By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
It was Championship Sunday at the Trenton CYO Center Feb. 18, and it turned out to be a day for St. Gregory the Great of Hamilton Township and St. Paul School of Princeton to celebrate, Our Lady of Sorrows of Hamilton to celebrate a little more and Trenton Catholic Academy of Hamilton to celebrate a lot.
TCA swept three of the four male championships in the Mercer County CYO basketball finals, while St. Paul’s Gold won the Boys Freshmen Red & White Division crown. OLS won the varsity and JV girls titles, while St. Gregory’s Blue took honors in the Girls Freshmen final.
Photo Gallery: Mercer County CYO Basketball Finals
The JV and varsity finalists have all qualified for the Diocesan Tournament, which begins Feb. 26. Games will be played throughout the Diocese leading up to the championship games at the CYO on March 4.
Here’s a look at how the championship games played out:
Freshmen (4th grade & under)
St. Greg’s Blue got five points from Sam Jolly to take a 13-8 victory over St. Paul’s Gold in the girls’ title game.
In the boys Blue Division final, TCA topped St. Greg’s White, 19-7, as Brent Zoeduah tallied five points. Alexander Virarelle paced St. Paul’s Gold with nine points in a 29-16 win over St. Greg’s Blue in the Red & White Division final.
JV Girls (6th grade & under)
OLS picked the right time to avenge a three-game losing streak against its rival, as it won a tense 31-29 decision over St. Paul’s Gold to become the only 2nd-seed to defeat a top-seed all day.
It was a complete role reversal for Our Lady of Sorrows. Last year, OLS carried a 17-0 record into the championship game, only to be defeated by St. Paul’s in the final. This season, OLS was 15-2, having lost both regular-season games to St. Paul’s before turning it around in the year’s biggest game.
“They were phenomenal,” coach Joan Carella said. “They were very much into the game; they worked really, really hard. They got a little upset in the fourth quarter because things were so close. I just told them to ‘hang in there, you can’t see beyond the tears so don’t bother with that, just get out there and try your best.’ They did, and moved on and kept it going.”
OLS led 15-11 at halftime before St. Paul’s tied it 21-21 after three quarters. The final period was a dog fight back and forth, with OLS hanging on for the hard-fought victory.
Sixth-grader Ann Primerano earned game Most Valuable Player honors with 10 points. Also contributing to the attack were sixth-graders Mia Hartman (7 points), Dana Phillips (6) and Jamie Ash (2), and fifth-grader Emma Wilke (6).
Rounding out the sixth-graders was Brenna Riddell, while other fifth-graders were Lauren Mersel, Gabriella Nobile, Kaley O’Neil, Ryan Riddell, Kaitlin Wilke, Catherine Wright and Sydney Rivers. Fourth-grader Ryan Riddell was brought up from the freshman team to play JV.
Hartman, Brenna Riddell and Primerano played up with the varsity all year, and Carella felt their play was sharpened by practicing with the older girls throughout the season.
With that kind of talent, the squad was confident.
“We felt we had a pretty strong team,” Carella said. “Our only two losses were to St. Paul’s by two and six points, and they were undefeated. I just think by the time we played them in the finals, the whole team had improved just through practice. We turned it around this year against them. It’s a good rivalry. They’re good people on St. Paul’s; they’re very nice. And I’m proud of our girls; they were excellent.”
At game’s end, regular-season awards were given out. Primerano was the Small School Most Valuable Player, and St. Paul’s Gold’s Marcela Nearing was Large School MVP. The Team Sportsmanship Award went to Stuart Country Day School’s White squad, while Isabella Augustine of St. Paul’s Blue won the Individual Sportsmanship Award.
JV Boys (6th grade & under)
Led by a veteran sixth-grade starting lineup of Jordan Fusik, Brandon Napoleon, Josh Pintella, Thomas Sorber and Dominic Raymond, Trenton Catholic defeated OLS, 54-28.
Fusik led the way with 16 points while Pintella scored 14 and was named Game MVP for his all-around play.
“Josh played very, very well,” said coach Bob Fusik, who also coaches the TCA varsity high school team. “He’s all over the place. If we didn’t have Josh, we’d be in a whole lot of trouble.”
TCA finished 18-0 as depth was provided by fifth-graders Gio Herrera, Rossini Leroy, Antonio Martinez, Tyriq Bryant, Taj Miller, Elijah Rivera and Cameron Sheard. Fourth-grader Dylan Napoleon was brought up from the freshman team.
“All year these kids practice hard, and they play hard,” Fusik said. “I’m fortunate I coach a few of those kids all year round; a couple of them play on our AAU team. It’s like everything else, I’m lucky to have a great group of kid and really, a great group of parents when you’re talking about sixth-graders. They need to give them rides, pick them up. They were great.”
The regular-season award winners were Pintella (MVP, Large School Division), St. James-Pennington’s Andrew Halko (MVP, Small School Division), St. Gregory’s Blue (Team Sportsmanship) and Our Lady of Sorrows’ J.P. Melruse (Individual Sportsmanship).
Varsity Girls (8th grade & under)
Our Lady of Sorrows capped an 18-0 season by taking a 48-27 victory over St. Raphael’s as eighth-grader Iris Azcona scored 16 points and was named the playoff MVP.
“The girls played very well,” coach Tom Carella said. “Grace Jakim and Jill Giori also played a very good game. We actually came from behind. We were losing 11-2, and they pulled it together and won handily.”
Carella, who is brother of OLS JV coach Joan Carella, felt there may have been a few nerves at the start, since this was the first time his team made it to the championship game. It marked the fulfilling of a promise to Jakim, who was named the Large School Division Season MVP following the game.
“Grace started with our team for four years, she started with us in fifth grade, and we told her we would finally win the championship,” Carella said. “She was very good for us at point guard, a great athlete. She was really the glue of our team. When she’s on the floor, we keep our head about us. When she’s off the floor, we tend to lose control a little bit.”
Rounding out the starting five were eighth-grader Kaitlyn Angelucci and sixth-grader Ann Primerano, who also played JV.
“They really came up big,” the coach said. “They’re our big girls for our defense and they stayed strong. And Jill, Iris and Grace are all excellent players.”
Azcona joined the team just prior to the season while Grace Williams, the team’s lone seventh-grader, was a late waiver pick-up from St. Ann’s.
“We were really light handed before they came on,” Carella said. “I didn’t’ think I would have a team the way we were going. But we picked them up and started playing and winning.”
Rounding out the squad were eighth-grader Meagan Dixon and sixth-graders Brenna Riddell and Mia Hartman, who also won championships with the OLS JV squad. Hartman started during the regular season, but came off the bench due to some health issues.
Aside from league games, OLS won tournaments in Monroe (against all travel teams) and at St. Raphael’s and faced strong competition in a South Jersey tournament against powerful Sacred Heart, which helped toughen the team up.
In the other regular-season awards, Stuart’s Caroline Johnson was Small School Division MVP, St. Gregory’s won the Team Sportsmanship Award and St. Paul’s Faith Szarvas won the Individual Sportsmanship Award.
Varsity Boys (8th grade & under)
Trenton Catholic entered the finals against St. Gregory’s Blue with a 17-0 record, but coach Bob Fusik was not feeling overly confident.
“St. Greg’s is a very good team, so we really didn’t have any idea how we would do,” Fusik said. “It helps when you have Zion Cruz.”
Indeed it does, as Cruz exploded for 31 points in TCA’s 63-47 victory over St. Greg’s. The eighth-grader was both Game MVP as well as regular-season MVP in the Small School Division.
“The kid’s a monster,” Fusik said. “I’m not sure who does the AAU rankings, but he’s ranked like, number four in the country among eight-graders. The kid is special; he could do whatever he wanted to do. They triple teamed him and couldn’t stop him. He’s 6-3, and he probably had seven or eight monster dunks. The kid’s good, but not to take anything away from the rest of our kids.”
Those players included eighth-graders Alan Delvalle and Duvel Joasil, along with seventh-graders TJ Keese, Jack Martin, Anthony Aririguzoh (whose brother, Richmond, plays for Princeton), Devyn Wright-Myles, Miles Humphrey, Queyon Smith and Evan Jones. Dominic Raymond, Thomas Sorber, Josh Pintella and Jordan Fusik were brought up from the JV team.
“They were a really good group of kids,” Fusik said. “And so were their parents.”
Other post-season award winners were St. Gregory’s Brian Herbert (MVP, Large School Division), Our Lady of Sorrows (Team Sportsmanship Award) and St. Greg’s Tyler Kostin (Individual Sportsmanship Award).