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Neumann-Goretti wins fifth-straight Catholic title

02/25/2013, 10:15pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Winning the Catholic League boys’ basketball title is no easy task.

Carl Arrigale and Neumann-Goretti just make it look that way.

Led by a 27-point evening from star junior Ja’Quan Newton, the Saints won their fifth-consecutive Catholic League championship with a 60-42 win over St. Joseph’s Prep.

“It’s hard, man,” said Arrigale, who won his ninth title in 15 years at the school. “People think it’s not, but it’s hard to get here and it’s hard…to always have the target on your back and these guys always respond, I’m really really proud.

“This one was hard, because a lot of people thought we were leaking oil and they thought this was the year they were going to get us. And these guys are a good team, they just had to believe it.”

The game was a rematch of last year’s Catholic League title clash which Neumann-Goretti won 59-57 behind 21 points from Newton.

The 6-foot-3 junior guard had outdone his previous championship performance by the end of the third quarter, when five consecutive points of his helped build an eight-point cushion heading into the final period of play.

“I just wanted to have the lead going into the fourth quarter because I knew if we could just spread the ball out, they’d have a really hard time guarding us,” Arrigale said. “They’re so dangerous, we just did a really good job of guarding them and converting their misses.”

Prep (20-5, 11-3) got 14 points from Notre Dame-bound guard Stephen Vasturia and just seven from Wake Forest-bound Miles Overton, who combined for 35 points a year ago. Sophomore Chris Clover chipped in 11 for the Hawks.

The Saints (20-5, 12-1) had carried a bit of a chip on their shoulder lately. Neumann-Goretti was embarrassed by Chester on national television, losing 58-41, leaving some doubt as to whether or not they could defend their league title, much less their three consecutive PIAA Class AAA state crowns.

“Chester gave us just a smack in the face, letting us know that we can be beat, we’re not that good, and we’ve got to keep working,” senior John Davis said. “Getting smacked on national television’s not fun at all, so that basically just motivated us to get in the gym and do what we do, keep working to fulfill our goals.”

Neumann-Goretti also saw their 73-game Catholic League winning streak snapped this year in a 65-62 loss at La Salle.

Davis registered a double-double in his final Catholic League game with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-7 forward is headed to Towson next year, and he has a chance to end his high school career without losing a single playoff game if the Saints make a run to the state championship.

Prep cut into a 10-point halftime deficit immediately out of the break, closing to within 32-28 after holding Neumann-Goretti scoreless for the first 4:35 of the third quarter.

The Saints would extend that lead back out to seven before Kyle Thompson’s back-to-back 3-pointers ignited a massive Prep student section that easily rivaled any collegiate student section the Palestra has seen this season. That would be the closest the second-seeded Hawks would get since it was a 2-2 game, however.

“They cut it to one, I was thinking ‘hey I’m not letting my team lose,’ so I had to make good plays for my team,” Newton said. “I wasn’t losing.”

Newton’s late-game push–he had 10 of his points after Thompson’s treys–mirrored his first-half performance, which helped the Saints lead by 10 after both of the first and second quarters. The highly-sought-after recruit, who has offers from all over the Big East, Atlantic 10 and ACC, hit big three-pointers on isolation plays to end both the first and second quarters.

“He plays well in the big games–he’s got ice water in his veins, he’s a great player,” Arrigale said. “He’s a better shooter than you guys think, he just gets to the basket with so much ease sometimes that he doesn’t shoot a lot. He’s going to keep improving, look out next year because he can shoot the ball.”

Due to the computer rankings, Prep has to play Bartram on Thursday at Southern High School (7:30 p.m.) with the winner getting the third seed in the AAAA classification; the loser gets elimitated. Roman Catholic, which Prep beat in the Catholic League semifinals, plays Martin Luther King on Friday for District 12’s 1/2 seed distinction in the Class AAAA State playoffs.

Neumann-Goretti moves on to face Public League champion Imhotep Charter and Providence-bound senior Brandon Austin on Friday night at St. Joseph’s University for the top seed from District 12 in the PIAA Class AAA State tournament (8:30 p.m.).

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