As the final horn officially ended a spirited contest, Roman Catholic and Father Judge returned to their respective benches before conducting the traditional hand-shaking ceremony.

A passerby wouldn’t have been able to figure out which team won and which team lost Wednesday night’s Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal at the Palestra.

That Roman Catholic displayed little euphoria following its 65-57 victory behind junior Shareef Jackson’s 20 points and 13 rebounds should not be surprising and meant no disrespect. After all, the Roman program has accrued a PCL-best 33 titles and five of the past nine, including a win in last year’s bout. Because of the Cahillites’ historic success, reaching the PCL final is almost an afterthought. Anything else would be considered a severe disappointment.

But for Father Judge, the Crusaders hadn’t reached the PCL final in more than a quarter of a century. Their last title – a 62-48 win over Cardinal O’Hara in 1998 – represented the program’s third. They then lost in the 1999 semifinals and have not returned since.

The Crusader players, coaches, fans, and alumni wanted to win…badly.

“I am very disappointed in the loss,” said affable Father Judge junior Kevair Kennedy. “I’m disappointed in the performance I put on. It stinks that this was my last game as a junior.”

Kennedy’s final stat line – six points, five rebounds, and eight assists – denotes significant success to most players. And if Father Judge had won, the first-team All-Catholic would have undoubtedly emerged with a different point of view.

But for a Father Judge team that finished 9-4 and a six-seed in one of the PCL’s most balanced standings in decades, the only thing that mattered was advancing to Monday’s PCL championship against Archbishop Ryan, which defeated Neumann-Goretti, 48-43, in the semis, and is seeking its first-ever league crown.

“We just wanted to keep giving our seniors more opportunities to play,” said Kennedy.

The Crusaders were coming off a euphoric 78-71 quarterfinal win over three-seed Archbishop Wood in the host Vikings’ sold-out gym five nights earlier. In that contest, Kennedy had poured in 33 points, highlighted by nailing 17 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter – a PCL-playoff record for most made freebies in a single stanza. According to stats guru Huck Palmer, Kennedy converted 62-of-75 free throws – 82.7 percent – in the fourth quarter this season.

Kennedy’s post-game wide smile and celebratory chatter focused on how he and his teammates couldn’t wait to play at the hollowed Palestra.

“It’s going to be an honor,” said Kennedy, who averaged 17.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals per game this year. “Getting there is what it’s all about.”

Father Judge’s quest fell two wins short of a coveted title.

Following the loss, Father Judge coach and alum Chris Roantree – who had played in the aforementioned 1998 championship win and the 1999 semifinal loss to Roman Catholic (ironically after a win over Archbishop Wood in the quarterfinals, same as this year) reminded his forlorn troops of all they had accomplished.

“The toughest thing having to do is go into the locker room after being in the semifinals and telling them their season is over,” said Roantree, who brings back five of his top players next year. “It was a great experience for our guys, especially because we are still so young. A lot of steps were taken this year for the program.”

Kennedy again figures to be a centerpiece next winter.

“He’s a great kid,” said Roantree. “Respectful. Coachable. He doesn’t shy away from wanting the ball in ‘those’ moments. Sometimes, that’s half the battle.”


Contact John Knebels at or on X (formerly known as Twitter) @johnknebels.