We started this year with 15 teams in the Delaware Valley (8 boys and 7 girls). After three months of competition and one, highly entertaining round of playoff action, we are now down to the overall Elite Eight, and the Final Four in both the boy’s and girl’s division. The road for each team has been different, with some teams making it look easy while others have battled week in and week out to get to this point. When it’s all said and done, these eight teams will all hope to make it one step further to advance to the championship games to be held in two weeks. Let’s take a look at the matchups, which will be sure to treat everyone on hand this weekend at St. Thomas to a fantastic display of basketball.
#2 St. Thomas Cherry Hill Girls vs. #3 Evangelismos Philadelphia Girls
The day’s action will kick off with the host girls from St. Thomas, making their second consecutive appearance in the Final Four, taking on the girls from the Northeast in Evangelismos, who won their opening round game decisively over St. Demetrios. The game will feature two of the top guards in the league in Maria Kokolis for Cherry Hill taking on Francesca Bogiatzis of Philadelphia. In the early season matchup, St. Thomas emerged victorious by a score of 39-35, which actually proved to be the deciding factor in who won the bye week in the first round of the playoffs. Since that time though Evangelismos has been on a tear, climbing up the rankings led by a combination of superior guard play and hard work around the boards. There is not much to separate these two teams (a common theme on the day I feel), but I kicked off last week’s predictions with an upset, and, based on seeding, I can see another upset to kick off the day on Sunday. A hard fought game by both can be expected, but I expect to see the girls from Evangelismos advance to their first championship appearance since 2006.
Mr. GOYA’s Prediction: Evangelismos Philadelphia 29, St. Thomas Cherry Hill – 24
#1 St. Thomas Cherry Hill Boys vs. #6 St. Luke Broomall Boys
Well, Mr. GOYA’s bracket is definitely busted after last week’s action, as the boys from St. Luke pulled off a historic upset, knocking off the defending champs from Elkins Park to become the first #6 seed ever to advance to the Final Four. They face a tall order if they wish to continue their Cinderella run in taking on the hosts from St. Thomas, who have been the most consistent team of all this season. For the underdogs, having watched them pull off the upset, it is no secret that as Greg Vlassopoulos goes, so does his team, but if you watched that game closely last week, I would make a case that it was the teamwork of Broomall in the first quarter, seeing them jump out to an early 10 point lead with some excellent team offense, that was the difference in carrying them to victory. For the favorites, St. Thomas need only look at the blueprint they drew opening week of the season as they put forth a dominant effort in knocking off St. Luke 48-29. Without a doubt these two teams have come a long way since then, but, since the playoffs expanded in 2011, no #1 seed has fallen in the semifinals. With a powerhouse front court of John Nutaitis and Gio Karadonis leading the way, I do not see history being made in back to back weeks, although I do see this game being far closer than their regular season matchup. I look for St. Thomas to advance to their first boy’s final appearance since 1995.
Mr. GOYA’s Prediction: St. Thomas Cherry Hill – 53, St. Luke Broomall – 42
#1 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor Girls vs. #5 St. George Media Girls
I just did some research, and it appears that the last time the girls from Holy Trinity played a game, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president. In all seriousness, the powerhouse girls from Egg Harbor have had plenty of time to rest and prepare for their title defense, having not played in a game since November 23rd. While they were sitting back throughout December, watching the Eagles blow their playoff hopes most likely, the girls from St. George went on a tear, winning 2 of their last 3 to get into the playoffs, followed by an impressive win last week against the hosts from St. Luke. Led by total team efforts in nearly every contest, the girls from Media appear to be one of the most improved teams across the board from the beginning of the season until now. The question I have raised in the girl’s division since the first time I was able to see Holy Trinity play is, simply, can anyone beat them? St. George Media seems about as able as anybody to rise to the task. When you think about the lineup that Egg Harbor puts on the court though, led by Despina Lianidis who seems to be next to unstoppable in the open court, it really might be too tall an order for anyone in the league this year. I expect St. George to give the girls from the shore all they can handle in this game, but ultimately I look for Holy Trinity to advance to the title game where they will seek their third consecutive league championship.
Mr. GOYA’s Prediction: Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – 29, St. George Media – 19
#2 Holy Trinity Egg Harbor Boys vs. #4 Evangelismos Philadelphia Boys
Like their sisters in South Jersey, the boys from Egg Harbor have also had a long layoff since their last game on November 23rd. Their opponent that day? The boys from the Boulevard, whom they will now meet on Sunday. In the regular season contest, the boys in blue won the day by a final score of 30-18, in a game that lost a little of it’s star appeal without Evangelismos’ star slasher Cameron Elliott, who has taken the league by storm in December, leading his team to three straight wins, including last week’s thrilling contest against St. D’s. At full strength both teams command deep rosters with a mixture of size and speed that has gotten them to this point. Last Sunday, we saw big man Antonio Nakos dominate the paint, making a pretty strong case for his candidacy as league MVP this season. Can Egg Harbor’s front court slow down his momentum? The boys in blue have played some excellent team defense this season, and will look to rely on that heavily, along with the continued strong play of the forward tandem of Athanasios Mertis and Yanni Dendrinos, if they hope to advance to their third consecutive championship appearance. This might be the hardest game of the day to pick, as for me, Egg Harbor is the toughest team to predict on a given day. Will we see the team that is 3-0 against the remaining three teams in the playoffs on Sunday? Or will we see the team that struggled against St. Demetrios and Holy Trinity Wilmington on their home court during the year. Last year these two teams met and the game came right down to the wire, and I can see the final game of semi-final weekend doing the same. Hope you weren’t planning on cutting out early folks, because Mr. GOYA is predicting overtime. When the dust settles at the end of the day, I like Evangelismos, who looks to be the hottest team in the boy’s division right now, to ride their continued momentum over the boys from Egg Harbor, on their way to their first title appearance in three years.
Mr. GOYA’s Prediction: Evangelismos Philadelphia 53, Holy Trinity Egg Harbor 50 (OT)
Last week’s action proved to exceed everyone’s expectations from an excitement standpoint, and I have no reason to think this Sunday will do anything different. I look forward to seeing you all out at St. Thomas this weekend, as eight great teams will vie for a shot at the title on January 25th. As always, stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all the league’s action!