By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—At times it was ugly, real ugly. If you took the topsy-turvy back-and-forth tilt out of the Palestra, it would have been a classic playground war between five-time Catholic League champion Neumann-Goretti and traditional powerhouse Roman Catholic.
Bodies flew. There was even a low bridge here and there. And there were misses. And misses. And follow-up misses. Then it changed in the third quarter. Two teams that combined couldn’t hit anything suddenly couldn’t miss anything.
But Neumann-Goretti kept hitting, especially Miami-bound Ja’Quan Newton, and it resulted in the Saints winning their sixth-straight Catholic League championship, beating Roman, 53-48, Monday at the Palestra.
Neumann-Goretti joins very rare company, not only in becoming six-time Catholic League champions, joining Roman Catholic’s run of six-straight from 1989-1994, but in becoming a shared boys-girls champion.
As a school, Neumann-Goretti entered the exclusive realm of becoming the first dual boy-girl Catholic League basketball champions since Cardinal O’Hara accomplished the feat in 1968—the first in 46 years.
Newton finished with a game-high 23 points, none bigger than the pair of free throws he hit with :10 left to clinch the victory and give the Saints a 53-48 lead.
Roman senior guard Rashann London ended with 22 for the Cahillites, whose record dropped to 21-4.
The Saints, who are also 21-4, took control of the game in the third quarter. A Lamar Kimble layup with 1:19 left in the third quarter gave the Saints a 34-33 lead. Troy Harper followed with another driving layup with :43.8 left to open that up to 36-33.
From there, the Saints never relinquished the lead.
With 1:48 left to play, Neumann-Goretti was up by as much as 50-40 off a Harper basket. And though Roman did pull within 51-48, inside of a minute to play, the Cahillites were drained and tired.
That’s when Newton closed the door.
“I had to flip the script to win this game,” said Newton, who also had eight rebounds. “I kept telling myself that I had to take over, I had to take over. This is a great feeling making history, and we had to do our part after the girls won. I know Roman beat us during the regular season, but we’re the champs, they had to take it from us.”
Both Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic will advance to the District 12 championship on Friday at St. Joe’s. Neumann-Goretti, as a Class AAA school, will play Electrical at 7 p.m., and Roman Catholic, as the Catholic League’s Class AAAA representative, will play Martin Luther King at 8:30.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.