HERSHEY, PA – It’s been one week since the Neumann-Goretti boys’ basketball team left the GIANT Center as state champions once again.
In case you’ve lost count, the Saints’ methodical 57-42 victory over Richland in the PIAA Class 3A championship on March 28 increased their state title streak to five, a record for any basketball program since the state tourney began in 1920.
Neumann-Goretti celebrates after claiming their fifth straight PIAA 4A State Title - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
For Neumann-Goretti and the rest of the Catholic League, participating in the post-season began in 2009. In their 10 attempts at acquiring the PIAA’s Holy Grail, the Saints have captured eight titles, falling short in 2009 and 2013.
“Some say it looks like it’s easy, but there’s nothing easy about it,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale. “It’s a long season. This one has been especially long.”
The PIAA tournament had been scheduled to conclude on March 24, but snow-loving Mother Nature interfered, and the games needed to be rescheduled.
More practices. More bus trips. More psychology to keep everyone focused.
“It’s easy to lose concentration,” said Arrigale. “It’s only natural to get tired of the grind. Practices weren’t high on the list for what the kids wanted to do. In our case, we reminded the players that we could make history, reminded them that our goal was to go out the ‘right way.’”
The players bought in.
Senior Dymir Montague was particularly outstanding, arguably saving his best game for his last before playing at Holy Family University next season. Montague contributed a game-high 23 points, game-high five steals, four blocks, and six rebounds. He shot 7 for 15 from the floor, 4 of 6 from three’s, and 5 of 6 from the foul line while rest of the team struggled at 14 for 35, 2 of 15, and 4 of 9, respectively.
“He was pretty big for us,” said Arrigale. “He wanted to end it the right way.”
A young man with a shy disposition, Montague smiled widely as several media members fired questions at him.
“It felt great from the start,” said Montague. “I had a lot of friends and family here. They’ve had my back. It was special to share this with them.”
Montague was asked about the Saints’ rather blasé reaction to the final horn sounded. He admitted that the game was never really in doubt, and the statistics support such a claim.
After an 18-13 first quarter, the Saints (23-6) pushed ahead by 31-21 at halftime and 45-29 after three quarters. Richland (25-5) mounted a comeback and crept to within 50-40 with 2:55 remaining in regulation.
Montague came to the rescue.
The 6-foot, 3-inch guard proceeded to nail five of six free throws down the stretch and finished as the Saints’ lone double-figure scorer, a surprising statistic since four different Saints had scored five or more points. Montague scored 15 of N-G’s 27 second-half points.
“I was feeling good the whole game,” said Montague. “It was a good flow. The team was playing well. We were confident. We weren’t going to lose.”
Neumann-Goretti outrebounded Richland by 57-42. Freshman TaQuan Woodley led with seven boards; Montague, junior Christian Ings (eight points, seven assists), and senior Marcus Littles (six points, four blocks) added six apiece.
The victory helped ease the pain of not winning the Catholic League championship.
“We have high expectations,” said Montague. “There’s a lot of pressure to deal with as soon as we step on the court. Carl is a very good coach. As a player, he kept me going. When I felt like giving up he gave me confidence going into every game.”
Whatever Arrigale said or did, it worked. Just ask the rest of the state.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter@johnknebels.)