Aquinas tops St. John the Baptist in OT for eighth-grade title
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent January 30, 2013 11:24PM
Nativity's Ian Baker spins away from Jane Ball/Hanover Central defenders under the basket at St. Paul School in Valparaiso on Jan. 26. Ball won the 5th grade title in the CYO boys basketball championship.
Updated: March 2, 2013 11:49AM
At the Catholic Youth Organization’s basketball championships, it’s a bit of a tradition for the running order of teams to go from the youngest to the oldest grades. This year, however, the eighth grade boys completed an early-morning tip off on Jan. 26 at St. Paul School in Valparaiso.
For Aquinas School at St. Andrew’s of Merrillville, turning things on their heads might have been just what it needed. Originally scheduled to meet St. John the Baptist School of Whiting’s eithth grade team for the championship in the afternoon, officials moved the game up to allow SJB players to attend their Confirmation retreat.
In their previous meeting, the Tornadoes (7-3, regular season) were corralled by SJB (7-3), losing to the Trojans by a dozen points. The Merrillville team was shorthanded because of injuries, but had recovered and was in top form for a turnaround in the CYO finals.
The Tornadoes blew apart SJB’s zone to establish a 20-13 halftime lead. Bigger, taller players like Aquinas’s Cyrus Dixon powered into the paint for layups or second shot opportunities.
But the Trojans stepped up and chipped away at their rival’s lead by capitalizing on fast breaks and with an improved defense. SJB found itself down by two points with as many seconds left in regulation. After a timeout in which Trojans coach Oscar Arteaga shouted instructions over the buzz of a raucous crowd, Alex Garibay received a pass on the top of the key.
Garibay — with a foot on the 3-point line, according to officials — launched a jump shot that tied the game 40-all and sent the contest to a three-minute overtime.
“I thought it was a 3,” said Garibay about the basket that sent the Whiting faithful into a frenzy. “It felt good.”
The good feelings faded for SJB, though, as Aquinas seemed to be the only team able to grab a rebound. The Tornadoes spun ahead to a 49-40 overtime win.
“I’m very proud of my group of young men,” said Aquinas coach Vernard Whitfield. “This is a hard-working team.”
This season players said they didn’t look back, but rather continued to build on their basketball IQ.
“We had to penetrate in the paint and make our shots,” Dixon said. “We had to do what we had to do to take the game.”
Dixon scored six points in overtime, with the balance of the points notched by guard Myles Whitfield, who had a bucket, and forward Mbachu Ephraim, who had a free throw.
Despite their weekly workout of three practices, Garibay said the Trojans had “tried but it just wasn’t enough.” Standing close by,, teammate Conner Arteaga praised the CYO league’s parity and said unlike other organizations he participates in, it is not known for “scrap ball,” or unruly play.
With a title in the Holiday Tournament and an overall 7-3 league record under its belt, St. John Bosco School of Hammond had kept pace with St. Thomas More School of Munster. The rivals would meet to battle for the seventh-grade title, with St. Tom’s psychological advantage being their two-point win in the rivals only other meeting.
Bosco maintained a tight zone designed to repel inside attacks from the likes of the Eagles’ top threat — Tommy Maloney; St. Tom’s utilized a man-to-man defense — a rarity in the league.
Playing evenly to an 11-9 STM halftime advantage, the Eagles eked out another two-point win on the strength on Maloney’s 14 points.
“We played hard until the end,” said Maloney of his Munster team’s 28-26 victory. “It was a fight the whole way. I’m proud of my teammates.”
St. Mary School of Crown Point pulled away from St. Tom’s in the second half of the sixth-grade title game to earn a 24-15 win. St. Mary’s was undefeated this season, after losing to the Eagles in last year’s championships.
In the fifth-grade final, a 5-5 tie lasted through the first two quarters as Portage’s Nativity of Our Savior matched up with the Hanover Central/Jane Ball School team. The league’s sole public school would squeak by with a 1-point win and a championship.