OSTERVILLE – He was so sick yesterday with the flu he couldn’t even practice.
But Wednesday night at Cape Cod Academy’s Thomas Evans Gymnasium, St. John Paul II’s Kevin Marsh was anything but unprepared. The senior captain poured in a game-high 23 points to lead the Lions (1-0) to a season-opening, 65-60, victory over the Cape Cod Academy Seahawks (1-1).
In what felt like yet another playoff atmosphere in the still young 2014-15 Cape & Islands League season, the newly re-named St. John Paul II five appeared from the outset that they aim to make a real run at things this winter, building a lead as high as 18 points in the third quarter with Marsh draining three of his five three-pointers on the night during that stretch.
“That’s why I didn’t even start him. He was sick with the flu yesterday and couldn’t even practice,” first-year Lions’ head coach David Harrison said. “But he came up with some huge shots for us.”
Harrison, who spent the past five seasons coaching the New Bedford Voke girls’ varsity, then emptied his bench – by-and-large – and the Seahawks took that as an opportunity to slowly claw their way back into the battle. Down 31-18 at the half and then 46-32 after three frames, the Seahawks put together a collective fight that included in the final minutes a pair of thrilling, desperation three-pointers by senior point guard Johnny Hatem and his gifted counterpart Aaron White.
Hamstrung by a foul situation that gave their guests a bonus 1-on-1 from the charity stripe, however, the Seahawks were forced to watch as lanky junior forward Jonathan Warden laced four straight last-minute free throws to seal the Lions’ victory.
St. John Paul II junior center Nick Cassata had 14 points for the Lions and Warden had 15 to go along with Marsh’s 23 points.
Louis DeVesto came off the bench and had a pair of critical three-pointers for the Seahawks as part of their gutsy 28 point-surge in the fourth quarter.
The final two minutes of this affair were about as exciting as high school basketball gets here on this sandy peninsula but even so, Harrison said he wasn’t fully satisfied with the way his team attacked the Seahawks’ key offensive threats in Hatem and fellow senior Henry Zezze as time ticked off the clock and the hosts were chipping away at the Lions’ lead.
“I told them after the game a win’s a win,” Harrison said, loosening his tie and obviously relieved to get his first career Lions’ game out of the way. “We pushed the ball up the floor well but we didn’t play defense the way we should have near the end. I can see what we need to work on.”
In truth, the Seahawks almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the final 1:54 of the fourth quarter. To put it into perspective, the Seahawks outscored the Lions 28-19 in the fourth frame after scoring just 18 points in the first half. In the second half, head coach Tom Ferreira’s boys put on an altogether antithetical display of sheer grit to what was produced in the first half. Hatem scored 20 of his 23 points on the night in the second frame and Zezze netted an even eight points in the second half, finishing the night with 16.
With St. John Paul II ahead, 57-52 at the 1:54 mark of the 4th quarter, it looked like the hosts still had a good shot at pulling this one out. But Lions’ senior Ryan Barabe answered that question with a pretty baseline hook shot to make it 59-52, but there simply was no quit in the Seahawks’ collective. Battling in the paint and fed the ball inside by Hatem on the low post, Zezze made a head fake and kicked the ball out to sophomore shooting guard Ben Siegel who drained it from the foul line to make it 59-54. Lions’ senior captain Diego Meritus (7 points on the night) then took the ball coast-to-coast and dumped in a finger roll to make it 61-54. With just 31.3 seconds left on the clock, Ferreira called for a time out but the hosts had no room to foul. Warden took a hack on the floor and went to the foul line, draining them both to make it 63-54 and Ferreira called another time out.
That’s when Aaron White stepped up and collected his only points of the night by burying a deep bomb from the top to make it 63-57 and the gym was rocking. White made an almost Larry Bird-esque steal on the St. John Paul II inbounds but instead a valuable second was ticked off the clock leaving the hosts a mere 10 seconds to try and get it done.
The Lions did not seem fazed, however, and Warden again took an on-the-floor hack off the inbounds play. He drilled both free throws in the bonus to make it 65-57. Ferreira called another time out and the ball was immediately placed in Hatem’s hands whereby he followed through with a soaking wet slow-motion three-pointer. With just 3.1 seconds left, the score was 65-60 but it was simply not enough. Meritus took the cross-court inbound pass and dribbled freely until time elapsed.
The Lions next face Sturgis West at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center on Monday, Dec. 22 at 7:00 pm.
The Seahawks next face a tough Nantucket team on Friday, Dec. 19 at 4:00 pm at home. Both contests are league games.