For the basketball-loving community in the Delaware Valley, last week’s PGBL championships brought fans from all over the region to watch a truly remarkable display of talent as the Wolfpack and Kings squared off in an instant classic. A game like that can only leave the purest basketball fan wanting more. Well fear not, because the blizzard in January leaves us with a February treat, as this weekend Holy Trinity of Egg Harbor will play host to the 2015-2016 Del Val GOYA Basketball Championships. As always Cosmos Philly will be on hand to cover the action, but we thought we would whet your appetite with a preview of this Sunday’s action between the top four teams in the Delaware Valley:
Girls Championship Preview: #1 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor vs. #2 Evangelismos Philadelphia
In what is sure to be a classic, the two top-seeded teams from this year’s regular season will square off with the title and history on the line. For the host girls in blue, a championship will go a long way to avenge their heartbreaking upset loss in last year’s semi-finals, and will give them a third championship in four years. For the girls from the Boulevard, this year was about breaking through that final door to the finals, where they will seek their first title in church history.
For those who have seen the top-seeded team from the Shore this year, there might be a temptation to call this game a foregone conclusion. Holy Trinity boasts a starting five led by Senior guard Despina Lianidis, that have asserted dominance for the majority of the season. The big key to their success this year, in my opinion, has been the emergence of the new twin towers, in rising star Samantha Rhodes, and rookie phenom Mariana Papazoglou. The offensive and defensive firepower on this team has been too much to handle for most teams this season.
The reason why I say “most” and not “all” has a lot to do with the action that occurred this past weekend at the Holy Trinity Wilmington Invitational Tournament, where these two teams squared off twice (once in opening round play and once in the finals). In both instances I have been told were nail-biting, back-and-forth contests, with Holy Trinity ultimately pulling out both games by two points each en route to their tournament title. For the girls from Philly, led by their MVP-caliber guard Francesca Bogiatzis, they have to take a lot away from the weekend, in showing that the unbeaten favorites are not at all unbeatable. The emergence of Alexis Nakos as both an interior and midrange threat this year has also proven to be a key contributor to the rising success of Evangelismos this season.
The key factors in this game start in the trenches. Can Evangelismos, led by Nakos, contain the big-two underneath? If they can they will be able to cut one of Egg Harbor’s greatest strengths. The other key will be in the guard matchup, as we have seen such great contests from Bogiatzis vs. Lianidis in the past, I can expect Sunday to be no different. And how will this past weekend’s events play into this Sunday? Has Evangelismos found a chink in Holy Trinity’s seemingly-impenetrable armor? Or will the two close calls serve more as a wake up call to the girls in blue for this weekend’s final contest. Both games this weekend went down to the wire, and I can see no reason why Sunday’s will be any different. In the end I think the girl’s in blue will pull out another tight one.
Final score prediction – Holy Trinity 24, Evangelismos 23
Boy’s Championship Preview – #1 Evangelismos Philadelphia vs. #2 St. Luke Broomall
This has been the rematch we have all been waiting for, as the two most dominant teams from this past season will face off in the primetime game this Sunday. For Evangelismos Philadelphia, history will be on their side, as the last time a championship game was held in South Jersey, it was they who emerged victorious back in 2011. For the boy’s from Broomall, Sunday will be about getting back to their historic winning ways, as they will look to capture their first championship since their historic six-peat from 1999-2004, when now-PGBL stars Pete Kathopoulis and Chris Vasiliou led the charge).
For the boys from the Boulevard, who traditionally have relied on size in their past successes, this year has been all about balanced team play and skill at the guard position. Having the reigning MVP Jimmie Armentani will help with that, as his leadership has certainly been the rock that the Evangelismos team has leaned on this year. Led by him and fellow guards Joel Mattos and John Armentani, the boys from Philly were nearly unbeatable this year, stumbling only once against their longtime rivals from Holy Trinity back in November. The boys in black and gold (love the new unis) saved their best performance for last, as they played a complete game in a convincing win over St. George Media in the semifinals a few weeks back (which is made to look only more impressive following St. George’s dominant victory in the consolation game last week, along with their third place finish in the Wilmington Tournament this past weekend).
At the other end of the court, the boys from St. Luke’s Broomall, who took the league by storm last January, are not sneaking up on anyone anymore. If there is one team that can match the competitive balance of the top-seeded Evangelismos it is this team, and if there is one player in the league who can match the skill level of the reigning MVP, it is young phenom Greg Vlassopoulos. Last year the youngster wowed us with his limitless range and fearless competitiveness, in keying an upset win over Elkins Park (who merged with Evangelismos this year, if we are looking for a little added history to this contest), and nearly knocking off the top-seeded St. Thomas, not once, but twice, in the semi-finals. St. Luke’s also has one of the most versatile players in the league in fellow youngster Chris Palmieri, whose length and range are a matchup nightmare for any team, Evangelismos included.
Way back when these two teams met, St. Luke jumped out to an early 9-0 lead that is an indication of the firepower these kids bring. However after that point it was all Evangelismos as they battled back on their way to an 8 point win. 37-29. My prediction for this weekend is another close contest, but one that will feature a lot of offensive firepower. Get ready for a shootout everyone because this one will be sure to please. In the end I think the experience of Evangelismos will be the deciding factor in a hard-fought and competitive game.
Final Score Prediction – Evangelismos 52, St. Luke 47
Congratulations to all the teams (both who will be competing this weekend and who have competed all season), and stay tuned to Cosmos Philly’s game day coverage of all the action, as we cover one of the great traditions in the Greek Orthodox youth community this Sunday at the Shore.