The look on their faces was undeniable heartbreak.
The Neumann-Goretti High School boys basketball team was just seconds away from winning its second straight Philadelphia Catholic League championship at the Palestra on Feb. 27 before Roman Catholic pulled off a minor miracle with a desperation 3-pointer to send it into overtime.
Unable to fully regroup, the Saints lost 57-52, in a wild game in the University of Pennsylvania’s historic basketball stadium. Words were scarce following the loss, but coach Carl Arrigale put things into perspective.
“In sports, stuff like this happens,” the longtime coach said. “They might think it’s the craziest and worst thing that ever happens to them, but if this the worst thing that happens to them in their life, things will all be OK. Sports are a great thing for lessons learned. You can either learn from it or let it beat you down. Hopefully we learn from it and make a run in states.”
It’s exactly where the Saints will turn their attention as they will attempt to defend their PIAA Class 4A state title and look to win their 10th overall state championship in school history. The shock of the tough loss won’t be easy to forget, but that is a good thing, according to senior power forward Sultan Adewale.
“We need to soak this in,” Adewale said. “We just can’t hide the pain. We knew what it was like to win, now we know what it’s like to lose.”
Adewale, originally from East London, England, arrived at Neumann-Goretti last year after playing the 2020 season for St. Louis (Mo.) Christian Academy. He then came to Neumann-Goretti for his junior and senior seasons.
“Things are great at Neumann-Goretti,” Adewale siad. “They’ve treated me great from the start. It’s an amazing program and it’s been a fun two years here.”
He’s found success on the court and a brotherhood off it. That support system came especially useful when Adewale’s mother, Titilope Dawodu, passed away in December. It was both mother and son’s dreams for Sultan to eventually play professional basketball — a dream he will continue to chase next year after he chooses a college among more than 10 offers.
“She was my everything,” Adewale said. “It definitely gives me motivation to play harder but it’s really tough. I really wanted to win this one for her.”
Adewale’s mental toughness will undoubtedly help the Saints rebound from their rare defeat. They rely on each other for so much more than basketball.
“We’re his family now,” Arrigale said of Adewale. “(Basketball) is a good thing for him, or else he’d be sitting around thinking about something he can’t control. I’m more worried about him when it ends. Hopefully we can keep playing and keep advancing and get another month out of it.”
Despite the loss in the PCL final, the Saints carried a 19-3 record into the state playoffs, which began with the District 12 Class 4A championship against Overbrook on March 1.
“We just need to get through the adversity,” Adewale said. “Personally, I’ve never been through this before but we just need to get together as a group. The season is not over. We still have districts to win and states to win. It’s a tough pill to swallow but we need to regroup and play our best next game.”
No matter what happens, Adewale’s time at Neumann-Goretti will always be memorable.
“It’s nice that we’ve made an impact on him and we’ve given him an opportunity,” Arrigale said. “His dream was always to come over here and play. Hopefully, he ends up with a nice home at a nice college and gets an education and gets that all squared away. And hopefully we can keep him close and still be in his life.”