Thunder get grit back; Phoenix advance
After losing a high school basketball season to the COVID-19 pandemic, Carter Kerrigan couldn’t wait to return to the court with his teammates on the Blessed Trinity Thunder senior boys basketball team.
The 18-year-old’s appetite for the upcoming season was whetted by an exhibition game against Cardinal Newman but on the day before the start of the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association season, disaster struck.
“I was pretty optimistic about the season and then like every other morning I was on my way to school and then I got in a car accident,” the Grade 12 student said Thursday, after helping the Thunder defeat the visiting Saint Michael Mustangs 54-48 in the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association AAA semifinal. “I fractured my jaw on both sides and I had a laceration on the back of my head.”
He still remembers every detail about the accident.
“I was running late for school and my windows were all foggy. It is a dead road and it was clear like it was every morning. As I was turning, I has a little more vision, I saw headlights 15 or 20 metres out and that is the last thing I remember.”
The former Pelham Panthers travel player was knocked unconscious in the crash and when he woke up, he had a big bandage on his face and he was heading to Hamilton General. The cut on the back of his head required 12 staples to close, he needed six stitches on the inside of his mouth and 12 stitches on the outside of his mouth.
“They fixed my jaw and I had to have these big braces with elastics on and I wasn’t able to eat for six or seven weeks. I was drinking smoothies,” he said.
He also had to heal mentally.
“It was tough because I was missing everything that keeps me positive on a normal basis,” he said. “Even though my life stopped at that second, no one else’s did except for that one day obviously when everyone was checking up on me. Everyone else moved on and I had to move on to. I had to do all my schoolwork online and I tried to stay in a positive mood but sometimes it was hard.”
Returning to the basketball court was a huge motivator.
“It was incredible,” he said. “As bad as it is to say, COVID helped to delay the season by a few weeks and the season would probably have been over by now. When I heard things were getting back to normal and I would get a chance to play again, it was really exciting.”
Kerrigan made his return in the second half of Thursday’s semifinal, scoring three points and contributing several key rebounds, steals and assists in the game’s dying minutes.
“It was definitely tough missing games and not playing all that time and it was nice to play today. I didn’t even have a chance to practise,” the 6-foot-1 player said. “My mom wasn’t fond about the whole idea but I told her I would be watching and I would only play if it got close and I had to.
“It was kind of our goal not to have to play me and have me on the bench but once it was do or die, we decided I might as well come out and see what I could do.”
Blessed Trinity head coach Austin Anderson was delighted to have Kerrigan back in the lineup.
“He is just a great kid,” he said. “We really missed his grit and he brings an intensity that we don’t really have. He really wants to win and the guys rally around him.”
Kerrigan agrees with that assessment.
“There’s a lot of skill on the team and I bring that composure and I work hard because I want to win.”
Thursday’s game was a wild and crazy affair. The Mustangs grabbed a 31-22 lead in the third quarter with a 10-0 run before the Thunder used a big run of its own to lead 39-35 going into the final quarter.
Saint Michael built a 48-44 lead with less than two minutes left in the game setting the stage for an 8-0 run by Blessed Trinity to close the game, including two big threes by Ben Peters.
“We responded in the second half with a little run and we were able to use our defence to get some easy baskets which we needed,” Mustangs coach Keith Bomberry said. “But I take my hat off to Blessed Trinity. In the last 30 seconds, they hit timely shots.”
Bomberry has seen his team have a hard time with its outside shooting all season and Thursday was no exception.
“We struggle to hit those shots and the guys work extremely hard but sometimes we don’t find the rim,” he said.
The two teams were evenly matched.
“We played them a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t much of a game but they adjusted well and their zone defence really kept us off the board,” Bomberry said. “I wish them the best of luck next week against Notre Dame.”
Austin Anderson watched as his team took him on a rollercoaster ride from joy to the depths of despair.
“It is always better to coach nail-biters either way rather than blowouts,” he said. “The intensity is different.”
He admitted there were a few points in the game when he felt like things were slipping away.
“Even at halftime, I wasn’t too happy because we had a lead and we gave up two threes at the end. Then we didn’t start well in the third quarter, we had to find something and the guys did. It was all up to the guys.”
Peters saved the Thunder’s bacon with his two big threes.
“He is our shooter and that is what he is there for,” Anderson said.
Thunder 54 Mustangs 48
Cat’s Caboose Player of the Game: BT’s Ben Peters with 10 points, including back-to-back threes in the last two minutes of the game to give the Thunder at 52-48 lead.
For the Blessed Trinity Thunder: Peters 10; Luka Vukojev 10; Nicholas Kolenko 8; Michael Gore 6; Luke DiFlavio 5; Jacob Persaud 5; Mawana Chidovi 4; Carter Kerrigan 3; Caleb Olomide 2.
For the Saint Michael Mustangs: Audley Gardner 16; Devon Devost 14; Jalen Newton 10; Joey Ford 4; Ethan Kelly 3; Simon Keighan 1.
Up next: The Thunder will play on the road against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next Wednesday in the NCAA AAA final.
PHOENIX 77 RAIDERS 36
The Saint Francis Phoenix advanced to the NCAA AA final Thursday with a 77-36 victory over the visiting Holy Cross Raiders in the semifinals.
Scoring for Saint Francis in the win were Quinten Ethier (28), Jack Ciocca (13), Allen Kalonji (12), Andrew Enns (9), D.J. Conway (8), Luca Valvano (3), Seth McLaughlin (2), Carter Stoutenberg (2).
Replying for the Raiders were Dwayne Osbourne (13), Pawel Waszak (10), Gorazd Bojcev (5), Jose Restrepo Jimenez (4), Arin Sayeigh (2) and Marcus Torres (2).
Saint Francis will host the NCAA final March 10.