A.J. Hoggard (above) impressed with 17 points in his first high school playoff game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Austin Petolillo (@AustinPSports)
When you think of the Philadelphia Catholic League, you automatically think of toughness, grit and 100 percent effort night in and night out.
Archbishop Carroll’s freshman point guard A.J. Hoggard displayed that classic PCL toughness and grit helping, Carroll eliminate LaSalle College High School from the Catholic League playoffs in a first round game on Wednesday night by a final score of 59-37.
“There is no tougher conference than the Philly Catholic League,” Hoggard said.
Hoggard finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block to go along with many hustle plays that do not show up on the stat sheet.
It seemed like the 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard from Coatesville was always on the floor diving for loose balls or jumping into the stands.
“To say I was impressed and pleased with his play tonight is an understatement,” Archbishop Carroll head coach Paul Romanczuk said.
For a freshman who was playing and starting in his first Philadelphia Catholic League playoff game, Hoggard didn’t seem to let the nerves get to him tonight.
“I was a little nervous, knowing that it could be the last game for my seniors if we lose so I just tried to do what I had to do to help us win and see another day,” he said.
A super-talented young guard, Hoggard has staked his claim as the best freshman in the city with an impressive freshman season, averaging a little more than 10 ppg in his first season of varsity basketball. Romanczuk has started the rookie at point guard all year long, following up on a long line of Division I upperclassman than included Josh Sharkey (Samford), Austin Tilghman (Monmouth), Yosef Yacob (Binghamton), Juan’ya Green (Hofstra) and more.
But Hoggard has generally acquitted himself well, scoring in double figures in eight of the Patriots’ 13 regular-season league games, including a season-high 25 against St. Joe’s Prep.
“A.J. makes me look pretty smart a lot of times,” Romanczuk said. “He is a very intelligent player and for someone who is only a freshman, he really understands the game of basketball, he understands the angles and he has great court vision.”
As for the game itself, Archbishop Carroll surely looked like one of the best defensive teams in Catholic League history after their first quarter shutout.
The Patriots held the Explorers to zero points over the opening eight minutes, taking a 9-0 advantage into the second.
Hoggard said that the last time he can remember that happening was “probably fourth grade [of] AAU basketball.”
LaSalle senior point guard Jarrod Stukes finished the game with 15 points, eight rebounds and two assists but he was only held to two points at the half.
“I thought that first quarter really set the tone.” Romanczuk said. “I thought Khari Williams did a great job on Stukes, I thought Khari’s length bothered Jarrod just a little bit early on but I thought we did a great job defensively.”
Even though Hoggard put up good numbers tonight, it hasn’t always been this easy for him in his freshman season.
“It’s a grind and he’s had his downs but he bounces back, he’s thick-skinned.” Romanczuk said. “He’s not like some younger guys who want to be praised all the time he’s alright with you if you’re criticizing his play and he is improving and getting better from it.”
This is a normality for every freshman to have his ups and downs but Hoggard knows it will all pay off in the end.
“Mostly, the coaching staff focuses on defense because sometimes I get knocked for defense so I just have to focus on that more, and they push me a lot during practice," he said.
It also helps that Hoggard has seniors such as West Chester commit Colin Daly, Khari Williams, and Jesse McPherson taking him under their wing.
“The seniors helped me a lot,” Hoggard said. “They just told me to play my game, don’t worry about anything, just continue to play my game even if I make mistakes, just continue to play, everything will pan out.”
Archbishop Carroll also received key contributions from Khari Williams who scored 14 points to add to his six rebounds, Justin Anderson had 11 points and four rebounds and Colin Daly added nine points, all three-pointers, to go along with four rebounds to his name.
Up next for Archbishop Carroll in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs is a quarterfinal matchup with Neumann-Goretti.
“(Neumann-Goretti) are as good of a team you’ll find,” Romanczuk said. “With [Kentucky signee] Quade Green and [Villanova signee] Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree being two of the best players nationally it’s going to be a really tough task but I am confident in how we’re playing and I know we will compete.”
“Anything can happen at any time,” Hoggard added.