It was an action-packed Saturday night in St. Thomas, as three games were scheduled to decide who would punch their tickets to final four weekend, and in another, to decide the first-ever Junior Varsity Champion in league history. The day was filled with exciting storylines throughout. Let’s cover each game before getting into what it means for next weekend’s Semifinal and Championship double-header.
Game 1: Boy’s Quarterfinals – St. Luke’s Broomall/The Flu – 2, Holy Trinity Wilmington – 0
In a game that promised to be one of the most competitive of the day on paper, and unfortunate Flu bug swept the boys from Delaware out of the quarterfinals. Not much more to say about this one except the result sends St. Luke’s Broomall into the semifinals for the third straight year, and for the third straight year they will face off against their Delco rivals in top-seeded St. George Media.
Game 2: JV Championship – Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – 28, Annunciation Elkins Park – 20
In what was unquestionably the most exciting game of the day, the two top-seeded young squads from around the Delaware Valley squared off in the first-ever Junior Varsity showdown. In what was a defensive and intense game from start to finish, the youngsters from Holy Trinity Egg Harbor pulled off the upset, knocking off the top-seeded boys from Elkins Park 28-20. Holy Trinity led the game wire-to-wire, but Elkins Park kept the game close throughout, before foul trouble wound up being their undoing. Dylan Szczotka led all scorers with 11 points on the day, and the boys from Egg Harbor took home their first-ever league title in church history. Congratulations to both teams on a great season.
Game 3: Girl’s Quarterfinal – Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – 17, St. Demetrios Upper Darby – 8
In a battle to decide the fourth and final spot in the girl’s Final Four, the fourth-seeded girls from the shore rallied behind a second-half offensive outburst to knock off the fifth-seeded girls from St. D’s. Nia Mertis led all scorers with 10 points, and was the catalyst in breaking open a game that was deadlocked for the first three quarters. Holy Trinity will now find themselves back in the final four after a year off last year, matched up in an all-Jersey showdown with the top-seeded girls from St. Thomas.
Game 4: Boy’s Quarterfinal – Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – 42, St. Thomas Cherry Hill – 24
In the final game of the day, the Jersey showdown to decide the final spot in the boy’s Final Four matched up the third-seeded boys from Holy Trinity against the sixth-seeded boys from St. Thomas. There was no home-court advantage to be found on the day in this one, as the boys from the shore rallied around a swarming defensive attack in breaking out to a 21 point halftime lead, which they would hold for the remainder of the game. Holy Trinity relied on a balanced scoring attack throughout, while St. Thomas’s offensive workload was carried by Robert Papadeas, who led all scorers with 14 points. The win for Holy Trinity, like their sisters, puts them back into the semis after a one-year absence, where they will face off against the hosts and second-seeded boys from St. Demetrios.
So now that we have our final fours set, Mr. GOYA did a little research. This is actually, and remarkably, the first time in the six-team playoff era that the final four in both brackets has wound up with the top four seeds in each. It all sets up some great matchups next Saturday in St. Demetrios to decide the finals that will be played the next day. Since there is no week gap between semis and finals, we will be covering all four teams individually and giving our predictions as to where they will end up, rather than try to predict final matchups that may or may not occur.
#1 Seed: St. Thomas Cherry Hill (6-0) – For the second-straight year, the girls from St. Thomas march into the playoffs with an undefeated record and the top overall seed. Head Coach Dean Pappas has done a fantastic job in getting this group of girls through the regular season with incredible offensive and defensive balance, as they lead the league in both most points for (the next highest team is 80 points behind them) and fewest points against (the next closest team is 55 points behind as well). In fact, they have yet to allow more than 11 points in a single game all season, which is a remarkable feat. Realistically speaking, it is their title to lose, as they have not shown any signs of stumbling all year long, and January doesn’t seem like a good place to predict that they will start. Weekend Prediction: League Champs.
#2 Seed: St. George Media (4-2) & #3 Seed Holy Trinity Wilmington (3-3) – Because of how close these two teams are I am cheating and doing a combined review and prediction.
One of the most consistent teams over the past decade, the girls from St. George Media, winners of four of their last five games, find themselves as the second seed in the tournament this year. They will look to start this decade the same way they started the last one, with an appearance in the girl’s finals. Their opponents in the first round will be a very familiar one in their cross-state rivals from Holy Trinity Wilmington. Having played three times already this year, the 2-1 series edge to St. George is the main reason they have the higher seed this weekend. Like the top-seeded girls from St. Thomas, the defense has been the key to their success, as their two wins against Holy Trinity have both been a result of holding Wilmington to under 10 points.
As for the girls from Delaware, they will look to capture the spark that led them to a hot start early in the season before a tough second half saw them finish at 3 and 3 and the third seed in the tournament. In the game the girls from Holy Trinity emerged, they exploded for 25 points on opening weekend and will look to recapture that this Saturday if they hope to knock off the girls from St. George. When I look at the four games this Saturday, this one I think has the most likelihood of coming right down to the wire. If Mr. GOYA has learned anything since covering this league, it’s that it is very hard to beat a team three times in one season. Given how close and hard-fought these games have been, I’m predicting a bit of an upset as I see the girls from Holy Trinity to knock off the girls from St George before going up against the juggernauts from St. Thomas. Game Prediction – Holy Trinity 18, St. George 16. Weekend Prediction: Holy Trinity – Runners Up, St. George – Third Place Winners.
#4 Seed: Holy Trinity Egg Harbor (1-5) – For the girls from Holy Trinity, this year was a step in the right direction, as first-year coach Alex Tjoumakaris succeeded in getting the girls both their first regular-season win in two years, and combining that with their first playoff win in that same time frame. The girls from the Shore have shown great improvement over the season, and have earned their spot in the semifinals. Unfortunately for them, they are going up against an older and experienced St. Thomas team that has already beaten them twice this season. I think the girls from Holy Trinity will give it their all this weekend and will use their playoff run this year as a starting point for an exciting future ahead. Weekend Prediction: Fourth Place.
#1 Seed: St. George Media (7-0) – If you have been following our coverage of the league this year, you probably know where this prediction is going. From October to now, the defending champions have run over, through, and around the competition, on their way to an undefeated record and the top seed in the playoffs. Their motto has been simple, the best defense, is a great offense, as they have, in what Mr. GOYA thinks has to be some kind of record, scored a league-high 467 points this season (67 points per game). Led by second-year coach George Apostolopoulos and reigning MVP and son Vylandi Apostolopoulos, they have put up numbers that the league has just never seen before offensively. Like the top-seeded girls from St. Thomas, there just doesn’t seem to be an answer to their dominant run this year, so it seems all but certain that they will emerge this weekend as the first back-to-back champs since the Elkins Park three-peat seven years ago. Weekend Prediction: League Champs.
#2 Seed: St. Demetrios Upper Darby (5-1) – While the boys from St. George have run away with the top seed this year, the same can basically be said for the boys from St. Demetrios, who, with the exception of their loss to St. George, have been unbeaten themselves, on their way to a 5-1 record and the second seed and bye in the boy’s bracket. They also can say they are one of two teams to truly “test” the predicted champs, losing a hard-fought game back in October 65-55. Led by long-time coach Steph Karas and Mr. GOYA’s predicted MVP Alex Nicolaides, the boys from St. D’s have a great blend of elite size inside, and solid shooting and attacking from the perimeter. They will also be looking to avenge a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating upset loss last season when they found themselves in this exact spot in the postseason. Overall I like the boys from Upper Darby to carry a home-court advantage in the semifinals on their way to their second finals appearance in four years before running up against the boys from St. George in a tough final match. Weekend Prediction: Runners Up.
#3 Seed: Holy Trinity Egg Harbor (3-3) – Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the reason I do not do preseason rankings. Had you asked me in October where I thought the boys from the shore would wind up, I would have had to say sixth if only because of the loss of talent they endured to graduation, combined with the teams below them getting older and better. That being said, here we go again, with Holy Trinity’s boys making their sixth appearance in the final four over the last eight years. Coach Anthony Panetta has gotten his young group of boys into the semifinals with their tried-and-true pressure defense, which as we said last week, resulted in them being the top defensive team in the league this season. They will also get a second chance to knock off the boys from St. Demetrios, who handed them an opening day loss in Upper Darby, 38-30. In that opener, and really, throughout the season, Holy Trinity relied on the offensive firepower of Sophomore Dylan Szczotka to stay in the game. To pull off the upset they will have to rely on a balanced scoring attack, and do something that no team (including St. George) has been able to do, and that is to contain Alex Nicolaides. If they can? They have a great shot too, once again make the finals. In the end, I see them falling just short, but taking home a hard-fought third place, which is a huge step forward for this young team. Weekend Prediction: Third Place.
#4 Seed: St. Luke Broomall (3-4) – For the boys from St. Luke, Saturday will mark the third consecutive appearance in the league semifinals. After the past weekend dealt them a forfeit victory and, essentially, a bye into the semis, they will look to rely on their veteran leadership and size up and down the lineup, in the hopes of knocking off the defending champs. This is actually the third straight year of this Delco semifinal rivalry, with the winner going on to win the title the previous two times. St. Luke’s has already faced the defending champs twice this season, with the second game being a dramatic improvement from the first. If they can continue that trend then they could prove to be a tough test for the defending champs. I also, if the above predictions hold, see them as a very tough opponent for the third-seeded Holy Trinity in the Consolation Game, having beaten them in the regular season already. That game is anyone’s to win, so I could see either pulling out the win and third place, but for now, I am sticking with chalk and saying that St. Luke’s will use this year as a building block on a continued path up the boy’s division standings in years to come. Weekend Prediction: Fourth Place (Third Place Possibly).
As always, thank you to everyone for all of your continued readership and support. Best of luck to all the kids this weekend, and of course, tune in next week for full recaps of all the weekend’s action.