Phoenix golden at OFSAA
The Saint Francis Phoenix senior boys basketball team had to fight tooth and nail at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA championships in Windsor to bring home the second gold medal in school history.
“Every game with the exception of the second half of the second game was close,” Saint Francis head coach Jon Marchettere said. “Every other game we are trailing at different points in the second half and there were moments in each of those games where I looked up at the scoreboard and was seeing what was starting to be a scary picture, including the last minute of the final.”
The Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association champions went into the event as the top seeds.
“I was really proud of what we did through the year that would allow us to be the No. 1 seed but it certainly comes with a price. You don’t get to hide in any sort of obscurity and we had to deal with having that target on our back,” he said.
The Phoenix certainly didn’t give the outward appearance of being the team to beat.
“We are not very tall, we are very young and we brought up five juniors to OFSAA with us which meant of our 14-player roster, seven were Grade 10s. We had only three Grade 12s and only one of them played significant minutes.”
Joining the five juniors at OFSAA was junior coach Rich Alderson.
“It was his first OFSAA experience and Pat’s (Sullivan’s) last which was really kind of neat because it bookended that it was a program win.”
Sullivan, the former long-time head, is retiring from teaching and coaching this year.
Marchettere felt the difference in the tournament was a year-long focus by the coaching staff to have the Phoenix play faster, defend harder and commit to the squad’s defensive concepts.
“Probably more than any team that I have coached, this team progressed the most during the year. It was a learning process all year and we really started to click at the All-Catholic,” he said. “We kept pushing the guys to play faster and faster because we felt like we would grind and run teams down and ultimately they would quit or their legs would quit on them.”
That plan worked to perfection at OFSAA.
“It was incredible how resilient this team was, battling through teams who were quicker, longer and sometimes had more athleticism.”
Saint Francis has been to OFSAA 17 of the past 21 years, and the team has 10 provincial medals in the past 13 years, including two golds, four silvers and four bronzes.
Saint Francis marched to the gold medal by defeating King City 71-61, Theriault 78-32, St. Mary’s 70-55, St. Ignatius 77-68 in the semifinals and St. Joan of Arc 67-59 in the final.
In the win over King City, the Phoenix led 49-43 going into the final quarter before sealing the deal with a 22-18 fourth-quarter advantage. Leading performers for Niagara were: Tommy Goodwin with 15 points; Andrews Ens with 13 points; Jack Ciocca with 12 points; Elijah Quissua with 10 points; and, Anthony Heyes with nine points.
“It did not go as planned,” Marcheterre said. “We ran into a lot of foul trouble early and maybe that was because of the excitement and the jitters. We played a good deal of the game without either Andrew or Anthony on the floor. At some points, we had five juniors on the floor.”
The game was an awakening for the Phoenix.
“We realized we were not going to be able to have our way. We were going to have to work a little harder than we thought. From that moment on, the guys played outstanding.”
Saint Francis led Theriault 37-20 at the half but blew the game open by outscoring its opponent 27-2 in the third quarter. Leading the way were: Ens with 16 points; Ciocca with 14 points; and, Heyes with 13 points.
The Phoenix trailed St. Mary’s 16-12 after one quarter and 28-25 at the half before outscoring St. Mary’s 22-11 in the third quarter to grab the lead. Topping the stat sheet for Saint Francis were: Heyes with 30 points; Ens with 25 points; Ciocca with five points; and, Jakub Labanowicz with eight rebounds.
In the semifinals, the Phoenix face quarter deficits of 20-14, 37-32 and 58-49 against St. Ignatius. A 28-10 advantage in the final quarter pushed Saint Francis into the finals. Performing well for Niagara were: Ens with 25 points; Heyes with 18 points; Ciocca with 15 points; and, Labanowicz with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
In the final, the Phoenix built quarter leads off 16-15, 31-28 and 58-54 to record the victory over St. Joan of Arc. Leading the way for Saint Francis in the final were: Heyes with 29 points; Goodwin with 15 points; and, Ens with nine points.
Other members of the OFSAA championship team are Carter MacNeil, Nawaf Kigab, Kevin Ducuara, Seth McLaughlin, Matt Futino, Josh Smith, Trent Dobson, Austin Hinds and Farouk Akasha. Kigab’s and Hinds’ brothers were part of Saint Francis OFSAA championship team in 2015. Also on the coaching staff were Josh Ens and Jeremy Dela Cruz.
With so few Grade 12s on the roster, the Phoenix will be strong again next season.