Champion Newman Cards don’t forget sidelined starter

It was a soft moment on the hardcourt. And it occurred at McMaster’s Burridge Gym during the final seconds of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior boys’ high school basketball championship game on Thursday (Feb. 20).

Time was called and the Cardinal Newman Cardinals sent in Luiggy Moquete for the first time so he could be part of the team’s 56-43 victory over the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves.

Luiggy Moquete (left) and David McCulloch with their third straight HWCAA trophy.  (Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

Luiggy Moquete (left) and David McCulloch with their third straight HWCAA trophy. (Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

In his fifth and final year of eligibility, Moquete has been sidelined due to illness for the past three months. Along with fellow team captain David McCulloch, they are the only two Cardinals who have played on three straight HWCAA title teams.

“I was sick,” Moquete said of his absence during the second half of the season. “They found blood clots in my lung and my leg so I wasn’t able to play. It felt good to step on the court and be part of it with the guys.”

Moquete says he’s on blood-thinning pills and has been advised to avoid physical contact. His test results are expected in about 10 days, so he’s hopeful he’ll get the go-ahead to return to action. The Cardinals next game is Monday (Feb. 24) at home against the Burlington Nelson Lords in a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference final. After that, for the winner, it’s the provincial Quad A championships, March 3-5 in Mississauga.

“My heart breaks for him,” Cardinals coach Andrew Sergi said. “Luiggy was diagnosed with blood clots early in the season. He was a starter for us … a key component. Even though it was only for 10 or 11 seconds, or whatever, it was special just to be able to put him in there and give him one last chance on the court.”

Newman was in control from start to finish against the young Braves. The Cardinals grabbed a 10-0 lead and held quarter advantages of 16-7, 33-16 and 43-24. Back-to-back three-point baskets by Josh Nardini and Jeff Baradziej just before the intermission seemed to give the winners an extra boost of confidence.

(Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

(Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

Marko Grahovac and Tyler Brown paced the Cardinals with 16 and 10 points, respectively. Second-place Newman also got nine points by Tristen Bromfield, seven by Goran Veselinovic and seven by McCulloch.

Rommel Calura, Mike Douglin and Lucas Johnson each tossed in 10 points for sixth-place finishing Brebeuf.

Cardinal Newman made eight of the game’s 10 three-point baskets. Brebeuf narrowed the margin in the late stages when it went on a 13-1 run to cut the deficit to 11 points with one minute, 43 seconds remaining.

“We dug ourselves a hole right from the get-go,” said Brebeuf coach Perry Bruzzese. “We didn’t shoot the ball well at all – probably under 20 per cent. And we missed a lot of free throws. But I give a lot of credit to Newman. They executed, moved the ball well to get open looks and played strong defence. They made us earn everything we got.

“It’s always tough to swallow losing a game that basically ends your season. But I want our players to look at the big picture. We became a team to be reckoned with, not only in our league, but in all of Ontario. We beat everybody in our league and won a couple of tournaments against quality teams.”

Brebeuf qualified for the championship in all three HWCAA divisions this season – midget, junior and senior.

“We don’t think we’ve ever done that before,” said Brebeuf principal and senior team assistant Mark Daly.

Sergi said the Cardinals league title in 2012 was memorable because it was the school’s first in recent history. Last year’s win was significant because it was part of an undefeated season leading up to an OFSAA Quad A bronze medal. And this year? Sergi says it’s special, too, because the team overcame so many injuries.

“It was a real difficult journey at times,” Sergi said.

The Newman coach praised his team’s defensive intensity and the unselfishness, at the guard position, of McCulloch. Said Sergi: “David is one of the premier players in the province, but he doesn’t need to score 20. He’s fine facilitating. He’s fine making sure other guys get involved.”

Starting with Monday’s game against the Halton champions from Nelson, Bromfield and Veselinovic won’t be eligible for the OFSAA playoffs. Sergi says three or four replacements will come from the Newman junior team.

Said McCulloch: “I think it’s going to hurt us, but I think we can still beat them.”

The three-peat is the first in Newman’s senior team history.

In the junior portion of the championship tripleheader, Brebeuf raced to an 8-2 lead en route to a 64-45 win over Cardinal Newman. The second-place Braves, who split a pair of games with first-place Newman during the regular schedule, got 15 points by Sony Cruz, 14 by Rashad Rowley and 13 by David LeCharity.

Tyrell Hebert, Malick Gordon and Frankie Stipancic tossed in 15, 12 and 11 points, respectively, for Newman.

“We’ve got a lot of silent leaders,” said Braves coach Jae Dunphy. “Never do I have to worry if one guy gets shut down. We always have three or four guys in double-digit scoring.”

Dunphy said the Braves were successful in wanting to be aggressive and go for steals. On numerous occasions, Brebeuf converted those turnovers into layup baskets.

“We put the pedal on pretty quickly,” Dunphy said. “I don’t think they had any answers to our speed today.”

The midget final saw the first-place Cathedral Gaels (11-1) pull away in the third quarter for a 43-29 decision over third-place Brebeuf (9-3). The teams were tied 17-17 at the half before Cathedral went on an 18-5 third-quarter run.

The top scorers for the Gaels were Isaiah Joseph (13), Shawn Mattan (12) and Michael Ssemajda (9).

Jacob Walczak and Tyler Toole netted eight points apiece for Brebeuf. Cathedral also won both of its regular-season meetings against the Braves –57-37 and 62-35.

A GHAC Triple A boys’ basketball playoff is scheduled for Friday (Feb. 21) at St. Mary (3 p.m.) between the Crusaders and Burlington’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish.