One team must be re-entered in the Catholic League Championship Finals.
The other, not so much.
When Archbishop Ryan and Neumann-Goretti take center stage in the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship on Feb. 28 at the Palestra, however, history will have nothing to do with the outcome.
“It’s a different experience for every person, and every year is different from the last,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. “Ultimately it all comes down to the last two teams having a chance to do something special. There is no such thing.
In the PCL semi-finals on February 23 at the famous Palestra, the fourth-seeded Saints of Arrigale beat the Roman Catholics, 62-60. In game two of the doubleheader, six-seeded Archbishop Ryan upset two-seeded West Catholic 59-55.
During the February 11 regular season, Neumann-Goretti edged the Raiders, 52-49. This will be the second time the two schools have met in the finals, with St. John Neumann emerging victorious in 2002.
Since 2001, Neumann-Goretti has won 11 of its 21 titles overall. Under Arrigale, the Saints have won a managerial record 11 crowns in total, including seven since 2009.
This season, however, has not been like the others. Literally. After playing his first league game on January 5, Neumann-Goretti was retired due to COVID.
When play resumed, the Saints were forced to play an ungainly 12 games in 21 days. They kind of went 10-3.
After finally being given a few days off to prepare for the quarter-finals, the Saints defeated five-seeded La Salle 51-48.
“This year has been different because of what we have been through during the season,” Arrigale said. “We played our season in two and a half weeks. It was almost a two week game. We couldn’t prepare. We played the same game for two and a half weeks. We finally had a chance for the playoffs to have a few days and try to improve.
Arrigale credited his sophomore guards for “not playing like sophomores in the second half.” Rob Wright III scored a game-high 20 points and added four steals. Khaafiq Myers contributed 16 points. Senior Masud Stewart had nine points and five assists.
“The point is, we have more to do,” Arrigale said. “The guys are hungry. If after everything we’ve been through this year, if we could pull it off, that would really be something.
Archbishop Ryan, meanwhile, is hoping to win his first-ever PCL championship. They lost in the 1979, 2002 and 2008 finals.
Recently, the league semi-finals had been a horror show for the Raiders. They lost to Neumann-Goretti in 2016, Archbishop Wood in 2017, Neumann-Goretti in 2020 and Archbishop Wood in 2021.
Consider seventh-year Raiders coach Joe Zeglinski both excited and relieved to be one win away from giving his alma mater a reason to buy a new banner for the school gymnasium.
“It’s my fifth time here and I didn’t want to go 0-5,” Zeglinski said. “Children rallied for the program and the elders.”
After falling behind West Catholic early on, the Raiders straddled the shoulders of sophomore center Thomas Sorber (17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with six rebounds while playing all 32 minutes), senior Luke Boyd (10 points in 30 minutes, including three treys that change momentum), junior Michael Paris (13 points, five rebounds, three assists) and senior Jalen Snead (10 points, eight rebounds, six assists), including both free throws at 1.4 seconds left in regulation scored the Raiders ticket. to the final.
Snead also canned a pair to extend Ryan’s lead to 57-53 with 19.3 seconds left.
“I knew if I hit one at the end, the worst that could happen was a three-pointer would tie the game,” Snead said. “When the second one came in, I knew we had it.”
After a long wait, Bishop Ryan had reached the final.
“I can’t wait for Monday,” the aforementioned Stewart said.
He is not alone.
Contact John Knebels at [email protected] or on Twitter @johnknebels.