Jeff McDevitt (@jeffmcdev)
The Neumann-Goretti Saints can now officially look ahead to their nationally-televised matchup with Chester. They have clinched the top seed in the Catholic League playoffs with a 68-58 victory over Archbishop Wood Friday evening in South Philadelphia.
Junior Ja’Quan Newton led Neumann-Goretti (17-4, 12-1) with a season-high 28 points, Joe LoStracco had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead Wood (12-9, 7-6).
It was Senior Night for Neumann Goretti’s four seniors: Towson-bound John Davis, four-year varsity player Hanif Sutton, John Mastrando, and Kahleem Williams.
In the first quarter, with their leading scorer Pat Smith (16.5 ppg) on the bench with a stomach virus, Wood jumped out to an 12-4 lead, as Neumann-Goretti did not have their normal starters in and seemed a bit out of sync. Once the Saints normal lineup was back in, they ripped off a 15-1 run to end the quarter and lead 19-13.
The second quarter was the Newton show. The standout junior had 13 points on 3-3 from 3-point range in the quarter, despite having a breakaway dunk rejected by the rim.
“I was a little bit embarrassed,” Newton told CoBL.” “I knew I had to get it back, so I answered back with three 3′s. It made a little mad though.”
The third quarter was a battle of the big men, as Neumann-Goretti senior John Davis had nine points and three rebounds while Wood big man Joe LoStracco had eight points and three rebounds. Neumann-Goretti led 56-41 at the end of the frame.
The Saints started the fourth quarter 0-6 from the field, while Wood guard Cody Fitzpatrick hit two long 3-pointers to cut the Neumann-Goretti lead to six points with a little under four minutes to play.
“Our main thing is at the end of games, it seems in the catholic league sometimes we lose focus,” Newton said. “So we just have to play hard every opportunity we get, and if we keep playing hard we’ll win those games by double digits as we should.”
“We were a really distracted team tonight,” Neumann Goretti head coach Carl Arrigale said. “I don’t know what went wrong. We had them where we need to be at halftime to put them away. I don’t know if it was a combination of senior night and the game Sunday. Hopefully they were distracted because we haven’t played defense that poorly in a while.”
Ja’Quan Newton went on a solo 7-0 run to put the game away for Neumann-Goretti, and clinch the top seed in the Catholic League playoffs. They are slated to host the lowest remaining seed (likely the winner of Father Judge and McDevitt) Friday, February 15th.
Davis finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore Lamarr Kimble poured in 10 points for Neumann-Goretti.
The senior duo of Davis and Sutton have played on varsity since their freshman year for Neumann-Goretti, and have gone three-for-three in winning AAA state titles.
“They’ve been two warriors for me,” Arrigale said. They’re all four-year program guys. John and Hanif have played over 100 games for us. They’ve been big time contributors since sophomore year, two very unselfish guys who come and punch the clock everyday for us.”
Neumann-Goretti is the first team to 3-peat in 20 years in the state of Pennsylvania, and they know what an honor it is to have played four years at such a prestigious program.
“The tradition at Neumann-Goretti is crazy,” Sutton said. “I’ve been watching them since I was seven or eight years old. So you know what it means to be on this team, and then be honored here tonight is crazy, and I just want to keep the success going.”
Sutton mentioned Princeton, East Stroudsberg, Lock Haven and Holy Family as schools he had talked to about playing in college next year.
For Archbishop Wood, Fitzpatrick had 19 points on four 3-pointers, and Shane Neher had 10. Only a non-league game with William Tennent remains, before a likely home playoff game Wednesday against the #10 seed in the Catholic League.
Next up for Neumann-Goretti is the game it seems everyone in the area has been talking about since the schedule was released in the Fall. Sunday evening at 6PM at Neumann University, nationally broadcast on ESPN2, against two-time defending AAAA state champion Chester, led by McDonald’s All-American and Arizona commit, Rondae Jefferson. Neumann-Goretti, the winners of the past three AAA state championships, know how monumental first meeting is between the two schools.
“It’s the game everybody in the city wants to see,” Sutton said. “I am really excited for the game.”
“The funny thing is, it’s a big game for all the fans, but it really doesn’t mean anything to either team except that it’s a real good tune up for the playoffs. I’m not going to lie to lie to you, everybody’s been talking about it for the whole year,” Arrigale said.
Each player on Neumann-Goretti each received a box which contained a brand new pair of green and gold Nike Kobe 8′s to sport for the ESPN cameras. Needless to say, they seemed equally as fired up as area high school basketball fans are for Sunday’s game. The game will air on ESPN2 at 6PM.