St. Thomas Girls and Boys Prevail in 35th Annual GOYA Championships at St. Demetrios of Upper Darby

In a year unlike any other, nine teams were in action at the start of the final day of competitive action in the Delaware Valley Greek Orthodox Basketball League Championships held at St. Demetrios of Upper Darby on Sunday. Those who filled the stands were treated to 5 entertaining games of basketball, featuring some of the top talents in the league. There were memorable moments, heart-stopping finishes, and plenty of fellowship on the day. In the end, two teams stood atop the Delaware Valley as league champions. Let’s get right down to it:

Semi-Final – #1 St. Thomas Cherry Hill Boys 36, #6 St. Luke Boys 33

In the rematch of the semi-final game held two weeks ago, the top-seeded boys from St. Thomas took the floor looking to secure a spot in their first championship game since 1995. Their opponents from Broomall, who had proven their merits over the past few weeks, were looking to make history by becoming the first 6-seed ever to advance to the league championship game. Having just played each other two weeks before, this game was going to be an interesting display of team tactics and adjustments, and it certainly did not disappoint, as the boys from St. Thomas staved off a late run by the youngsters from St. Luke, winning by a final score of 36-33. For the boys from Cherry Hill, their victory started and ended with big-man John Nutaitis, whose presence around the rim was a bit too much for the St. Luke’s front court to handle. His rebounding and touch around the rim, as well as his ability to draw defenders, was the key to the Cherry Hill attack on the day. With 20 seconds to go, down 1, it was Nutaitis who cleaned up the offensive glass, hitting the go-ahead putback layup with about 10 seconds to go. An unfortunate slip and a turnover turned layup capped off the victory for the boys from St. Thomas, who did an excellent job denying the St. Luke’s boys anything easy on the inside. With the win the St. Thomas Boys advance to play Holy Trinity Egg Harbor… in about 4 hours.

Let’s take a moment to just congratulate the boy’s from St. Luke on a remarkable season. Going from a 1-5 start to coming within one play of the championship game is something everyone from Broomall can be very proud of. Having to take on the top team in the league twice in a row, and taking them to the brink in both games, is no easy task, and yet there they were again, making a key run late in the game to take a lead with under a minute to go. Greg Vlassopoulos led his team as usual on the day, but I was also very impressed by the outside shooting of Harry Polychromopoulos as well as the attacking play of Chris Palmieri, who was able to penetrate the St. Thomas interior with some hard-fought points in the paint that almost proved to be the difference. With that core three to build around, you have to look at this team as one of the teams to beat going into next season. Congratulations on a fine season boys, it was a run for the ages.

Girl’s Championship – #2 St. Thomas Cherry Hill – 15, #5 St. George Media 14

There were some exciting contests on the day but this one took the cake, as the girls from St. Thomas and St. George took the floor in search of a championship victory on Sunday evening. Both teams came in riding high off of their victories two weeks ago, but more notably St. George for knocking off the powerhouse from Egg Harbor in the semis. For three quarters though, this game looked a bit one-sided, as St. Thomas commanded a 12-2 lead in the second half, led primarily by Maria Kokolis’s superb guard play… and then the fireworks began.

I will say that in my experience in watching GOYA Basketball, and especially at the girl’s level where defense is more critical and points are harder to come by, a 12-2 lead is all but insurmountable. Do not tell that to the girls from St. George though, who rallied a stunning comeback performance, led by the Bourantas sisters Corina and Christina, St. George cut the lead down to 1 with only 30 seconds to play. And what a wild 30 seconds that turned out to be! Wave after wave of Media attack came as the girls from St. George tried frantically to get the go-ahead bucket. Give a ton of credit to the girls from St. Thomas as they weathered the storm and held on for dear life, in what might have been the longest 30 seconds in recorded history (it certainly had to have been for St. Thomas and St. George fans alike). In the end the Cherry Hill defense that played lock down defense all evening held on en route to a 15-14 thriller in the girl’s championship. For those from St. George, who I’m sure are a bit disappointed, you have to be proud of the effort that those girls put forth in a game and playoff run that will be remembered for some time. Also with most of their pieces returning next season, the league can rest assured that this team will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

For the girl’s from St. Thomas, let us congratulate them on such a fine season. These girls fought hard all year to get back to the finals, and faced some tough challenges en route to their first championship since 2009. Maria Kokolis led her team for sure, but make no mistake these girls won the day as a team, especially on the defensive end, as they held the St. George attack, which put up 31 points two weeks ago, to just 2 points through 3 quarters. Hats off to the girls from Cherry Hill on a fine season. Congratulations girls!

Boy’s Championship – #1 St. Thomas Cherry Hill – 46, #2 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – 23

Well, for a season filled with drama and unpredictability, the boy’s final turned out to be a little out of character as the top two teams in the boy’s division faced off late Sunday night. St. Thomas, fresh off their win earlier in the day, did not look the least bit fatigued as they carried the day on their way to a decisive 46-23 victory in the boy’s championship, which is their first since 1990. I had said in my preview I would be curious to see how the presence of John Nutaitis impacts this game, as he was not present in the regular season matchup between these two teams. Well… we certainly found out, as the Holy Trinity defense was just unable to contain the big man on the day. Also coming up big in the finals was standout guard Andrew Karolidis, whose lockdown defense generated a lot of turnovers and fast break opportunities, which seemed to deflate the boys from Egg Harbor in the second half.

For the boys in blue, you can not help but feel for a team that has now suffered their third-consecutive loss in the finals, which has not happened since 1992-1995. It was simply just not their day, as their inability to contain Nutaitis resulted in foul trouble woes early, which proved to be their undoing later in the game. Nutaitis’s interior presence on the defensive side also seemed to have an impact on the Egg Harbor attack, as there were a number of missed opportunities that might have kept the game close. The one offensive bright spot on the day was youngster George Arsenis, who seemed to single-handedly carry the offensive load (side note, is there anyone as excited as I am to watch the Arsenis-Vlassopoulos 8th grade battles over the next four years?). The boys were able to keep it close at the half, only trailing by 6, but were just unable to do anything to stop the interior play of St. Thomas on the evening. For the boys from Egg Harbor, the way their year ended should not take away from the year they had, as they were certainly one of the surprise teams this season. Holy Trinity does graduate three starters this year, but will also be returning some key players as well, so there is reason for optimism going forward, as this team has proven time and time again that they should always be considered a top contender in the boy’s league. Congratulations on a fine season boys.

For the boy’s from St. Thomas, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the adversity they had to overcome in order to capture their first title in 25 years. Having to play the same team two weekends in a row, they battled hard and prevailed on the day. Having to play two games in one day is another element, but they turned a perceived negative into a positive, using the momentum from their matinee semi-final contest in order to carry the play just a few hours later. Amidst any of the behind-the-scenes elements that I’m sure most have heard about, the boys came to play today, and prevailed against two top teams to win their title. Let’s also not forget this was a six-seed last year that skyrocketed up the standings to a top-seed this year, so especially for the older boys who took their lumps in their early years this has to be an extra sweet reward. Congratulations on a fantastic season boys you deserve it.

Thank you everyone for another fine season of GOYA Basketball. Stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all league updates, including a brief recap of awards night coming up in a few weeks!

Written by Mr. GOYA