Best-case scenario, the St. Augustine Prep swim team hoped to come out of its sectional semifinal with St. Joseph-Metuchen Thursday with a two-point win.
More likely, the Hermits felt they’d give the Falcons a much better fight than last year’s debacle, in which St. Joseph cruised to a 38-point postseason victory.
However, neither of those scenarios played out. Instead, second-seeded St. Augustine stole the third-seeded Falcons’ heart from the outset and earned a shockingly comfortable 95-75 triumph in the Non-Public A South semis.
“I honestly thought that this would be the other way around, we would lose by 20 or something like that,” senior T.J. Merighi said. “We just had first place after first place, it seems like we won almost every event.”
The Hermits (9-1) will square off with top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy in their first finals appearance since 2010, when they were disqualified in the final event and lost a heartbreaking 86-84 meet to the Colts. CBA had the highest power-point total in the state this season — 5,078.
“We’ve had a long history of playoff meets during my four years,” senior Patrick Flynn said. “My freshman year we lost to CBA in the state final and we’re going back to see CBA on Tuesday, so even if we do race them and we get destroyed by them, it’s going to be a fun rematch between the two teams.”
It’s a trip the Prep wasn’t sure it’d make before Thursday’s meet. However, after the Hermits won the opening event, the 200-yard medley relay, their attitudes changed.
St. Joseph (11-3) led the event for 175 yards, but Jon Napolitano missed the final wall, allowing St. Augustine senior Bryan Dougherty to catch him, and his momentum pushed him to the touch pad first in 1:40.11, just .21-of-a-second ahead of the Falcons.
“It just felt good in the water,” said Dougherty, who wouldn’t have made the comeback had he not recorded his best split of the season — 21.5 seconds. “As soon as I dove in I was able to keep a steady pace. I did pretty well on the turn and the kick is what really did it.”
The Hermits, who went up 10-4 after the event, rode that wave of euphoria the rest of the meet, jumping out to a 35-27 lead at the intermission.
“It definitely did (help me),” said Flynn, who won the following event, the 200 free, despite swimming in the medley relay. “I think if we got second, it would’ve been a huge downer on me.”
“The medley relay was crazy, I was pumped up after that. I won the 50 free, and that was probably because of winning the medley relay,” said Merighi, who led a 1-3-4 finish in the 50 with a career-best time of 21.76.
Sam Sheppard kept the good times rolling by winning the 100 butterfly after the intermission, and after the Prep went 2-3-4 in the 100 freestyle to erase a Falcons’ first, sophomore John Gregory rallied from a body length down over the final 100 yards to win the 500 free. Though the Hermits only led 62-48, Prep coach Jon Stinson said the St. Joseph coach told him Gregory’s comeback sapped the last bit of energy his team had left.
“I told them from the get-go they’re going to clobber us in the first half of the meet. After fly, that’s when we got to try and take it back,” coach Jon Stinson said. “Obviously, (the medley relay), that fueled us, but I think it pretty much destroyed them. I think they were stunned.”
Added Gregory, “Last year, the feeling was evil, just getting crushed by a ton of points. And then coming back (this year) and getting them by a lot … it’s just nice to stick it back (to them).”