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Saints look to make it five straight

Neumann-Goretti is off to Hershey for today’s PIAA Class 3A championship game

Neumann-Goretti’s Dymir Montague put up 15 points in the Saints’ semi-final win over Trinity, 66–56. Photo by Mark Carosiello

By Bill Gelman

Going to Hershey hungry is a good thing since the town is known for producing delicious chocolate candy bars.

The Neumann-Goretti boys basketball team knows all about what Hershey has to offer from making those annual March trips to the Giant Center. The Saints will be departing on another one this morning, but whether to have a Hershey Kiss or milk chocolate bar will not be on the minds of the players. Their hunger comes in the form of winning a fifth-straight PIAA Class 3A basketball championship, and if successful, the East Passyunk Crossing-based squad will stand alone among the PIAA elite. Neumann-Goretti is one of only three high schools to four-peat as state basketball champs. Carlisle (1985–88) and Kennedy Christian (1998–2001) are the other two. They will play Richland High School out of District 6 today at 2 p.m.

“One biggest thing about the state tournament is Pennsylvania is a nice size state,” head coach Carl Arrigale said. “Now there are only six teams that can say they won their last game.”

Neumann-Goretti can say they’ve done it seven times over the last eight seasons. Like past years, the local squad knows little about their opponent.

“We are in the process of evaluating them,” Arrigale said prior to Monday’s practice. “[Richland] is coming off a buzzer-beater win, so they have some momentum. We are still going through some other stuff to get to know them a little better.”

The Saints advanced to the final by knocking off Trinity, 66–56, in Saturday’s semi-final. Ja’Cor Smith led the 22–6 Saints with 16 points while Dymir Montague finished with 15 points. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Tuesday, March 20, but was postponed twice as a result of last week’s snowstorm. The championship game was moved from Saturday to today.

“At this point the kids just want to play,” Arrigale said.

Regrouping has turned out to be one of the unexpected themes to the current season as Neumann-Goretti came up short in its Catholic League championship chase. After going 12–1 during the regular season, the Saints opened the postseason with a shocking 54–40 loss to St. Joe’s Prep at home.

“We were disappointed,” Arrigale said. “We just didn’t have a good game that day. We were out of sync for a little while. We had two weeks of practice to figure it out.”

When it came time to step back on the court for the District 12 AAA championship game, the Saints rediscovered their winning ways in the form of a 78–49 victory over Dobbins. Neumann-Goretti followed it up with state tournament victories over Steelton-Highspire, Wyoming Seminary, Bishop McDevitt and Trinity.

While preparing for state tournament games has been keeping Arrigale busy, he has also been keeping a close eye on the NCAA Tournament checking in on former All-Catholic standouts Ja’Quan Newton at the University of Miami, Quade Green at the University of Kentucky and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree at Villanova University. Newtown’s team was eliminated in the first round by Loyola-Chicago — the Cinderella story of this year’s tournament — on a buzzer beater while Green’s squad was eliminated by Kansas State in the Sweet 16. Cosby-Roundtree’s team, meanwhile, is traveling to San Antonio for the Final Four. Up next is Saturday’s game against Kansas in a battle of №1 seeds. Game time is 8:49 p.m on TBS. The freshman forward made the most of his 12 minutes in Sunday’s 71–59 victory over Texas Tech by tallying four points and seven rebounds off the bench. Arrigale reached out via text to say he was really proud.

“He played with a lot of energy,” Arrigale said.

Today, the focus is on helping Neumann-Goretti keep its championship streak intact. Come the weekend, he can pull out those blue and white Villanova pom poms. His daughter, Alexandria Arrigale, happens to be a freshman there. He watched Sunday’s game with his daughter at home.

“My focus is on these guys, but my heart is with Villanova,” Arrigale said.

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