DANVERS — Central Catholic always plays an intense, physical style of basketball and there was only one way for St. John’s Prep to survive it when the two teams met yesterday afternoon.
“I think we matched them,” senior guard Drex Costello said after the Eagles posted a hard-fought 55-52 victory on their home court. “We were thinking they were going to try to play football and we had to play strong.”
St. John’s brought the same type of balance that it has played with all season, and the Eagles were the ones who ratcheted up the intensity level at the very beginning.
Costello led the Prep with 13 points and helped classmate Tyler Dooley handle Central’s high-pressure man-to-man defense. Meanwhile, post players Josh Syska and Max Butterbrodt came through with big plays on both ends of the court as the Eagles held off a late Raiders’ rally.
St. John’s was prepared for Central’s physical play, and it paid off big down the stretch as an 11-point lead (53-42) with 4:09 to go was whittled down to one-point (53-52) with 38 seconds to play.
The Eagles (15-1) had just enough to hold on.
“That’s how we practiced, like it was football,” said Syska, who scored eight points and pulled down nine rebounds, six offensive. “We just work as a team on and off the court.”
Syska hit an elbow jumper to put the Prep up 11, but Central (13-3) responded with a 10-0 run over the next few minutes. The Raiders began double-teaming the St. John’s guards in the backcourt, and the Prep had a hard time getting into its offense.
Syska’s jumper was the team’s final field goal. Costello and sophomore Ben Judson each made one free throw in the dying moments to help St. John’s hang on.