Stepinac’s Troubles Continue but Beat Rival Iona Prep
The Stepinac High School basketball team’s troubles continued when they were edged out by Holy Cross High School 70-65, on Saturday, Jan. 25, in Flushing, Queens.
However, the Crusaders (6-12) have showed some promise recently, while winning three of their last five games. They beat Mt. St. Michael Academy, 63-60, on January 17, Cardinal Spellman High School, 76-67, on January, 20 and Iona Preparatory School, 57-45, on Friday, January 24.
Iona Prep (9-7) was undoubtedly the Crusaders biggest win this season. The Crusaders thrilled their fans by defeating arch rival Iona, 57-45, in front of a packed house at Stepinac High School.
Despite the thermometer registering an extremely cold 16 degrees outside; it was standing room only inside the Stepinac gym. Fans supporting the Crusaders, as well as, the Gaels stood across each wall behind the baselines and assembled in every corner of the gym, after the stands reached maximum capacity.
Iona Prep was without their two big stars junior Matt Ryan and sophomore Ty Jerome, who are both averaging about 13 points per game. Ryan is definitely out for the season with a torn labrum in his right hip and another possible tear in his left hip. Jerome could also miss the remainder of the season with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Ryan is nationally ranked as one of the top 100 juniors in high school basketball. The Gaels forward is being recruited by such major colleges as Notre Dame, University of North Carolina, Duke University, University of Virginia, Georgetown University, Stanford University and 25 other Division One colleges.
“It feels pretty helpless (not playing) but I am going to be on the bench supporting the team and trying to help them in anyway I can,” commented Ryan, before the game.
Moral support from Ryan and Jerome was not enough for the Gaels to beat the Crusaders on Friday. Although, a gutsy performance by junior guard Tom Capuano kept the Gaels in the hunt.
The match-up of the game was Capuano against Crusaders star guard Walter King in the back court. Both competitors scored a game-high 21 points but King and the Crusaders came out on the winning end. “I feel this is a big win, especially since Stepinac and Iona are always a big rivalry. Tom (Capuano) is tough but we all locked down as a team and got the win,” stated King.
The Crusaders led at halftime 28-10, after King hit a three-point shot at the buzzer. The Crusaders maintained a 10-point lead throughout the third quarter. However, the Gaels Capuano and guard Isiah Ice led off the fourth quarter with two quick three-point scores and the Gaels were back in the game.
The Crusaders almost let the game slip away, as Iona cut the lead to four points, 42-38, with five minutes left on the clock. But the Gaels fate was solidified by an Intentional Foul committed by guard Alex Belbusti, on Crusaders guard Naim Thomas.
With Stepinac leading 45-38, point guard Kylan Guerra threw Thomas an outlet pass ahead of the field at 4:03 in the fourth quarter. Belbusti fouled Thomas, as he scored and the referee immediately singled an intentional foul. Thomas made one of two free throws and the Crusaders were back in the lead by 10 points and had the ball.
“I really did not get concerned (in the fourth quarter), it is part of the game,” commented Crusaders Head Coach Steve Herman. “I told the team at halftime that this team (Iona) was going to make multiple runs. They are a very good team, we hung on and executed. I was proud of the team,” stated Herman.
Crusaders Tom Cola playing the center position had his top scoring game this season with 13 points. Thomas scored 12 points and dished 11 assists.
The Crusaders junior varsity lost their rivalry game to Iona Prep by a score of 69-66. With 18 seconds remaining in the game and Iona ahead 68-66, Crusaders guard Mario Neri’s layup went in and out of the basket. Crusaders forward David Harris grabbed the offensive rebound but could not convert the put-back tying bucket.
Neri ended the game with a game-high 28 points, while Cianni Ciffone scored 11 points for the Stepinac junior varsity. The Brennan brothers Jon and Nick contributed 15 points each for Iona Prep.