• Dan Russoman

St. Joseph blasts Holy Cross

Wildcats cruise into South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals with 87-51 win


St. Joseph’s Jahmeer Cartagena drives to the basket early in the Wildcats’ playoff win against Holy Cross last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

BUENA—St. Joseph Academy’s boys basketball team moved one step closer to its goal of a South Jersey Non-Public B championship last week, turning in a dominant performance in an 87-51 win against Holy Cross Prep.


The Wildcats were in control from start to finish in the quarterfinal game played at Buena Regional High School, never trailing in the lopsided win.


“This is what we’re capable of doing when we execute and play the way we’re supposed to,” an ecstatic coach Paul Rodio said after the game.


The Wildcats have frustrated their coach often this season, as undisciplined play has led to mistakes that cost St. Joe a few potential victories.


With a week to prepare for last week’s game, the Wildcats looked focused at both ends of the court and were able to limit the miscues that have plagued them at times this season.


“I don’t care what anyone says, it’s been a crazy year for us. We’ve hurt ourselves, but every time we’ve faced some adversity, these kids have fought back,” Rodio said.


St. Joe blitzed Holy Cross from the opening tap last week, sprinting to loose balls, driving to the basket, grabbing rebounds and hitting long jumpers on its way to a commanding 35-4 first quarter lead.


Holy Cross coach John Valore was visibly frustrated on the Lancers’ bench, and used a pair of timeouts in the first four minutes of the game in an effort to halt St. Joe’s hot streak.


“That’s what we’re capable of, playing like that against a good team. I give a lot of credit to our seniors, kids like Ja’son [Prevard], who played an incredible game tonight,” Rodio said.


Prevard fell three assists short of a triple-double, finishing the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.


Ten of those points came in the first quarter, when Arnaldo Rodriguez added 11 of his 20 points to lead St. Joe’s opening run.


Holy Cross began to regroup early in the second quarter, and the Lancers hit a few shots to make the game interesting before St. Joe closed on a 7-2 run to take a 58-28 lead into halftime.


Senior Jahmeer Cartagena hit three 3-point shots in the quarter for the Wildcats.


“Guys like Jahmeer, Majid [Abdur-Rahim], the seniors, Jahqir Haley had been giving us some good minutes. Those guys really stepped up today,” Rodio said.


The Wildcats slowed the game down at the start of the third quarter, as Prevard dribbled nearly three minutes off the clock while Holy Cross remained deep in their zone defense. The move frustrated the fans of both teams who wanted to see more action.


“I’m not sure why he [Valore] just had them sit back and not come up [to defend Prevard, which would have forced St. Joe into more action]. I think he thought we would take a shot or try to drive, but we just stayed disciplined. I mean, we had the lead, why rush anything? Eventually, they came out,” Rodio said.


The back-and-forth strategizing did little to impact the outcome of the game, as Rodriguez and Jared Demara hit 3-pointers to go along with baskets from Prevard and Devon Theophile to help the Wildcats stretch their lead to 72-37 heading into the fourth quarter.


In the final period, St. Joe slowed the game down as Rodio emptied the bench, allowing for Abdur-Rahim to hit a 3-pointer, Ian Harvey Williams to score four points and Sean Palmer to add five.


“I think if they [Holy Cross] had hit some shots early [in the game] it would definitely have been different, but we did everything we wanted to do. We went to more zone pressure, which is what we’ve been most successful with this season, and that worked well. I don’t think he [Valore] expected that and it took away half their playbook. And because we had a week to practice, we worked an hour, an hour-and-a-half a day on attacking the zone. That showed tonight because we were able to break them down and score. In the past, we’ve been a lot of one pass and then a shot. Tonight, we were five passes, six passes and look how much better we were,” Rodio said.


The win sent St. Joseph into the semifinals, where the Wildcats hosted Ranney on March 7 in a game that ended too late for this edition. The winner of that game will take on either Trenton Catholic or Holy Spirit in the South Jersey Non-Public B championship game on March 9 at 5 p.m. at Lenape High School.


“I’m excited. I get another week with these guys and I hope we can keep clicking. We’re 32 minutes from getting to a championship game. I hope our kids will respond and believe and be the ones that people are talking about,” Rodio said.