Thunder take wild ride into SOSSA AAA hoop semifinals
The Blessed Trinity Thunder senior boys basketball team rode a roller coaster in their home gym Tuesday and when the ride stopped, it had earned a spot in the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association AAA semifinals.
Playing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association (Zone 2) final, the Thunder roared out to an early 19-3 lead and built it to 28-10 by the end of the first quarter.
An Irish buzzer beater cut the lead to 39-29 at the half and it took a late three-point Thunder shot to give Blessed Trinity a 52-47 lead after three quarters.
Things then got really interesting in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame tied the game at 54-54 with 6:10 left in and then managed to grab a 61-56 lead with 2:44 remaining. The Thunder fought back to tie the game at 61-61 before Notre Dame went back up 62-61 on a Shammar Campbell free throw. Josh Enns hit a three-pointer to give BT a 64-62 lead with 21.9 seconds left and the Thunder hung on for a 66-62 victory.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster and I still am in a bit of shock. I’m speechless,” Thunder head coach John Cino
“I knew they wouldn’t give up and I knew they wouldn’t go away. I told them (his players) all week that they applied to host SOSSA and they wouldn’t have applied for nothing.They wanted to be there.”
The Thunder earned home-court advantage in the final by defeating the Irish 63-55 in the regular season.
“We beat them earlier, we knew it was going to be a dog fight and we couldn’t have shot any better in the first quarter,” Cino said. “That was insane and I knew it wasn’t going to last, but we never gave up.”
Hanging on to win showed growth by his team.
“That is part of us maturing,” he said. “I think we matured a bit this year. When things go wrong, we used to get down on ourselves and I told the guys that whatever happens we had to stay positive.”
Cino’s son Lucas played a big role in the victory, scoring 27 points, getting to the basket and going 10-10 from the free-throw line.
“It is hard for me to put it into words but I am really proud of him,” John Cino said. “He works so hard. He is here every morning and late at night, he comes in and shoots. He is always in the weight room and he loves basketball.”
But the coach also praised other players.
“I am proud of him and happy that he did well but it wasn’t just him. It was everybody. Josh makes that shot at the end. God bless him.”
John Cino thanked co-coach Gabe Diodamo for giving him a chance to coach.
“He has coached the senior team for years and has done a phenomenal job,” he said. “He allowed me to come help out because my son was coming and that took a lot for him to do that for me. I am really appreciative.”
Lucas Cino was delighted to be holding the NCAA championship trophy at the end of the game.
“It feels pretty good to win,” he said. “I remember in Grade 9 that we lost in the SOSSA finals in a close game and it’s good to get a chance to go back to SOSSA.”
Last year, the Thunder lost by one to Governor Simcoe in the Zone 4 final.
It will be Cino’s first trip to SOSSA as a senior.
“Last year sucked but this year it feels great,” he said,
The Irish struggled to contain Lucas when he attacked the basket.
“I saw the lanes to get to the rim and I had some mismatches too so I tried to use my size,” he said,
Notre Dame coach Mark Gallagher was proud of his team’s effort.
“It was obviously not the start we wanted and they shot the ball incredibly well early, but we just kept saying to the kids to win four minutes at a time,” he said. “We knew we couldn’t get 15 points every possession so we chipped away and hoped that we could make it close and see what happens.
“We had our chances.”
The Irish expended a ton of energy to get back into the game but Gallagher didn’t feel his team was out of gas at the end.
“We had the ball, we were up and we ran the play that we wanted to run,” he said. “If we score there, we get them in a situation where they are panicking a little bit but what else could you ask for from the kids?
“It would have been super easy in the middle of the first quarter to pack things up and go home but they didn’t.”
Gallagher never lost faith in his team.
“We thought we were in a good spot at halftime and then we thought we were in a good spot going into the fourth quarter. They made one more play than we did.”
Thunder 66 Irish 62
Mick and Angelo’s Johnny Rocco’s/Cracker Jack’s Player of the Game: Blessed Trinity’s Lucas Cino with 27 points, including 10-10 from the free-throw line
For the Blessed Trinity Thunder: Cino 27; Josh Enns 22; Noah Monteforte 11.
For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Shammar Campbell 28; Matteo Dave 9; Andrew Zezela 7; Brandon Markowski 6.
Up next: Blessed Trinity advanced to the SOSSA semifinals Thursday at Note Dame and will play Greater Fort Erie.