By Larry Moko
The Cardinal Newman Cardinals gave it their best shot in the final but failed to halt St. Michael’s domination at the Ontario All-Catholic Classic.
The St. Michael’s College Blue Raiders made it four consecutive All-Catholic boys’ high school basketball tournament titles and six of the last seven with a 68-58 victory over Newman in St. Catharines Saturday night.
The Blue Raiders are the defending OFSAA Triple A champions. They’re currently the third-ranked team in the GTA and their resume also includes provincial Quad A gold medals in 2013 and 2015.
“I’m very proud of the way we played,” Newman coach Andrew Sergi said after the awards ceremony at the Denis Morris gym. “We were playing, arguably, the best team in the province and we were right there with them.
“The only problem was every time we made a play they came right back and made a play that matched it. So we could never get a run going. That’s credit to them.”
St. Michael’s is coached by former McMaster Marauder forward Jeff Zownir.
Said Sergi: “I’m never happy when we lose, but I can take this one because we played hard.”
The 43rd Ontario Catholic Classic saw the Cardinals score a thrilling 46-45 semifinal victory over their Hamilton-Wentworth league rivals from Cathedral. In the other semifinal of the 16-team, two-day event, St. Michael’s breezed past Mississauga’s St. Marcellinus Spirit, 74-53.
Earlier, Newman scored a pair of victories – 91-66 over the St. John’s College Green Eagles of Brantford and 76-70 over the St. Francis Phoenix of St. Catharines.
“It’s six years in a row that we’ve been in this tournament,” the Newman coach said. “Four times we’ve made it to the semis. This was the first time we’ve actually been in the final. So that’s good. We did get better, I guess.”
The Blue Raiders held quarter leads of 16-13, 37-34 and 56-47 over Newman.
Tyler Bridgman and Mathieu Kitenge led Newman’s attack with 12 points apiece. Nick Rakas chipped in with 11 while Alba Pllana had six.
For the Blue Raiders, tournament MVP Kyle Duke-Simpson netted 17 points. The winners also got 16 points by Inaki Alvarez, 13 by Jack Foran and 11 from Ben Stonkus.
“A couple of times we just let down on the defensive end,” Sergi said. “They (St. Mike’s) punish you when that happens.”
Kitenge and Rakas were selected to the all-star team along with Stonkus and Alvarez.
According to Sergi, everybody on the Newman team contributed in different ways during the three games. But he said Kitenge and Rakas, in particular, stood out and deserved their all-star recognition.
“I also liked the way Tyler Bridgman played at both ends of the court for us,” the Newman coach said. “And (centre) Frank Stipancic has been great. He’s a real solid player.”
Cathedral’s preliminary victories were against Milton’s Bishop Reding Royals (78-47) and the Saint Paul Patriots of Niagara Falls (64-41).
The third HWCAA entry – the St. Thomas More Knights – began play with a 62-61 victory over the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders of Oakville. More then lost 72-63 to St. Michael’s.
The HWCAA playoffs begin Tuesday with three quarter-finals. The St. Mary Crusaders travel to Newman, the Bishop Ryan Celtics visit Cathedral and the Bishop Tonnos Titans take on the Knights at St. Thomas More. The first-place St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves receive an opening-round bye.
“If we can build on what we did at this tournament, especially tonight, it could bode well for us in the playoffs,” Sergi said. “Our league is so tight, though, anyone can win. There is little separating the top four teams.”