WORCESTER, Mass. -- St. John’s Prep opened up the second half with a 7-0 run, doubling its lead to 35-21 with 1:07 gone off the clock and soared with a double-digit lead for the remainder of the match, defeating the Pioneers from St. John’s of Shrewsbury, 72-57, to capture its first Division 1 Championship title in school history and cap off its first appearance at the State final since 1974.
“We knew we kind of let them in it, we were only up by seven,” said junior guard Owen Marchetti. “We really stressed at the half to step on their throat and give it to them. [Defense] was the key, and also to attack the basket, Steve [Haladyna], Pat [Connaughton] and me, get to the hole and not just settle for jumpshots.”
Prep coach Sean Connolly turned up the pressure early in the third because he felt that his team was playing the game of the Pioneers (22-3) game, not of his own Eagles (24-1).
“We wanted to speed the game up,” said Connolly. “We want to get the game up in the 60's and 70's; it’s their advantage at that pace (28-21 at half)...I feel we have a deep team, we can go 8-9 deep, all guys who can contribute. I’ve watched them and they’d only gone six or seven deep, so we wanted to get the game going up tempo.”
“We just didn’t handle the press well,” said Pioneers head coach Bob Foley. “Didn’t get to the right spots, then all of a sudden it was, ‘Bang, bang bang’ and you’re down 14 points.”
Marchetti (8 points, six assists) started of the third quarter with a steal and an assist to Steve Haladyna (29 points, two steals) who finished with a lay up to make the game 30-21. Haldayna jacked a three the next time down court to open up a double digit lead, and then Marchetti drove for a layup with 6:53 for a 14-point Prep advantage, their largest lead to that point in the game. Marchetti would end the game with four steals, but his first in the third quarter to extend the Eagles’ lead nine and the second which Connaughton took down the lane for a layup to put them up 15 were his most crucial plays of the game.
“We turned the ball over on the first possessions, they got a couple of layups,” said St., John’s School senior Richard Rodgers. “And we missed ours’ and that’s when we got into a hole. When you get into a hole against that good of a team it’s hard to come out of.”
At the end of the first quarter, Prep was only up by two. Connaughton (25 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals) tried to send the ball to Haladyna for the opening tip, but the ball rolled out of bounds. On Prep’s first possession though, Rodgers punched a Connaughton shot attempt, with the Crusader’s fans feeling the block and filling the DCU Center with their enthusiasm. When the Pioneers took the lead at 17-16 early in the second quarter, Prep quickly regained the lead at 18-17, with Connaughton returning the favor, sending a Rodgers shot flying before the Eagles went on a 10-4 run for the rest of the quarter.
With the score 22-17, Rodgers (26 points, 10 rebounds) pulled the Pioneers within one on a four-point play, grabbing the offensive rebound, backing up behind the arc, hitting the three-pointer, taking the contact from Isiah Robinson and hitting the free throw to make the score 22-21. A lot of work for one player, but on the back end, Connaughton flushed a trey, Haladayna stole the ball and made a layup and Freddie Shove hit a free throw. Rodgers had backed down Connaughton and may have had a chance to hit a shot under a minute left, but Connor Macomber slid over to help Connaughton, forcing Rodgers deep into the corner, shooting from behind the basket and missing the shot.
“Coming off the bench, I don’t care if I’m a starter,” said Macomber. “I’ll do whatever my team needs me to do. If it’s D-ing somebody up, I’ll do it.”
The Prep finished the third quarter up by 19 and cruised to a 15-point win. While Connaughton and Haladyna combined for 56 points, one less than St. John’s School total score, they had five other guys account for 16 points, making the difference, as the Crusaders only had four players light up the scoreboard.
“They’ve got so many offensive weapons,” added Foley, “that we didn’t have enough defensive weapons to stop them.”