Those Clarke cousins are cool customers.
And they’re Cardinal killers, too.
When Joel Clarke was fouled in the act of shooting with 2.5 seconds left on the clock, he stepped to the charity stripe and calmly drained all three free throws to lift the St. Thomas More Knights to a 51-49 victory over the visiting Cardinal Newman Cardinals on Thursday (Feb. 6).
That result gives More (10-2) first place ahead of Newman (10-2) in the final Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior boys’ high school basketball standings.
The Knights get the nod for top spot because they also downed Newman in their Dec. 17 regular-season meeting. On that occasion, Joel’s younger cousin, Jaylen Clarke, hit a pair of foul shots with no time left. That forced overtime and the Knights prevailed, 56-54. In the rematch, Jaylen also intercepted Newman’s last-gasp inbounds baseball pass just before the buzzer sounded.
St. Thomas More earns a bye in the opening round of playoffs which begin next Tuesday.
“It’s a funny thing because that’s the way it ended last time we played them,” Knights coach Mark Moretuzzo said. “They committed a foul and we knocked in the foul shots to get us into overtime. Joel came up huge … the cousin connection again.”
Newman had fouls to give in the final seconds but they didn’t want to foul the shooter. Moretuzzo admitted that the Knights were definitely “fortunate” in getting the call.
Joel Clarke, who scored 20 points, took an inbounds pass from Jaylen with 3.4 seconds left and then lofted up his shot: Said Joel: “It was a nerve racking. They all came and swarmed me so I just took the shot to see what would happen.”
Newman trailed 20-16 at the half but, led by guard Tyler Brown who slashed to the basket for a team-high 20 points (including 18 in the second half), the two-time defending champions raced to seven-point lead mid way through the fourth quarter.
“Tyler Brown was fantastic,” Moretuzzo said. “He really hurt us.”
The other top scorers for Newman were Marko Grahovac, with nine points, and Jeff Baradziej, with eight.
Jaylen Clarke netted 11 points for the winners, while Ryan Doornick contributed nine and centre Osayi Ignivan added eight.
Newman coach Andrew Sergi disagreed with the call on the final foul but said his team shouldn’t have put itself in that situation.
“Too many mistakes leading up to that point,” Sergi said. “They deserved to win. They executed better than we did.
“It was almost exactly like last time – a foul at the end put them on the line. Jaylen last time, Joel this time. And, in the end, two-point wins both times for St. Thomas More.”
Newman played without the services of veteran guard David McCulloch, who was resting a knee injury and, according the Sergi, may not be able to dress for the quarter-final round.
“David is arguably the best player in the our league,” Moretuzzo said. “That’s a great team, though, with or without him.”
Moretuzzo said it’s satisfying to finish in first place because many observers considered More to be a “middle of the pack team” when the season started.
In other action Thursday, the Cathedral Gaels got 31 points by Daniel Dzierzawski en route to a 65-47 victory over the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves. Mark Douglin had 13 for the Braves, who will face the third-place Gaels again in the quarter-finals.
The Bishop Tonnos Titans ended up in fifth place by topping the seventh-place Bishop Ryan Celtics, 73-64. Maciek Wojcik and Mark Robinson netted 23 and 13 points, respectively, for Tonnos. The Titans will face the fourth-place St. Mary Crusaders while the Celtics opening-round opponent will be the Cardinals.