By Jeremy Balan
When Sacred Heart Cathedral senior forward Joshua Fox hit a 3-pointer with just 2 seconds remaining to send the West Catholic Athletic League finale with Mitty into overtime, it felt like the Irish would have a storybook ending to their regular season.
But the Irish were brought back to reality by one of the best players in the nation.
With the score tied at 58-58 with less than 20 seconds to play, Mitty standout junior forward Aaron Gordon backed down an Irish defender, spun into the paint and released a soft finger roll onto the rim.
The ball rolled halfway down into the basket, then rolled out, but Gordon was there to tip in his first miss with 5 seconds remaining to give the Monarchs a 60-58 win in front of a capacity crowd on Saturday at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Gordon had a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds, but none were more important than on that final Mitty possession.
“You just know he has that knack to get to the ball no matter what,” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy. “He’s the best at following up balls, because his pursuit is so good and his athleticism. He’s just a special kid.”
Sacred Heart junior guard Herman Pratt heaved a desperate shot from midcourt that appeared to be on line, but fell short, as the Irish (20-4, 8-4) lost their fourth game by three points or less.
Gordon was ultimately the hero at the end of overtime, but at the end of regulation, Fox looked primed for that tag.
With Sacred Heart down 51-48 with 5 seconds remaining, the Irish ran an inbound play from the right wing that had Fox run the up the baseline to the far corner of the court, aided by a pick.
Sacred Heart junior guard Khalil James threw the inbound pass over the entire Mitty defense to find Fox with space to shoot in the corner and the standout senior nailed the 3-pointer with a Mitty defender flying at him.
The Irish drew up the play after two Mitty fouls and a timeout from each team on that same possession.
“Tyler [Petroni] was our first option prior to that last play, but they were all over him, so I told [assistant] coach [Demitrius] Jackson, ‘Let’s go to Josh,'” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “We ran the same formation, because we wanted them to still think it was going to Tyler. As a coach, what else can you ask for? It came down to execution. It was an unbelievable play.”
The game featured 11 lead changes in regulation, but the Monarchs (21-3, 11-1) jumped ahead 58-53 with 1:10 left in overtime when the Irish made another late run.
In just over 30 seconds, Sacred Heart senior forward Taylor Johns followed up an Irish miss while being fouled and James scored a running jump shot in the lane to set up Gordon’s game-winning score.
“It was a great game to be a part of,” Barbour said. “These are two pretty good high school teams and you don’t get these kinds of games, even at the collegiate level. The competitiveness, the environment, the intensity – the things you want to see as coaches – that was all here tonight.”
Fox led the Irish with 14 points and Johns added 13, to go along with 13 rebounds and the task of guarding Gordon for almost all of the game.
But the pair seemed absent within the Sacred Heart offense at times, while the Irish guards struggled to knock down jump shots.
“As long as they touch [the ball], I’m fine and I thought they got touches,” Barbour said. “Early on, Josh was trying too hard and I could just tell he was trying to aim it, instead of just letting it flow. Taylor was guarding one of the best players in the country and that takes a lot of energy out of you.”
While the Monarchs clinched the regular-season WCAL championship and the top seed in the upcoming league playoffs earlier in the week, the Irish will get the third seed and have a first-round date with rival St. Ignatius on Tuesday, which had its best win of the season on the road against Serra on Thursday.
Sacred Heart won both regular-season meetings with the rival Wildcats, including a 68-46 rout on Monday.
“SI is feeling good about themselves, so what happened before means nothing,” Barbour said. “This is about a little tournament now. We have a chance to take a short breath, not a deep breath, and hopefully have a great practice on Monday.”
Aaron Gordon – 28
Thomas Peters – 15
Brandon Abajelo – 5
Brandon Farrell – 4
Thomas Short – 3
Sacred Heart Cathedal
Joshua Fox – 14
Khalil James – 13
Taylor Johns – 13
Herman Pratt – 9
Tyler Petroni – 4
Here’s another bonus video from our friend George Nguyen and Yay Area’s Finest