DANVERS — Not many high school basketball leagues in the state can rival the competitiveness and balance of the Catholic Conference. And Friday night at the "old" St. John's Prep gymnasium, that was on full display once again.
It was Senior Night, and the Eagles were taking on their namesakes from BC High — a team that handled the Prep by double-digits just two weeks ago.
This time out, however, the hosts held it down on their home court, withstanding a furious BC run before hanging on for a wire-to-wire 60-48 win.
The victory keeps St. John's in the hunt for a conference title, needing a Xaverian win over Catholic Memorial and a win of its own against the former in order to clinch.
"We can't really afford to lose another one before the tournament, especially when we want two home games ... so this was a big one and so is every single game from here on out," said Eagle captain Matt Relihan, who finished with 12 points and a pair of rebounds in the win.
On paper it may not have been Relihan's most outstanding offensive performance of the season, but his 12 points tied fellow captain Tommy O'Neil (12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) for a team-high in what was a balanced Eagles attack. Relihan also got the offense going early with seven first quarter points including one of his two triples, which proved instrumental late in the contest when BC made its run.
"They kind of came back a little there but we stayed composed and didn't really let it bother us," said Relihan. "We just played strong and tough throughout and getting off to a quick start like that was big."
The Eagles took a 17-13 lead after one and steadily increased that to a 10-point advantage at half and 15 by the end of the third. The key was defense, as every Prep player to see the court made it a point of emphasis to heckle the ball handlers, close out the shooters and crash the defensive glass among a taller BC team.
"I'm really proud of the kid's effort tonight," said Eagles head coach John Dullea, his team now 10-4 on the season. "We executed what we need to do defensively; I thought it was one of our better efforts defensively. That's a very big offensive rebounding team and they did get rebounds, but we were fortunate enough to make plays when we needed to down the end."
With the Eagles in control midway through the third quarter, BC made it's predictable push. Led by senior guard Travis Evee (20 points) and 6-foot-4 sharpshooter Mike Vasil (17 points, 5 boards), the visiting Eagles were able to string some baskets together to cut into the deficit. Vasil canned one of his five 3-balls with five minutes to play in the fourth to make it a 7-point game, but a timeout and some ensuing stops allowed the Eagles to close it out.
Nate Hobbs scored 10 points on a number of impressive drives to go with eight rebounds; Christian Lamers had some clutch plays in crunch time en route to seven points and three boards, while Jarnel Snow-Guzman was flawless at the point all night, posting a solid line of nine points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Despite the overall height disadvantage, Prep was able to outrebound the visitors (31-29) in what proved to be a key component in the win.
"At one point they had four guys in there that were 6-4 or above," said Dullea. "They're a big team and they crash hard, so it was a point of emphasis for us to get low, hold the guys off, get the rebound and coral it. They're a tough physical team and kind of beat us up a little bit at their place and we remembered that."
St. John's Prep 60, BC High 48
at St. John's Prep, Danvers
SJP — Jarnel Snow-Guzman 1-7-9, Tommy O'Neil 5-2-12, Patrick Sweetnam 3-1-7, Christian Lamers 2-2-7, Nate Hobbs 3-4-10, Will Batchelder 1-0-3, Matt Relihan 4-2-12, Aidan Callahan 0-0-0, Christian Plourde 0-0-0, Kairo Ovalle 0-0-0. Totals: 19-18-60.
BC High — Travis Evee 8-3-20, Jimmy Tan 2-0-4, Spencer Riley 1-1-3, Matt Thompson 1-0-3, Troy Salmans 0-2-2, Mike Vasil 6-0-17. Totals: 18-6-48.
Halftime: SJP, 30-20.
3-pointers: SJP: Relihan 2, Lamers, Batchelder; BC: Vasil 5, Evee, Thompson.
Records: SJP 11-4, BC 95.