M’Baya sparks Phoenix to NCAA crown
Igor M’Baya made the most of his final appearance in his home gym Tuesday night.
The St. Francis point guard netted 23 points, including 15 in the first quarter, to power the Phoenix to a 75-62 victory over the Saint Paul Patriots in the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association (Zone 2) senior boys basketball final.
“It has been a long journey at St. Francis and I am definitely going to miss playing at home,” the 18-year-old said. “I was glad that everyone came out to support me, but we just had to come out and do our job.
“I knew Saint Paul was going to come out and give us their best.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” St. Francis head coach Jon Marcheterre said. “He and I talked about it in the last week or so that this would be it. It would be the last time he would put on the uniform and play on this floor and he came out a man possessed. He led our charge early.”
He had no doubt M’Baya would be ready for Tuesday’s final
“He and Quinton (Duemo) are two real leaders and the two practices we had leading up to this game since the semifinal, you could tell both of them were at a different level of focus,” Marcheterre said. “They knew what was going to be on the line and that says a lot about the respect we have for Saint Paul and what they are capable of doing.”
M’Baya knew he and Duemo had to take their leadership to another level.
“We had to step up and become better leaders,” the 12B student said. “In the past, I have always been told that I needed to be more vocal. Over the course of the season, I have made improvements and I am helping the guys out so they can be at their best.”
Marchetere will miss M’Baya.
“He is a tremendous kid and I am very proud to have coached him for so long,” he said. “I wish him luck going forward. He is our glue and a one-man press break for the most part.”
Watching M’Baya play Tuesday was Niagara College head coach Phil Mosley, who has expressed an interest in the 5-foot-10 player.
“It is definitely a mutual interest and Niagara College is a school that I have looked at,” M’Baya said. “I am considering going there but I am waiting. I want to focus on the season and school and I will figure out what I want to do at the end of the season.”
It was another in a long line of zone titles for the Phoenix Tuesday, but the first one in Zone 2 as the NCAA representative.
“We are very proud of it and it was a tough run this year,” Marcheterre said. “Every team is a little bit different and this team required a lot of Xs and Os and changing up of different things.
“It felt like the process was a little more challenging but this group worked hard.”
Getting off to a great start was the difference in the final.
The Phoenix roared out to a 23-4 lead and the Patriots couldn’t get much closer as St. Francis built quarter leads of 30-12, 46-26 and 64-35.
“Getting out to that lead was a focus and our preparations for this game were to come out strong, establish ourselves in our gym and then hopefully ride that,” Marcheterre said.
Saint Paul was dealt a tough blow three minutes into the game when John Graovaz dove for a loose ball and possibly broke his collar bone. The Grade 11 forward was the MVP of the Niagara Falls Review tournament.
“It’s not the reason we lost but it certainly didn’t help,” Patriots head coach Frank Capretta said.
Despite the injury, the Patriots fought on.
“Anyone who knows us knows we are not going to quit,” Capretta said. “When you lose a key member of your team, other guys have to do different things. You have a way of playing and a game plan and you have to kind of throw it out the window.”
Capretta credited Phoenix with an impressive win.
“They got off to a great start and they shot the ball really well, but it took us too long to settle in to what I thought was the enormity of the game,” he said. “Once we did, I thought we were pretty good, but hats off to them. They are good for a reason.”
The reigning Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association AA bronze medalists will meet Zone 3 champion E.L. Crossley in the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association semifinals Thursday. The Phoenix defeated Crossley 70-58 in early December in the finals of the 58th Standard High School Basketball Tournament.
St. Francis didn’t want to think about Crossley until Saint Paul was defeated.
“We have a lot of respect for E.L. Crossley and we know they are definitely going to bring their A game,” Marcheterre said. “There are guys that we have to make sure we are keying on and hopefully it will be a game where we are pleased and moving on to the SOSSA final.”
Thunder 75 Patriots 62
Cracker Jack’s/Mick and Angelo’s/Johnny Rocco’s Player of the game: St. Francis’ Igor M’Baya with 23 points and a strong game at point guard.
For the St. Francis Phoenix: Sacade Kasamba 25; M’Baya 23; Quinton Duemo 14; Max Riddell 5; Ben Lannan 3; Allan Kalonji 2; Andre Pelaez 2; Cole Carpenter 1.
For the Saint Paul Patriots: Jerwyn Tutanes 24; Jacob McLeod 19; Noah Jordan 9; Devon Schiller-Cleveland 6; Javier Lewis 4.
Up next: The Phoenix advance to the SOSSA AA semifinals Thursday at E.L. Crossley.