St. George Pulls Off Monumental Upset, “Koumbari Bowl” Classic, Final Matchups are Set… Maybe

Wow. That is all I can say. What a year this has turned out to be! I said last week that the quarterfinal games set the bar incredibly high from an excitement standpoint, and that the semifinals would have their work cut out for them if they hoped to match that level of entertainment. Well, if you were on hand at St. Thomas of Cherry Hill this Sunday you were treated to arguably the most exciting day of games in recent memory.

The crowd, packed to capacity for most of the afternoon and evening, witnessed four memorable games, including a historic upset, an instant classic from two family rivals, and a game that ended without a clear resolution on the day. When the dust had settled, three of the four spots in the championship games were locked in, with one final spot to be decided sometime in the near future. If you look back on our predictions column from this weekend, it shows that I wasn’t lying when I said earlier in the year, “the only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

#2 St. Thomas Cherry Hill Girls – 35, #3 Evangelismos Philadelphia Girls – 27

The day kicked off with a classic tale-of-two-halves battle between the hosts from St. Thomas, seeded number 2, against the third-seeded girls from Evangelismos. With two of the top guards in the league in Francesca Bogiatzis and Maria Kokolis facing off, you knew this would be a classic, and it did not disappoint. The girls from the Northeast jumped out to a fast start and carried the play throughout much of the first half, led by Bogiatzis and star forward Alexis Nakos, who has been playing great basketball in December and January. Evangelismos would ride that momentum, and the lead it generated, until the second half when the girls from St. Thomas turned up the offensive and defensive pressure, mounting a come-from-behind 35 to 27 victory.

With the win St. Thomas clinches a spot in the championship for the second consecutive year, and a shot at redeeming their tough loss last season. For the girls from Evangelismos, a lot to be proud of on the day as they pushed the hosts to the brink before falling just short at the end. The loss sees them fall one game short of the finals, but a third consecutive final four appearance, and a young cast of talent returning next season, leaves a lot to look forward to if you’re a fan of the girls from the Boulevard, who will now look to ending their season on a high note in the consolation game. Great job to both teams.

#1 St. Thomas Cherry Hill Boys – 50, #6 St. Luke Broomall Boys 41

Quick note – If you were on hand for Sunday’s action you know that there is some debate over the interpretation of a rule involving the outcome of this game. Mr. GOYA is not quite familiar with the rule, but after doing some digging I found that, essentially, the result of this game may not necessarily reflect who advances to the finals in two weeks, with a ruling coming sometime soon. For now we will just focus on the actual basketball action and leave the decision that follows to those in charge.

What an intense game this one turned out to be. The sixth seed youngsters from St. Luke entered the gym on Sunday looking to continue their historic by becoming the first #6 seed to ever advance to the GOYA championships. In their way was the juggernauts from St. Thomas, who entered the game having not lost since Mid-October. It turned out to be a game of runs on the day, with the hosts from Cherry Hill pulling out a gritty 50-41 victory in the end.

For the top-seeded boys from St. Thomas, the size and skill of John Nutaitis carried the day, as the youngsters from Broomall did not really have an answer to his presence around the rim offensively or defensively. Also impressive on the day was the guard play of Andrew Karolidis, who led his team’s transition game and had some timely outside shooting himself on the day.

For the Cinderellas from Broomall, it was a total team effort on both sides of the ball, doing everything they could to keep the heavy favorites at bay. At one point during this game St. Thomas had a 17-point lead, but give credit to the resolve of St. Luke as they battled back and cut the lead down to 5 with about 4 minutes to go. Also, someone needs to tell Greg Vlassopoulos that he’s only an eight grader, because the kid has been playing like a senior veteran with his offensive attacking and leadership, anchoring a St. Luke’s run that, regardless of the outcome, will be remembered for some time.

While we do not know which of these two teams will advance at this time, we can at least all appreciate the hard-fought effort from both teams from a basketball standpoint, and say that either team will be a tough out in the finals in two weeks.

#5 St. George Media Girls – 30, #1 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor Girls – 21

Without giving away too much about myself, I can say that I have stories about GOYA basketball that go back to a time when some of the girls playing in this game were not yet born. With that said, I think I can also say, with confidence, that this was the biggest GOYA basketball upset I have ever witnessed.

The favorites from Egg Harbor, fresh off an undefeated season in which no team was able to give them anything close to a scare, entered the day seeking to punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive championship appearance, and with an eye on a three-peat as GOYA champions. Their opponents from St. George had already pulled off one upset in January, knocking off the hosts from St. Luke last week just to get to this point. Never before has a #1 seed been knocked off in the semifinals, but, as the theme of this year goes, history was made once again in St. Thomas, as the underdogs from Media knocked off the defending champions by a final score of 30-21.

I am not sure what surprised me more, the result of this game or how the game itself went, as the fifth-seeded girls played this game like it was them who were coming off an undefeated season, dominating on both sides of the ball for large stretches on the day. There isn’t really one player who can be singled out as the difference maker, but I can say that, having seen these girls play several times this year, I believe every player in the starting five played their best game of the season, which is exactly what you need to pull off an upset of this magnitude.

For the girls from the Shore, it was just simply not their day. Despina Lianidis did all she could to keep the defending champs alive in this contest, but give credit to St. George for never breaking down to the Holy Trinity attack, as they were able to hold their lead late and get some key buckets in the fourth to put it out of reach.

St. George will advance to their first championship appearance in three years where they will face St. Thomas in a rematch of a December game that saw the beginning of a St. George turnaround in their season. It will certainly be a great championship to watch.

For the girls from Egg Harbor, let us first applaud a fantastic three year run that I’m sure ended a lot sooner than some would expect. Here’s the scary part for anyone who is a fan of the girl’s league in general, as four of their five starters from this year will be back next season, as they will look to start a new streak in 2015.

For the victors however, history was made on the floor in Cherry Hill, as St. George becomes the first #5 seed in league history to advance to the championships. Fantastic job to both teams.

#2 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor Boys – 41, #4 Evangelismos Philadelphia Boys – 39

In an epic family rivalry that I have been told has been named “The Koumbari Bowl”, two of the top teams of the 2010’s squared off in the primetime game on Sunday, as the boys from Holy Trinity and Evangelismos took the court in a rematch of last year’s thrilling semi-final contest.

This game really did take the “primetime” slot too, as I do not think it actually started until about 7:30 it felt like. A lot of people cleared out early due to the late start but those who stayed were treated to the game of the day (and possibly the playoffs to date), as a back and forth battle between two evenly matched teams came right down to the wire again, with Holy Trinity pulling out a gutsy 41-39 victory over the boys from the Boulevard.

For the boys from the Northeast, the senior trio of Antonio Nakos, Vasili Mantsos, and Cameron Elliott led the way in attacking the Holy Trinity full court press, opening up a 4-point halftime lead with their speed and intensity. Give credit to the boys in blue who hung tough and battled back in the second half. A total-team effort, anchored by an MVP-like performance from senior point guard Alex Malaspina, fueled the Holy Trinity rally, along with a huge momentum-swinging three-pointer with just over a minute to go from youngster George Arsenis, and a huge offensive effort by slashing forward Yanni Dendrinos, was enough to cap off the victory. Give a lot of credit to the Holy Trinity defense for hanging on for dear life at the end, as free throws nearly were their undoing down the stretch.

For the boys in blue they will be hoping that the third time is the charm, as they look to avenge back-to-back championship game losses, and will await the week’s events to see who their opponent will be on January 25th.

For the boys from Evangelismos they can certainly hold their heads up high, as they fought to the bitter end with all they had, and nearly pulled off a stunning comeback being down 5 with 30 seconds to go.

A fantastic game played by both teams, and also an example to all of how a GOYA classic game should be.

With Sunday’s action in the books, we know three of the four pieces to the championship puzzle, and will await the forthcoming soon. One thing we do know is there is only one place to be on Sunday, January 25th, and that is at the hub of GOYA Basketball in the Delaware Valley, at St. Demetrios Upper Darby for the 2014-2015 DVGOBL Championships. Congratulations to all teams on a great effort on Sunday, and stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all the league-wide action!