As they head into the Catholic League basketball playoffs, the St. John Neumann Pirates know the routine. All they need is three more wins and the Catholic League title will be theirs for the third year in a row.
But even as the two-time defending champion, the local squad has no intention of putting its ship on auto-sail.
"These guys have all been there before and know what it takes to be ready," said coach Carl Arrigale, stressing the team must avoid close calls like its one-point win over Cardinal O’Hara in Sunday’s game.
Neumann’s title defense begins tomorrow night at 7 against Roman Catholic at La Salle University. Top-seeded St. Joseph’s Prep will face fourth-place Archbishop Carroll in the night’s second game. If both Neumann and the Prep win, the Pirates will advance to Thursday night’s semifinal game against a Northern Division squad. If the Prep loses and the Pirates win, Neumann will play Wednesday night. The Catholic League championship game will be played March 8 at La Salle.
The local squad isn’t looking that far ahead just yet. First, the players are set on defeating Roman Catholic for the third time this season. Neumann picked up double-digit wins in both regular-season meetings, 62-49 and 72-59.
"Those games don’t mean anything as far as I am concerned," Arrigale said. "It’s a playoff situation, and we are going to have to play well to win."
Roman Catholic junior Charron Fisher, who is averaging a Southern Division-best 21.1 points per game, is the Cahillites’ top offensive threat. Fisher tallied 27 points in both Neumann games. Instead of concentrating on the star, the Pirates plan to use their defense to shut down the rest of the team. In the squads’ second meeting this season, the Cahillites had one other player reach double figures, while all others were held to seven points or less. The successful strategy resulted in a 13-point victory for the Pirates.
Heading into the playoffs, Neumann also is concentrating on limiting turnovers, doing a better job at the foul line and tightening up on defense. The Pirates still have one major advantage over most of their Catholic League playoff foes — they know what it’s like to be the champs. The majority of this year’s squad either started or saw significant minutes in last year’s championship win over Archbishop Ryan.
"I hope it helps us experience-wise heading into the playoffs," Arrigale said.
Prep Charter girls’ basketball
When the Prep Charter Lady Huskies stepped on the practice court back in October, they were a brand-new team looking to earn some Public League respect. The Bronze Division rookies didn’t have to wait long.
A 10-1 finish was good enough for second place in the division, which comes with a playoff berth and a promotion to the more competitive Silver Division. The one downside is the Lady Huskies entered the playoffs as the lowest seed, setting up Monday’s first round match-up against the Public League’s top seed, Central.
Heading into the game, coach Lisa Benvenuto said she told the players it was most important to have fun. Realistically, the Lady Huskies weren’t quite ready to compete against an elite squad like the defending Public League champion, and it showed in Monday’s 89-25 defeat. The local squad struggled early, falling behind 32-8 after one quarter, and never came close to catching up. Sophomore guard Ashley Pearsall, with 15 points, was the only Prep Charter player to reach double figures.
Despite the lopsided loss, the Lady Huskies proved their mettle this season, their coach said.
"What the girls have done is overwhelming [to me] as a coach," Benvenuto said. "The girls are truly unbelievable players. On the court, they stepped up their play and it’s a real nice ride."
The athletes prepared for the season aggressively, beginning with a conditioning program. It paid off big time, as Prep Charter’s only regular-season loss was against first-place Northeast. Having Pearsall run the offense certainly helped. Pearsall regularly scored 20-plus points and six to seven assists per game. Guard Shana Jordan added 11 points a contest, while center Sabrya McDuffie averaged seven rebounds a game.
The squad will get another test next year when it is matched against the Silver Division competition. But this stellar inaugural season seems to be motivation enough.
"We are going to stay in Silver and keep on moving up," Benvenuto said.
More playoff news
Catholic League basketball quarterfinals
Neumann (2) vs. Roman (3), 7 p.m. at La Salle University