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Walker, Wilbanks-Acqui lift West Catholic boys past O'Hara

01/25/2023, 11:45pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

SPRINGFIELD — Amyr Walker doesn’t take many shots, not that he needs to.

The fifth option in the West Catholic offense, Walker has to share the ball with a couple Division I commits and two other scholarship-level talents, so even in the Burrs’ uptempo system, that doesn’t mean more than a few looks every game. But that’s no problem for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior wing guard, who’s just thrilled to be starting for the varsity squad after three years playing JV.

Amyr Walker (above) hit key shots in West Catholic's win over Cardinal O'Hara on Wednesday. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

“My role’s [to] play hard,” Walker said. “I’m all about winning, everything is about winning. I’ll play any role they put me out there for, I just want to win.”

That being said, when Walker takes shots, you can be sure he and the rest of the West Catholic program expects him to make them. He only took five against Cardinal O’Hara on Wednesday night — and made every single one, his 13 points critical in West’s 61-55 road win.

Walker hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter and one in the second, getting fouled while doing so, though he missed the four-point play opportunity. He added one bucket in the decisive third quarter, during which West Catholic turned a 30-26 halftime deficit into a 42-39 lead going into the fourth, and he wasn’t done yet.

The fourth quarter saw him add another 3-pointer, then a driving layup, his final points of the day putting West Catholic (9-8, 5-3 Catholic League) up 47-41 with 6:12 remaining in a crucial game for PCL seeding.

“It’s about confidence,” he said. “Every game, our confidence is building more and more, so when I do get a shot, I’m prepared to take it.”

Walker certainly isn’t the most well-known name on the West Catholic roster, which features seniors Zion Stanford (Temple) and Adam ‘Budd’ Clark (Coppin State) as its top two scorers, with fellow seniors Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui — who led the way against O’Hara with 22 points — and Marcus ‘M.J.’ Branker both multi-year varsity contributors with scholarship-level programs in the mix. 

He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, Bocachica using some of his talented underclassmen at first, but Walker earned his spot with his consistent production, leadership and maturity on the court.

“He’s a kid that’s given this program every ounce of whatever he has,” West Catholic coach Miguel Bocachica said. “He has an amazing story. He was on JV for three years [...] he locked in in the summertime, locked into just what we do at West Catholic, lost 20-30 pounds and there ain’t many competitors in the city of Philadelphia like Amyr Walker. 

“And I’m thankful for him, we live in a world that, you know, when things don’t go kids’ way, they kind of run away and they go somewhere else. Myr stuck with it, he stuck with me and he’s giving West Catholic everything that he’s got.”

Even after Walker’s shots gave West Catholic a cushion, O’Hara came back to tie the game at 53-53 with 2:30 left. Wilbanks-Acqui, who had missed the last three games due to what he and Bocachica said were “personal reasons,” sunk a corner 3-pointer off a feed from Clark with 1:50 left; after the Burrs forced a turnover, Clark hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to put West Catholic up five with 75 seconds remaining.

Wilbanks-Acqui finished the scoring off with a final pair of foul shots with 13.8 seconds left, O’Hara never having a possession with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final minute. After giving up late leads to Neumann-Goretti, St. Joe’s Prep and Roman Catholic — the top three teams in the league — in losses this month, the Burrs were thrilled to close one out, especially on the road.

“These are situations preparing us for the playoffs and later down the road,” Walker said. “We’re starting to get that experience in late games, it’s just helping us build and get better.”

“We’ve got to learn how to execute at the end of the game, the last few minutes,” Wilbanks-Acqui added. “Make sure we drive-and-kick, and make sure we’re not just rushing shots.”

Clark scored 12 points with three steals and two assists for West Catholic, while Stanford added 10 points, with four assists and two rebounds; the rebound totals were low for all players in a game where the teams only missed a combined 30 shots (45-of-75), with the boards fairly evenly spread around.

The Lions (11-5, 4-4 PCL) got strong performances from junior forward Pearse McGuinn, who had 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks; senior guard Josh Coulanges, who finished with 14 points and three assists; and Iona-bound Izaiah Pasha, who finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists, though the Burrs were able to limit his production for much of the second half. 

Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui (above) goes to the rim for two of his game-high 22 points. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

“We just wanted to be us: we like to speed you up, we like to be in your face, we like to just be tough and gritty and we wanted to turn it up,” Bocachica said of his halftime pep talk. “That first half was not a West Catholic first half, energy-wise.”

Wednesday night began with four teams sitting at 4-3 in the Catholic League: O’Hara and West were two, along with Archbishop Wood and Archbishop Carroll, all tied for fifth in the 14-team league. West now has wins over two of them in Carroll and O’Hara, with a home game against Archbishop Wood on Feb. 10. 

If the Burrs can beat the Vikings, as well as fourth-place Archbishop Ryan (5-2) on Feb. 3, then it’s only a matter of winning their other three games — against Bonner (Jan. 29), at Conwell-Egan (Feb. 6) and at Devon Prep (Feb. 12) — to secure a top-four spot in the PCL and automatic home game in the league quarterfinals. That would put them just one win from the Palestra, where they lost last year, in the semifinals to Ryan.

“Our destiny is in our own hands,” Bocachica said, “and as long as we keep learning and as long as we keep getting better, I think we’ll be right where we need to be come playoff time.”

“We’re just trying to hit our stride at the right time and still take a swing at this Palestra.”

By Quarter
West Catholic:     11  |  15  |  16  |  19  ||  61
Cardinal O’Hara: 12  |  18  |   9   |  16  ||  55

West Catholic: 21-34 FG (5-11 3PT), 14-20 FT
Cardinal O’Hara: 24-41 FG (6-16 3PT), 1-2 FT

West Catholic: Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui 22, Amyr Walker 13, Budd Clark 12, Zion Stanford 10, Micah Waters Jr. 3, MJ Branker 1

Cardinal O’Hara: Pearse McGuinn 16, Josh Coulanges 14, Izaiah Pasha 13, Aasim Burton 10, Miles Johnson 2

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