Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
A thin sheen of sweat beads still dotted Daniel Skillings’ brow about 20 minutes after he and his teammates made their statement.
The 6-foot-6, Roman Catholic senior star bound for Cincinnati scored a game-high 28 points on Sunday at Cristo Rey High School, and more importantly, the Cahillites gained a high point to their season thus far with an electric 70-63 Catholic League victory over West Catholic, which was previously undefeated in the league.
With the victory, Roman Catholic improved to 10-3 overall and 6-1 in the league, while West Catholic, led by a team-high 16 from Adam Clark, fell to 10-2 and 5-1.
Daniel Skillings (above) and Roman Catholic stayed atop the PCL with a win over West Catholic. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Skillings was bed-ridden on Saturday night and felt horrible and rundown on Sunday morning. After testing negative for COVID-19, he decided to play. If anyone saw Skillings perform at Cristo Rey, they would have been shocked to know he was ill.
He scored the Cahillites first five points and finished with eight of his game-high 28 in the fourth quarter, including a clutch three-pointer with 2:04 left to play that gave Roman a 60-52 edge.
“I put a lot on myself, I just knew I had to get back with my team and I knew there was a lot of big talk around this game,” Skillings said. “I haven’t won a Catholic League championship and want to win one this year. Me, Toby (Ojukwo), (Xzavier Brown) and Khalil (Farmer) told everyone before the game we have to get after it and we have to play hard.
“Defense is what got us here. We all locked in defensively and we locked in together. West Catholic is a team with a lot of length and a lot of heart, and had to fight back from the adversity. I know when I get home after this game I’m going right to sleep.”
No one courtside was dozing with these two area giants slugging it out. West Catholic has not beaten Roman in 18 years now, but the Burrs were forced to focus on their present struggles in stopping Skillings, Farmer and Brown, who combined for 58 of Roman’s 70 points.
“This was a good statement win for us, coming off the loss to (Archbishop) Wood earlier in the week,” Farmer said. “I think a lot of people started doubting us, but we played well together as a team today and it was a very good win.
“West Catholic was a big team, we just played together well. We executed today what we practiced. We haven’t won a Catholic League championship, but we’re going to get one.”
There were four lead changes in the first quarter, but the fifth lead change midway through the second quarter, on Farmers’ three free throws, was a lead Roman would never relinquish. The Cahillites ended the first half on a 12-0 run. West Catholic failed to score for the final 3:50 of the second quarter.
An interest point came when West Catholic’s Zion Sanford picked up his second foul of the game with 5:58 left in the half. Until then, Sanford was playing better than anyone on the court, defending Skillings, forcing three turnovers in the first quarter and scoring eight points.
When Sanford left the game, West Catholic was leading, 19-11 and held an early 19-9 lead with him on the floor. When Sanford started the second half, the Burrs were down 30-25, and trailed by 10 four times in the fourth quarter, 54-44, 62-52, 64-54 and 70-60.
When asked if Sanford’s foul trouble messed up his team’s rhythm, Kaseem Watson said, “I think it did. Guys just have to step up. We have to be better. We’ll see them again. Everything comes from defense. If we defend at a high level, we’ll be straight.
“Me and my brother (Kareem) have to step up. We have to be better.”
The last time West Catholic won a Philadelphia Catholic League championship was 1959, led by legends Jim Boyle, Herb Magee and Jimmy Lynam. The last time West Catholic beat Roman none of the Burrs were born.
Maybe this was a growing stage West Catholic had to endure, maybe it wasn’t. But Burrs head coach Miguel Bocachica brought up an interesting point, when he said afterward, “Their three guys (Skillings, Farmer and Brown) were comfortable and we had to do a better job of controlling those guys.
“When Zion sat with foul trouble, we lost some of our aggression. This is our first time really handling this kind of a game, and now it’s on to the next game.”
The next game with Roman may have a familiar face wearing purple.
Roman confirmed that 6-6 junior forward Anthony Finkley, who left West Catholic in the summer for the proving grounds of national prep powerhouse Huntington Prep, has transferred into Roman and will eligible to play this Friday, passing the 21-day transfer requirement. Finkley’s star was rising when he left West, receiving offers from Rutgers, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, DePaul, UMBC and Marquette.
West Catholic: 17 | 8 | 19 | 19 || 63
Roman Catholic: 9 | 21 | 21 | 19 || 70
West Catholic: Adam Clark 16, Kaseem Watson 13, Zion Sanford 12, Isaac Cole 9, Nasir Griffin 8, Kareem Watson 5
Roman Catholic: Daniel Skillings 28, Khalil Farmer 16, Xzavier Brown 14, Toby Ojukwu 7, Shareef Jackson 3, Quadir Brown 2
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.