By Jeremy Balan
For the first time this season, the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team looked rattled.
Sacred Heart missed 15 of its 29 free throws, had 21 turnovers and Riordan held standout forwards Taylor Johns and Joshua Fox to a combined 15 points, but the visiting Irish had just enough to outlast the Crusaders in a 50-41 West Catholic Athletic League win on Thursday.
“We were flustered and so out of whack mentally, and that led to us playing like that,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “Why did that happen to us tonight? I can’t tell you.”
The Crusaders (9-14, 2-11) arguably guarded Fox and Johns better than any WCAL team this season and limited the pair to just 15 shot attempts from the floor by employing various types of zone defenses.
“It was definitely mission accomplished on the defensive end,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “I can count on one hand the number of games where we’ve laid an egg defensively. That’s always been a constant.”
Unfortunately for Riordan, its defensive success did not carry over into the offensive half of the court, where the Crusaders shot just over 26 percent from the floor.
Sacred Heart (20-3, 10-3) started the game on an 8-0 run, led 22-12 at the half and Riordan cut the lead to six points three times in the fourth quarter, but could not get the deficit down to a single possession.
“We had some good looks and we were pleased with the [ball] movement, but we just couldn’t knock down those shots,” Buckner said. “As much as our defense has been a solid constant, our shooting has been our weakness.”
With Johns and Fox largely corralled, Sacred Heart guards Herman Pratt and Tyler Petroni led the Irish in scoring with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
It was Pratt’s performance on the boards, however, that proved most crucial.
The junior had seven rebounds and five on the offensive glass, including several in the fourth quarter, when the Crusaders desperately needed defensive stops.
“He’s just a stud and I do not take for granted having a kid like that,” Barbour said of Pratt. “It’s amazing what he does every day, with his effort and the way he competes. He flies under the radar, but we feed off of him and how hard he plays.”
In his last game at Crusader Forum, senior guard D. J. Harvey was the only Riordan player to score in double figures with a game-high 15 points. Riordan scored 15 points in the final quarter and nine came from Harvey.
“The sign of a champion is how you finish and D. J. Harvey finished like a champion, as well as the other seniors,” Buckner said. “Their effort was tremendous and that effort they put out in athletics is going to carry over into the rest of their lives.”
Riordan still has a road game against St. Francis and the WCAL playoffs to look forward to, but barring a miraculous run, the season will likely end for the Crusaders without a Central Coast Section playoff bid.
“I go to bed at night and I wake up in the morning frustrated, not at the kids at all, but what has gone down this year with the CCS,” Buckner said, referencing the five non-league forfeits the section imposed on the Crusaders due to a paperwork oversight by Riordan. “It’s just frustrating that we don’t get to move on and show ourselves. Our record is not indicative of the type of team that’s in that locker room.”
For Sacred Heart, a showdown with first-place Mitty is set for Saturday, but the game lost a little luster when St. Ignatius upset Serra on Wednesday to clinch the WCAL regular-season title for the Monarchs.
Sacred Heart could move into second place with a win over Mitty, but Barbour is more concerned with the impact a win could have on the Irish’s psyche.
“For us, it’s important to beat a good team,” Barbour said. “If we go in there Saturday, and we play well and win, our mental makeup is different. If we see them later on in the playoffs, we know we can beat them.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Herman Pratt – 13
Tyler Petroni – 11
Taylor Johns – 8
Joshua Fox – 7
Khalil James – 6
D. J. Harvey – 15
Graham Gilleran – 6
Iwunna Ugbaja – 5
Geru Mabrey – 4
Three players tied with 3 points