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Holy Cross prevails in a strange one at the Memorial

January 17, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

In a poignant prayer before the start of the senior basketball game at Regiopolis Notre Dame Thursday night, it was suggested that the men whose memory the annual Memorial event commemorates would doubtless be watching from a celestial bleacher.

As surely as they were, it seems they were in a mischievous mood.

How else might you explain some of the truly weird stuff that went on in the Holy Cross Crusaders’ 35-32 victory in the 25th rendition of a game that in its history has raised $330,000 for cancer research?

Only in the Memorial might a team — in this case Holy Cross — go the entire first quarter without scoring a point, yet still be in the ball game. Only in the Memorial would the host Panthers be apt to go the entire fourth quarter without scoring a basket, yet still have a chance to win at the end.

It would have to be a special game, indeed, for a team — in this case Regi — to shoot well enough from the foul line to remain close throughout while its shooting from everywhere else on the floor would be so poor as to produce just six field goals in the entire match.

For all of that to occur on the same night?  It could probably only happen here.

“I’ve been in 25 of these games and every one of them has had a strange beginning,” Regi coach Ed Kenney said afterwards, as the overflow crowd filed out of the gym.

“It’s a wonderful environment for the players but as a coach, you think, ‘Can we please just get through the first five minutes.’ The game’s being played at such a tremendous pace and when you’re not used to playing at that pace, often things don’t go very well.

“When we look at the video I don’t think we’re going to see many spectacular plays that resulted in baskets.”

Holy Cross coach Robin Dzjiernieko is of like mind.

“I don’t care what anybody says, this is a more difficult game than the KASSAA final,” he said. “Because you know you’re playing this game all year, the stress builds up. If you’re fortunate enough to play in the KASSAA final, that comes later — you don’t have a long time to think about it.

“You come back from Christmas, bang, you’ve got the Memorial coming up. There’s the buildup, it’s all around the school. It’s tough to play in, tough to coach.”

The game was established in 1989 by Paul Halligan in memory of his friend and classmate at Regi, Peter Carty, who died from cancer at the age of 23 in 1984. Thirteen years later Halligan died of the same disease at the age of 34.

The annual meeting of the city’s two Roman Catholic high schools mobilizes the student bodies of both schools. As it is each year, Thursday night’s contest was a raucous affair. The atmosphere was electric, the pace sometimes frenetic, and with both teams emotionally charged, the Crusaders couldn’t hit a three-point shot, the Panthers couldn’t rebound and with players from both teams playing with abandon, bodies regularly flew in all directions.

Dzjiernieko said he had never been part of a team that failed to score a single point in an entire quarter. Remarkably, when it happened Thursday night the Crusaders emerged from the period trailing by just four points.

“We said to the guys, ‘You didn’t score, but at the same time you held them to four points so you’re doing a heck of a job defensively right now,’” Dzjiernieko said. “Yours will come and you’ll hit the shots.”

That’s exactly what happened. The Crusaders outscored Regi 13-3 in the second quarter for a 13-7 lead at halftime. Normalcy returned to the court in the third quarter. Regi scored 16 points and closed to within one point, down 24-23, going into the fourth.

At around this time the lead changed hands four times in rapid succession. Brent Martindale, a force under the basket throughout the game — at least, when he wasn’t on the bench in foul trouble — scored eight straight points for Holy Cross as the Crusaders’ lead went back and forth from three points to one for much of the final period.

It was 33-31 when Regi called time out with 42.6 seconds left in the game. Connor Santoni hit one of two free throws to cut the gap to one point. With 11.7 seconds left, Jeremy Pendergast of Holy Cross, shooting in a bonus situation, hit both foul shots as the Crusaders took a three-point lead. Regi had the ball, coming out of a timeout in the front court with 9.2 seconds on the clock, but the Panthers couldn’t get a shot away before the final buzzer.

In a game where the teams would simultaneously have their season-low point totals, Martindale ended the game with 15 points. Pendergast scored eight for Holy Cross, which finished the game with just one three-point basket.

Regi got 11 points from Santoni — who was 7-for-10 from the free-throw line — and eight from Duncan Lambert, all of them in the second half. In all, the Panthers were 18-for-27 from the foul line.

• • •

In other Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association play Thursday, the Frontenac Falcons defeated the Kingston Blues 40-28, the Napanee Golden Hawks gained their first win of the season, 59-56 over the winless Granite Ridge Gryphons; the Sydenham Golden Eagles whipped the Loyalist Lancers 56-21 and the La Salle Black Knights rebounded from their first league defeat of the season with a 72-47 win at Bayridge.

• • •

At KC, where the Blues were back in their own gym after playing the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule at Queen’s University, the teams were almost as offensively challenged as Regi and Holy Cross. It was 4-4 with just more than a minute left in the first quarter when Carter Matheson completed a three-point play to give Frontenac a three-point advantage going into the second.

The lead changed hands four times before the first half ended but Frontenac took over the game with a 14-4 third quarter.

Neither team shot the ball well, and both were going at each other with high intensity defence in the full court.

“It was just a mess,” Falcons coach Suche James said. “A lot of loose balls, a lot of tips, a lot of diving on the floor. It was ugly, especially the first half.

“The nice part is that we’ve been able to win ugly games, whereas the last couple of years we haven’t won the ugly ones. Even the Regi game (Tuesday) was physical and really tough — it’s nice to be able to win those.”

James attributed that to the fact that many of his players don’t come from a pure basketball background.

“There’s not a whole lot of basketball experience,” he said, “but they’re scrappy. They’re kids coming from all sorts of different sports. One of our significant post players is a football kid, another kid is a soccer kid … (they) don’t play a lot of basketball but they compete and they scrap and they play hard and they complement very well the two kids who are really experienced.

“We’re able to win those scrappy games because the team chemistry is good and we’ve got those scrappers who are going to play those roles.”

Matheson was the only Frontenac player to score more than six points, and he finished the game with 19, including all seven of his team’s points in the first quarter and 13 of the 14 the Falcons scored in the first half.

Wesley Laird scored 13 points for KC, which lost for the second game in a row after opening the season with six straight wins.

• • •

Holy Cross wasn’t the only team to go an entire quarter without scoring a point Thursday. At LC, the Lancers not only failed to score in the fourth quarter of their game with Sydenham, they scored just three points — from a Nick Sleap three-point basket — in the entire second half.

A 22-point third quarter broke open a game Sydenham trailed for most of the first quarter and led by just three points with less than four minutes left in the first half.

It took a while, Sydenham coach Shaun Kennedy said, for his team to get over the glow of beating previously undefeated La Salle on Tuesday.

“That was a very emotional game for us,” he said. “It’s been one of those things this season, we come off the high of an emotional win … and for our next game we’re mentally spent.

“I don’t think we were mentally prepared (to start the game). LC gave us a good first half, they seemed really engaged. It took us a while to regroup. We came back a different team in the second half.

“We spread them out and we got a lot of open looks.”

Kennedy paid tribute to his bench players — nine different Eagles hit the scoresheet — and he said his team responded to the challenge of playing better defence in the second half.

“At halftime, we (talked about), ‘We’ve got to fix our defence, we’ve got to get stops, we’ve got to value our possessions,’” he said. “For us, it became a matter of controlling the ball, playing a little bit more one-on-one defence and relying less on our help.”

Ben Lusk led Sydenham with 15 points, 12 of which he scored in the first half. Thomas Withey and Steve Kennedy scored nine points apiece, with Withey scoring seven to fuel the third-quarter outburst.

Loyalist, which didn’t take a foul shot in the entire game, managed just three two-point baskets. Kaelan Ingersoll and Sleap led with six points apiece, all of which came from three-pointers.

• • •

The league now takes two weeks off for exams. La Salle and Frontenac enter the break at 7-1, with Holy Cross half a game behind at 6-1 and KC a full game back at 6-2. Regi’s second loss in a row leaves its record at 5-3 while Sydenham’s second win in a row allowed the Eagles to improve to 4-4. With one game left in its regular schedule Bayridge is 4-5.

Queen Elizabeth (2-6), Loyalist (2-7) and Napanee (1-7) will scrap for the final playoff spot. Loyalist has beaten both of the other two and would therefore be favoured in all tie-breakers. The Lancers’ last game is at home against Granite Ridge; QE must yet play La Salle and KC while Napanee, which lost to both QE and LC, would have to defeat both Frontenac and Sydenham and hope neither of the other two win any of their remaining games to qualify for the playoffs.

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