• Dan Russoman

St. Joseph scores huge win at the Prep


St. Joseph’s Dom Thomas (3) shoots over St. Augustine Prep’s Keith Palek (11) and Jack Schleicher (33) early in last week’s game. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

RICHLAND—A few days after questioning having its attitude questioned by head coach Paul Rodio, St. Joseph Academy’s boys basketball team responded with one of the program’s biggest-ever victories, topping host St. Augustine Prep 57-51 on February 3.


In a game that featured several storylines, perhaps none was as impressive as the Wildcats response to their coach’s challenge to embrace a more team-first approach.


After an erratic first quarter, St. Joe settled down, used a much-different offensive approach than usual and received a total team effort to pull out the win.


“After the Hammonton game, I told our kids they were just too selfish. We had too many kids who put themselves above the team. They all talked the right way, but I never saw it on the court. So, I challenged them to put the team first and tonight they did that,” Rodio said.


Senior Marcus Pierce led the way for the Wildcats, scoring a game-high 20 points and displaying the talents that have made him one of the best players in the Cape Atlantic League.


“I haven’t been the leader I should be,” Pierce told his teammates after the game, bringing up Rodio’s challenge to the team.


“But I’m ready to do the things I need to do,” he said.


St. Joseph’s Marcus Pierce (5) shoots over three St. Augustine Prep defenders late in the Wildcats win against the Hermits last week. Pierce had 20 points in the victory. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

St. Joe entered the game hoping its fast-paced, transition-style offense would force the Prep to abandon its two-three zone defense. That strategy proved ineffective, as the Hermits sat back on defense and St. Joe was unable to hit many shots from the perimeter in a first half where both teams committed several turnovers and were just sloppy at both ends of the floor.


Matt Delaney scored eight points for the Prep in the opening quarter, as the Hermits build a slim 11-10 lead.


St. Joe pulled ahead in the second quarter, as Ja’son Prevard scored four points and Jordan Stafford added five to spark a 12-8 run that put the Wildcats ahead 22-19 at the half.


The Prep fought back to take the lead early in the third quarter, but Arnaldo Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer with three minutes left in the period to put the Wildcats ahead 30-30.


The Wildcats were able to maintain their lead by using a different approach offensively. Putting aside its fast break attack, St. Joseph shifted to a much more methodical, half-court offense, passing the ball around the perimeter and slowing the pace of the game.


“We figured out pretty early [in the game] that we weren’t going to be able to run. It was something we had planned for, and we just went to our half-court. I wasn’t sure if it would work, because we aren’t the best half-court team, but the kids did their jobs and played the way we want to. I was very happy because it shows that we can beat good teams playing either style,” Rodio said.


St. Joseph’s deliberate approach on the offensive side took time off the clock, and combined with a defense that created several turnovers in the fourth quarter, allowed the Wildcats to close out the win.


Pierce was effective in the third quarter, when he scored eight points and guided the offense. In the fourth quarter, Rodriguez sank another huge 3-pointer, and Pierce and Dom Thomas sank a combined eight free throws down the stretch to seal the win.


“Arnaldo [Rodriguez] was huge for us tonight. That’s why he’s out there, to hit those shots. That’s what he does. The kid is very talented,” Rodio said,

Rodriguez, a sophomore, said he was ready for the pressure of a big game.


“I know I can shoot the lights out. I was frustrated because I missed two [3-pointers] in the first half. That kind of got me going,” Rodriguez said.


Rodriguez was one of five players who rarely came off the court in the second half, as the Wildcats controlled the pace of the game.


“Give them credit. They played very disciplined. I’ve seen them [St. Joseph] play undisciplined in the past. They carried out the game plan and out-executed us. They were very patient,” St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said.


The game marked the first time the younger Rodio had defeated his father’s team.


“It’s special for me, not just because it’s my dad, but because I consider the Prep to be the best program in South Jersey. I know there have been some other teams that have gotten that reputation the last few years, but to me, the Prep is the best program. They’re what I want us to be, what we strive for. This is huge for our program because we beat the team we’re trying to emulate,” the younger Rodio said.


As for his father, the elder Rodio was happy for his son, but left the floor hoping for more from his own team.


“We [the Prep] have to get better. Give St. Joe credit, not because he’s my son, but he did a very good job. He got them into what they needed to do to win,” Rodio said.


Pierce scored 20 points to lead St. Joseph, while Thomas scored 11 and Prevard added 10.


St. Joseph closed the week with a 69-38 win at Vineland to improve to 4-0 entering play this week.


Pierce scored 21 points for the Wildcats, who led 25-7 after the first quarter and cruised to the win. Rodriguez added 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and Stafford scored 14 with eight rebounds and six assists.


Earlier this week, St. Joe played at Buena, but that game ended too late for this edition. On February 11, the Wildcats visit Bridgeton at 5:30 p.m.