By Matt Jenkins
DANVERS — St. John’s Prep basketball player Drex Costello found himself in an unusual position at the start of last night’s game — on the bench.
The Eagles’ leading scorer and one of four team captains, Costello didn’t play in the first quarter against Catholic Conference rival Catholic Memorial due to a coach’s decision. Costello, a senior guard, made an immediate impact when he did hit the court, however, helping the Eagles erase an early deficit and pushing them to a 60-57 victory.
The win made it 10 straight to start the year for St. John’s and locked up a tournament bid for the Prep.
“I was on the bench squeezing my fists. I just wanted to get in there,” Costello said after scoring 12 of his team-high 17 points in the second quarter. “I knew when I was getting in there and that maybe I would be a little shaky (at first). But then I got in there and got to the free throw line right away, which is always good for a scorer. Then it just came to me.”
In the first quarter, St. John’s — a team which could be classified as an over-achiever so far this season — lacked the spunk that has helped it get out to such a fast start this year.
Catholic Memorial (8-3) controlled the glass, the pace, and the scoreboard. The Knights built an 18-5 lead as St. John’s could manage just one field goal in the first eight minutes.
“I was hoping it was going to get better. If not, we were in trouble,” St. John’s coach Sean Connolly said. “CM did a very good job; they came out playing very well and we weren’t playing with the energy we wanted. The defensive intensity wasn’t there.”
Costello brought energy, defensive intensity, and scoring into the game with him.
He had a steal, hit two free throws, and added a layup in the first 28 seconds of the quarter to breathe life into the Eagles.
“We came out really flat and I was cringing on the bench,” Costello said. “We weren’t there completely, mentally. When I got in there I think I provided a little bit of a spark and I think the team rallied around me and the defensive pressure picked up. We started pressuring them a lot and started scoring, and got back into the game.”
The Eagles started the second quarter with a 15-4 run to cut the CM lead to two, 22-20. St. John’s didn’t take a lead until the third quarter, but it trailed by only one (29-28) at the half.
“It’s a little fool’s gold when you jump up that easily early in the game,” Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin said. “We knew they would come back. We expected it to be a game just like this, in the high-50s, low-60s.”
In the second half, St. John’s built a six-point lead (54-48), but couldn’t put the Knights away.
Catholic Memorial actually had two good opportunities to either tie or take the lead in the final 30 seconds, but came away with nothing both times.
“We got a stop or two at the end and knocked down a couple of foul shots,” Connolly said. “They’re a very good team. You’re not going to put them away, so we had to make some plays at the end to finish them off.”
Costello was the only Eagle in double figures with 17. Max Burt and Jake Burt each had nine points, and Ben Judson chipped in with eight points, all in the fourth quarter.
Catholic Memorial’s Guilien Smith led all scorers with 20.
“It’s great,” Connolly said about wrapping up a postseason qualification. “That was our first goal, just to get into the tournament because we were such a new, inexperienced team coming in. Now, we’re 3-0 in the league and our next goal is to try to win a league championship.”