Well, here we are again. As the calendar rolls into 2019, and the whole Delaware Valley has caught Eagles Fever, the Greek Orthodox community also catches its own fever as the boys and girls of the DVGOBL, after three months of competition, shift into playoff mode once again.
Last weekend at St. Demetrios, three matchups decided the last entries into the “GOYA Final Four” for both the boys’ and girls’ divisions. This week, in a historic first, we will have a “Final Four Weekend”, with the semifinals being played this Saturday at Holy Trinity of Wilmington, and then the next day the finals taking place in the hub of Greek basketball in the Delaware Valley at St. Demetrios.
Cosmos Philly will be taking a look back at last weekend’s action, as well as a preview of the four teams left standing this weekend, all looking to earn a championship for their respective parishes.
Last weekend at St. D’s, the fourth-seeded St. George Media squared off against the fifth-seeded Holy Trinity of Egg Harbor, in a matchup we are used to seeing a few weeks later than this historically speaking. A hard-fought game by both teams found the girls from Media on top 18-11, booking a trip to Wilmington next weekend where they will face the top-seeded and undefeated girls from St. Thomas Cherry Hill. Since these games will be played back to back, rather than preview games, we will preview each team going into the weekend, before making an overall championship prediction.
#4 St. George Media
As mentioned already, the girls from St. George have already been put to the playoff test, as they played their rivals last weekend. Will the fact that Media has a playoff win under their belt help them as they take on an incredibly tough and well-balanced St. Thomas team this weekend? Their regular season matchups would indicate that this will be a very difficult task to accomplish, as the Maroon and Gold Girls lost both regular season matchups to St. Thomas, struggling to score more than ten points in either contest. Yours truly is a student of GOYA history though, and this is a program that is no stranger to knocking off unbeaten contenders in playoff games, so while it will not be easy, the girls from St. George will not be an easy out by any stretch this weekend.
#3 Holy Trinity Wilmington
Finishing with their first winning season since returning to the league a few years back, the girls from Holy Trinity will be the only team on Saturday with home court advantage, as they take on a very tough St. Demetrios side in the semifinals. In the regular season, the girls from Delaware came up short in both contests against St. D’s but showed some improvement in the second game on their home court. If there is an upset to be had on the girl’s side, never count out the power a home crowd can have on a team, and definitely never count out an underdog in the Delaware Valley in January.
#2 St. Demetrios Upper Darby
For the girls from St. Demetrios, the 2018 season is broken up into two parts. In games against St. Thomas of Cherry Hill, St. D’s has struggled mightily, losing two games by double-digits and being held completely in check offensively in both. In games against everyone else, the girls in blue appear to be unstoppable, as they won all five contests by double digits, led by leading MVP candidate Alexia Louca.
Fortunately for the St. D’s girls, their quarterfinal game will not be against St. Thomas; unfortunately if the standings hold true, they will need to hope that the third time is a charm against their rivals in the finals if they hope to win their first title in over a decade. If they can get past Holy Trinity in the semis, they will have home court advantage, which could play a huge factor, so I would look forward to a very exciting final should the girls from St. D’s advance to Sunday.
#1 St. Thomas Cherry Hill
The only team in the Delaware Valley to go through the season without a scratch, the girls from South Jersey have cruised to an undefeated record, winning every game but one by double-digits in the process. St. Thomas is an incredibly well balanced and well-coached team, and it will take an inspired effort to knock them out this season. The key to their run to an undefeated season has been their defense. The girls from Cherry Hill have had their opponents seeing red all season, as I believe they have only allowed more than ten points once all year. If they can take that defensive intensity into January, then the rest of the league might be in trouble. Crazier things have happened in the DVGOBL, but there is little doubt that this is the team to beat this year in the girl’s bracket.
Final Weekend Prediction
This weekend doubleheader will be filled with excitement, as all four teams have proven themselves tough opponents throughout the year. I believe the Saturday games, despite the regular season results between the matchups, wind up proving to be a lot closer than anyone would have expected to go into the day, especially that Holy Trinity-St. D’s matchup on Wilmington’s home court. I do think both of the higher seeds will ultimately advance to Sunday, where the matchup of “best player” versus “best team” is always an exciting one.
In the end, I think that the balance and defensive intensity of the girls from St. Thomas, who are no stranger to championship games themselves having lost last year in the finals, proves to be a little too much to handle. I think the girls from Cherry Hill take the final step and capture their first title in 3 years.
Last weekend in Upper Darby, the boy’s division gave us our first surprise of the playoffs. In the early matchup, the third-seeded Evangelismos took care of business against the young sixth-seeded Holy Trinity Wilmington to advance to the Final Four. The surprise came in the final game in the championship rematch, as the defending champions from St. Luke Broomall, who were on the outside-looking-in on the playoff picture with a month to go in the season, turned in a defensive performance to remember as they knocked off the defending runners-up (and Mr. GOYA’s finalist prediction) from Holy Trinity Egg Harbor. This marks the third straight year that a team with a losing record has knocked off a team with a winning record in the quarterfinals and sets up two really exciting matchups for the semifinals this Saturday.
#5 St. Luke Broomall
“An Underdog is a Hungry Dog” was on display last weekend, as the scrappy St. Luke’s team shut down (and nearly shut out I am told) a high-powered offense from Holy Trinity. The big question will be, can they carry that momentum and intensity into this Saturday’s matchup with their Delco rivals from St. George, who have been an unstoppable force of their own during the past few months.
On paper, St. Luke’s is facing an uphill battle if they want to defend their title, but after last year’s Cinderella run by Holy Trinity, who had the same record as St. Luke’s did going into January? I am not counting out the underdog to potentially make a run this weekend. The champs are the champs until somebody knocks them off, and the boys from Broomall will be one of the tougher outs for sure come Saturday.
#3 Evangelismos Philadelphia
Back in November, I wrote about the boys from the Boulevard, and how after losing nearly their entire starting lineup this past season, not much was to be expected of them in 2018. Despite that, the Black and Gold emerged as one of the top teams in the boy’s division this year, led by the coaching of Jim Contoudis and the fantastic play of John Armentani. In the regular season, this is the only team to knock off St. George Media, and if not for a stumble in the final week of the regular season, Evangelismos would have, against all preseason odds, finished as the top seed in the boy’s division. A couple of fun facts that were given to me by one of my helpers that might tip my final prediction:
- In the last five years, Evangelismos has lost in the semifinals to Holy Trinity (Egg Harbor) four times.
- In the year that Evangelismos did not play Holy Trinity, they won the Championship.
- Holy Trinity was eliminated last weekend. With the way this team has been playing down the stretch, I am not counting out what Superman can do without their kryptonite around this weekend.
#2 St. Demetrios Upper Darby
For the boys from St. D’s, two early-season losses are a thing of the past, as they finished the regular season with four straight wins, including against a team that has been their own kryptonite in Evangelismos in the final regular season game of the year, on their way to clinching a first-round bye in the tournament. Led by coach Louie Karapanagiotides, this team is playing their best basketball, at the best time, and will be looking to capture their second title in three years. This team can score in bunches, and in a number of different ways, and actually was the only team to keep up with the high-powered offense of a full-strength Media team this season, even though they came up short in the end.
I will admit I overlooked this team all year long, but my eyes are wide open now to what they can do in January. If they can keep that high-powered offense going, and can find their way into a home-court championship matchup of their own? This is definitely not a team to bet against on Final Four weekend.
#1 St. George Media
Remember last year? When a sixth-seeded, one-win team from St. George “upset” St. Demetrios in the quarterfinals and then had a twenty-point lead on a seemingly-unbeatable St. Luke’s team the following week? It seems to me that was just a preview of what the league saw this year, as St. George, with one exception, took the league by storm. That storm featured a heavy dose of rain from outside, as across the board the boys from Media put on a shooting display that I actually haven’t seen since the Elkins Park mini-dynasty from almost a decade ago. Led by MVP frontrunner Vylandi Apostolopoulos, St. George has made it look easy down the stretch, including three-straight twenty-plus point victories to close out the top seed in the boy’s division.
The only thing that seems to be able to derail this team, is attendance, as their one stumbling point was against Evangelismos at half strength. When all the pieces are together, it will take something special to keep this team from capturing their second-ever league title, and their first since 1998, when none of the current players were even born.
Final Weekend Prediction
Last year the semifinals of the boy’s division proved to be the wildest and crazy day of the playoff season, and I am thinking this year does more of the same.
While I did not see an opportunity for an upset in the girl’s bracket, I am calling one on Saturday, as I think Evangelismos will look to come back from their last week loss to St. Demetrios as a motivated under-seeded team. Really this would not be an upset, as I think these two teams are so evenly matched, that, whoever wins, will have come out on top of the most exciting game of the entire playoff season.
In the battle for Delco supremacy, I can see the Broomall defensive wall holding strong for a while, but ultimately that high-powered offense from the top-seeded St. George may prove too much to handle (I would have picked against you last week thought too St. Luke’s fans, so feel free to prove me wrong again).
I think either Evangelismos or St. Demetrios can give St. George a run for their money, and if they can match the offensive output from the boys from Media in a final I think either would have a good chance for the upset. Having seen the Maroon and Gold at full strength, and what they are capable, I do not see anyone outscoring them for four quarters. I think when the final horn sounds, St. George will be the last team standing in the boy’s bracket.
As always, thank you so much to Cosmos Philly for allowing me to cover our youth this season. Thank you to all of the coaches and the league as a whole for all that you do, and most importantly, thank you to the kids, for helping to keep this tradition of GOYA basketball alive and well for another great year. Best of luck to everyone this weekend, and Go Eagles!