Panthers pounce on Trojans as four CYO finals decided at Andrean

CYO boys champs 2019

St. John the Baptist player Daniel Rosas (left) flips the basketball to teammate Jose Torres (front, right) as St. Paul defenders swarm them, during the second quarter of the eighth grade Catholic Youth Organization boys basketball championship game at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo) 

 

by Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

        MERRILLVILLE ­­– Diocesan boys basketball teams clamored for championship titles at the annual Catholic Youth Organization finals at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2.

        Rivalries were renewed and first-time champs were minted as top teams from fifth through eighth grade battled on the court, while friends and families along with the CYO band filled the AHS gym with fanfare.

        The Trojans of St. John the Baptist arrived at the finals with an undefeated regular season record and three tournament wins. They also hoped to add a third CYO title trophy to the athletic awards display case at their Whiting school.

        To repeat their fifth- and seventh-grade championship campaigns, they would have to get past St. Paul of Valparaiso, whose only loss on the season was a two-point nail-biter hosting SJB.

        Both squads got off to a super slow start. At the end of the first quarter, the Panthers held a 6-4 lead.

        Showing signs of life after being down 24-12 at halftime, Trojans Luke Zorich and Nolan Toth hit back-to-back treys, bringing SJB within six points of the Panthers. But the Trojans had no answer for St. Paul’s fast 2-3 offense, which afforded Brandon Welch the opportunity to tally 21 points on open looks.

        The Panthers ran away with a 46-31 win.

        Panthers players said it was a good day for Welch to “be on.” Yet, the eighth-grader and his teammates were modest in their celebrations.

        “This core of boys practice and work hard, executing on what we ask them to do,” coach Jeff Welch said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

        St. Thomas More of the Munster and St. Patrick of Chesterton coaches all agreed that the diocesan’s best all-around seventh grade teams were competing for the 2018-2019 crown. The squads had split their regular season pair of games, and both brought solid ball control and hot shooting to the AHS hardwood.

        STM built a 22-14 lead by halftime. But the Eagles often sent the Irish to the free-throw line, committing three more team fouls than their competitors in the first half, and seven more in the second.

        With less than two minutes in the game, St. Pat’s Bo Smith nailed a three-pointer to tie the score at 31. Later, a hero for STM, guard Nolan Kinsella drilled a jumper to bring the game to a 33-all tie at the end of regulation.

        In overtime, St. Patrick went on a 6-1 run to earn a 39-34 victory.

        “We didn’t run our offense effectively,” said St. Thomas More coach Don Fesko. “They did a great job with their zone (defense) of not letting our guards penetrate.”

        St. Patrick coach Bill Sandrick is well aware of the parity between his Irish (8-2, CYO regular season) and their championship opponent.

        “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game, and we prepared for that in practice,” Sandrick said. “I knew these kids would bounce back; they didn’t give up.”

        Building on a 12-7 halftime advantage, St. John the Evangelist soared to a 28-14 win over the St. Mary, Crown Point Wildcats in the sixth grade title game. The Eagles tallied a perfect 17-0 season and, for the second year, remained undefeated at their home court, dubbed the “Eagles’ Nest,” in St. John.

        “We set a clear goal of being the best basketball team we could be,” said Mike Tuley, SJE coach. “We wanted to take our team to the next level and it was a clear, concise goal that everyone on the team communicated.”

        In the fifth-grade contest, St. Patrick defeated St. Paul 28-23, earning a 2018-2019 diocesan championship.

 

CYO champs 2019 2

St. Paul Panthers player Conner Bakota (center) and St. John the Baptist player Merek Lopez (left) join their teammates in prayer before the eighth grade Catholic Youth Organization boys basketball championship game at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2. The competitors and fans prayed the 'Our Father' and said the 'Pledge of Allegiance' before their title trophy match. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

CYO champs 2019 3

St. Paul Panthers player Brandon Welch (right) shots the basketball over St. John the Baptist defender Joey O'Hara in the fourth quarter of the eighth grade Catholic Youth Organization boys basketball championship game at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2. The Panthers of Valparaiso would earn a 46-31 win over the Trojans of Whiting, and take home a title trophy. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo) 

 

CYO champs 2019 4

St. Patrick player Matthew Sandrick (front, center) dribbles as St. Thomas More defenders swarm during the third quarter of the seventh grade Catholic Youth Organization boys basketball championship game at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2. The Irish of Chesterton would earn a 39-34 win over the Warriors of Munster, and take home a diocesan title trophy. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

CYO champs 2019 5

St. John the Evangelist coaches Don Kasperan and Mike Tuley (at left) congratulate their players as they huddle after the sixth grade Catholic Youth Organization boys basketball championship game at Andrean High School in Merrillville on Feb. 2. The Eagles of St. John earned a 28-14 win over the St. Mary Wildcats of Crown Point, and take home a diocesan title trophy. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)