The “too nice” St. Mary Crusaders are all smiles after taking the first step in qualifying for one of the Ontario high school boys’ basketball championship events.
St. Mary defeated the visiting Notre Dame Fighting Irish of Burlington, 65-46, on Friday (Feb. 21) in a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference playoff game. Next up for the Crusaders is a showdown with a Peel region opponent on Monday (Feb. 24) at 3 p.m. at the St. Mary gym. The winner of that contest qualifies for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Triple A tournament March 3-5 in Welland.
This has been a solid – but not outstanding – season for the Crusaders. They finished fourth with a 6-6 record in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior standings. St. Mary then topped the Bishop Tonnos Titans, 71-66, in a league quarter-final before losing, 45-31, to the eventual champion Cardinal Newman Cardinals in a semi-final round.
“These are really nice kids, maybe too nice,” coach Pat Papalia says of his Crusaders. “I think that might be our biggest problem. If you want to be really good, you’ve got to be a bit cocky. We don’t have that. We’ve just got nice, quiet kids.”
Papalia says there’s no doubt the Crusaders have talent. However, he’s disappointed that, so far, the team hasn’t been more successful. He blames himself, in part, for that.
“From a personal standpoint,” he said, “I’m not happy with the job I did. We start five talented kids. But for whatever reason we never came close to achieving what I thought we should. It didn’t seem like we worked as hard as we should have and we didn’t play as smart as we should have. I’m the coach, so it’s up to me.
“It’s not over yet, though.”
In the victory over Notre Dame, the Crusaders led only 24-21 at the intermission.
Mathew Elcock and Brandon Francis-Jean-Pierre scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, for St. Mary. Guard Macbeth Madziba chipped in with 10 points and Shawn Carey added eight.
Nick Mulligan paced the Fighting Irish with 15 points and Angelo Cataia contributed 12 (all three pointers, including one from near half court at the buzzer in the third quarter). Notre Dame’s other leading scorer was Aiden Bull, with 10.
“We were able to pull away because we played better defence in the second half than we did in the first,” Papalia said. “It’s that simple.”
Notre Dame was eliminated in the Halton playoffs when it lost to the Nelson Lords in a semi-final. Nelson, the Halton champion, travels to Cardinal Newman on Monday at 7 p.m. for a GHAC Quad A final against the Cardinals.
“I can’t say enough about No. 33 (Francis-Jean-Pierre),” Notre Dame coach Brian Miller said. “He hurt us. He and No. 4 (Elcock) shot the ball very well. And Macbeth did a great job of running the show.”
Francis-Jean-Pierre, who along with Carey, is a tall, lean athletic forward, said the Crusaders anticipated the ball better in the second half and were able to get more steals.
“We played tighter on defence so it would be harder from the other team to reverse the ball,” Francis-Jean-Pierre said. “It allowed us to get into transition and score that way.”
Papalia said it was probably the best game of the year for Crusaders guard Abraham Ofosu who, along with Jesse Buss, scored six points each.
“Abraham has got the athletic ability and he works hard. As soon as he gets the confidence I think you’ll see quick improvement.”
The Crusaders are hoping the best is yet to come. “We’ve been developing slowly but surely,” Francis-Jean-Pierre said.
Forward Shawn Carey (22) sinks one for the Crusaders. (Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)