• Dan Russoman

Prep avenges loss to St. Joseph


St. Joseph’s Jordan Stafford (13) takes a shot during last week’s game at St. Augustine Prep. (THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

RICHLAND—A little more than two weeks after scoring a signature win at St. Augustine Prep, St. Joseph Academy’s boys basketball team was unable to repeat that performance, falling for the first time this season as the host Hermits posted a 67-56 win on February 19.


“I can’t say I didn’t see this coming,” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said.


“I knew they [St. Augustine] would make adjustments after the first game. They’re a very good team and so are we. I knew it would be tough to beat them twice,” he said.


The Wildcats had used a patient, deliberate approach in their 57-51 win at the Prep on February 3. Last week, the Prep forced the action, pressing on defense and quickly moving the ball on offense.


That approach helped the Hermits take a 13-9 lead in the first quarter, and sparked a 17-0 run to start the second that all but sealed the win.


St. Augustine forced several St. Joseph turnovers, leading to easy baskets and frustrating the Wildcats.


“We had trouble with their press and turned the ball over too much. You cannot make those kind of mistakes against a team like them,” Rodio said.


St. Augustine head coach Paul Rodio agreed.


“The last time we played them, we played in our 2-3 matchup and hadn’t really been ready with all of the stuff that we like to do. We turned it around and forced them a little bit, some shots they didn’t want. We got some easy baskets. We’re still not there, but we’re getting closer and closer,” the senior Rodio said.


In addition to its opponent, St. Joseph also had to battle the officials, as several Wildcats, including leading scorer Marcus Pierce, were in early foul trouble. Pierce sat most of the second and third quarters with four fouls.


“That didn’t help us. I won’t say they were all bad calls, but some could have gone either way. It’s hard to win when your best guys are on the bench,” Rodio said.


St. Joe appeared out of the game at halftime, trailing 34-19, but the Wildcats fought back. Dom Thomas and Arnaldo Rodriguez hit 3-pointers in the third quarter and Jordan Stafford scored seven points as St. Joe closed the gap to 49-38 late in the period. The Wildcats had momentum, but the Hermits grabbed it back when John Horner nailed a 3-pointer as time expired in the period.


“That was huge for them. We were closing the gap and then the kid [Horner] hits a three. Unbelievable,” Rodio said.


St. Joseph continued to rally in the final quarter, as Pierce scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the period. Rodriguez added a pair of 3-pointers, but the Wildcats were never able to get closer than 10 points.


“We made a little run, but couldn’t get over the hump,” Rodio said.


St. Joseph’s coach was upset at the loss but praised his team’s effort.


“I can’t be mad at them. They worked hard. Like I said, it’s tough to beat a team like that twice in a season. Our kids are frustrated right now, they’re upset. They don’t think the Prep is a better team than us,” Rodio said.


Playing St. Augustine twice on the road was also a factor. St. Joseph does not have a home gym and is playing all its games this season on the road.


“It’s becoming an issue for us. I never thought it would be as tough as it’s been. If we play this game at home, maybe it’s different for us. I don’t know,” Rodio said.


Earlier in the week, St. Joseph fell behind a Bridgeton 15-4 before rallying for a 70-55 win. A 25-11 second-quarter run sparked the win.


“We played sloppy early and they [Bridgeton] looked like they might blow us out of the gym. But once we settled down and played our game, we were OK,” Rodio said.


Pierce scored a season-high 30 points in the win, Stafford added 13 and Thomas had 10.

On February 23, St. Joe topped rival Hammonton 57-43. See page 60 for details on that game.


Earlier this week, St. Joseph played at Vineland, but that game ended too late for this edition. On February 25, the Wildcats play at Buena at 5:30 p.m.