After finally receiving a few days off to prepare for the quarterfinals, the Saints overcame five-seed La Salle, 51-48.
“This year has been different because of what we went through during the season,” said Arrigale. “We played our season in two and a half weeks. It was almost one two-week game. We couldn’t prepare. We played the same game for two and half weeks. We finally had a chance for the playoffs to get a couple of days and try to get better.”
Arrigale credited his sophomore guards for “not playing like sophomores in the second half.” Rob Wright III scored a game-high 20 points and added four steals. Khaafiq Myers contributed 16 points. Senior Masud Stewart amassed nine points and five assists.
“The thing is, we got more to do,” said Arrigale. “The guys are hungry. If after everything we went through this year, if we could pull this off, it would really be something.”
Archbishop Ryan, meanwhile, is hoping to win its first-ever PCL championship. They lost in the 1979, 2002, and 2008 finals.
Recently, the league semifinals had been a horror show for the Raiders. They lost to Neumann-Goretti in 2016, Archbishop Wood in 2017, Neumann-Goretti in 2020, and Archbishop Wood in 2021.
Consider seventh-year Raiders coach Joe Zeglinski both excited and relieved to be one win away from giving his alma mater reason to purchase a new banner for the school gym.
“It’s my fifth time here and I didn’t want to go 0-5,” said Zeglinski. “The kids stepped up for the program and the alumni.”
After falling behind West Catholic early, the Raiders rode the shoulders of sophomore center Thomas Sorber (17 points on 8-of-12 shooting along with six rebounds while playing all 32 minutes), senior Luke Boyd (10 points in 30 minutes, including three momentum-changing treys), junior Michael Paris (13 points, five rebounds, three assists), and senior Jalen Snead (10 points, eight rebounds, six assists), whose two free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining in regulation stamped the Raiders’ ticket to the final.
Snead also canned a pair to increase Ryan’s lead to 57-53 with 19.3 seconds left.
“I knew if I hit one at the end, the worst that could happen was that a three pointer would tie the game,” said Snead. “When the second one went in, I knew we had it.”
After a long wait, Archbishop Ryan had reached the finals.
“I can’t wait for Monday,” said the aforementioned Stewart.
He’s not alone.
Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103