Neumann-Goretti five-peats at Palestra

A huge night from its junior star led an East Passyunk Crossing 
school to its
fifth straight
 basketball title. 

By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 28, 2013

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As coach Carl Arrigale declared “We’re the better team so don’t give them any reason to think otherwise” in Monday night’s pre-game speech, Ja’Quan Newton licked his lips as if ready to feast on his foe. 

Hungering for a victory, the junior sniper then scored 27 points to lead the Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School Saints, 1736 S. 10th St., to a 60-42 triumph over the game, yet overmatched St. Joe’s Prep Hawks at the Palestra. His thrilling effort combined with his teammates’ tenacity to secure their East Passyunk Crossing site’s fifth-straight Catholic League boys’ basketball crown and sent a message to those who had thought regular-season setbacks might foreshadow postseason disappointment.

“People threw a few funerals for us this year,” Arrigale, of the 2900 block of South 15th Street, said of his celebrating ballers, citing Jan. 7’s road loss to La Salle College High School that snapped their 73-game winning streak against parochial opponents and Feb. 10’s nationally televised drubbing by Chester High School as detractors’ main material. “Luckily, I got a group of tough kids who put their minds to bouncing back and earning another title.”

The Chester debacle dealt them their fifth defeat, the most for an Arrigale-led squad since the 2007-’08 unit dropped 10 contests, but prompted them to work harder. The Saints clobbered Bishop McDevitt 85-54 in Feb. 15’s home quarterfinal and blasted Archbishop Carroll 57-34 at the University of Pennsylvania’s famed venue Feb 20. Returning there for the final, they desired to designate the Prep, whom they made a 67-43 casualty Jan. 14, as the runner-up for the second year running. The 20-4 North Philly-based Hawks entered with one more win than the Saints, but the latter’s pedigree and resolve resulting from a far more daunting schedule, including a Christmas trip to Oregon, negated that numeric advantage immediately.

“We wanted to jump on them right away,” Newton, a two-time First-Team All-League pick and Southwest Philly resident, said.

Ja’Quan Newton proved he is as adapt around the rim as he is on the perimeter with this thrilling dunk. 

Photo by 
Rob Torney 

The game set up as a statistician’s dream come true, as Arrigale and Prep coach William “Speedy” Morris, for whom he played two seasons at Penn Charter, entered with eight titles each, and each team dressed two 1,000-point scorers, Newton and senior forward John Davis for the Saints and senior forward Miles Overton and senior guard Stephen Vasturia, the two-time MVP, for the Hawks. After the first quarter, though, Newton cared only about one digit, 10, which represented his unit’s cushion, as the Saints used a well-balanced attack that saw five players score. Newton led with six, including a buzzer-beating three-ball that momentarily quieted the Prep student section.

The boisterous area again earnestly began the pleas for an upset in the second frame, as perimeter shots found the twine. Newton and Davis, a three time first-team honoree and a resident of Fifth Street and Washington Avenue, though, treated the rock as if it were a security blanket with which they could not part, tallying all 13 of their unit’s points. 

While earning an interior bucket midway through the quarter, Davis, a Towson University signee who would score 11 points and grab as many rebounds, lost his customary headband. Picking it up, he casually lobbed it into the Prep stands, drawing ire. Newton picked up a few boos, too, when nailing another buzzer-beating three, this one via a bank shot.

“Not intended,” he said, with a laugh.

Racing to the locker room with a 32-22 lead, the South Philly athletes won Arrigale’s praise and vowed to win the third quarter to prove their juggernaut status and decimate the Prep’s will. Perhaps a touch of anxiety kicked in as the Saints, looking to join Roman Catholic, which has accomplished it twice, as the lone schools to win as many as five consecutive league championships, required four-and-a-half minutes to register their first post-intermission points. Rushed shots and offensive fouls on their part and renewed commitment from their adversaries dwindled the lead to 35-34, and the Prep supporters made their evening’s loudest roar when Arrigale called a timeout.

“I knew then I couldn’t let my team down,” Newton said. “I was not going to allow us to lose.”

The reliable figure ignited a 7-0 run to close the frame, scoring five points, including an acrobatic attempt that led to a three-point play, and dishing to junior forward Jamal Custis for a deuce. As the fourth began, third-team selection and senior point guard Hanif Sutton came to symbolize the Saints’ patience and the Hawks’ reluctance, as he drained 55 seconds off the clock with fancy dribbling and penetrated for his only bucket. Back to trying to wither a double-digit deficit, the Hawks panicked and Vasturia could not help them to fly away with an improbable win. The Saints continually earned interior looks, and Newton ended one sort of suspense while starting another with a dunk that had his fans eagerly counting down the seconds until they could fully revel.

“We pressured the ball and tightened the lanes,” Newton said of the 25-8 run to finish the game.

“There might have been some panic, but we knew we had it all along,” junior forward Tony Toplyn, a New Jersey resident who tallied five points, added of his first title game as a starter.

The Saints will face Imhotep Charter in tomorrow’s 8:30 p.m. Class AAA City title tilt at Saint Joseph’s University, with the No. 1 state tournament seeding on the line, too.

“If we execute and keep up our defense like tonight, we can beat anybody,” Toplyn said.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.

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