For weeks and weeks — deep into a season that so dripped with promise for one and disappointment for the other — the latest series between rivals Iona Prep and Stepinac appeared bound for a sweep. That’s exactly what happened Friday night as fans crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into the Iona Prep gym.
But what once seemed unlikely was who held the broom. Stepinac beat Iona Prep for the second time in two weeks, outshooting the short-handed Gaels in a 74-58 league victory. Again, high-scoring, green-light guards Walter King (23 points), Kylan Guerra (20) and Naim Thomas (19) led the charge.
“It was just that menality: Everyone wanted to win,” King said. “The bench was with us, the crowd was with us and the coach, most of all, was with us. We had everybody with us.”
King and Guerra combined to hit six 3-pointers, and Stepinac (10-13) made 20 of 27 from the foul line. The shooting helped build the lead to double digits after Tom Capuano (29 points) led Iona Prep to a 10-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
Guerra, in particular, often saved the Crusaders when their offense was stagnant.
“We have a bunch of playmakers,” said Thomas, who had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals and is just 66 points from 1,000 for his career. “It just spreads the court out.”
Stepinac built its lead to 48-28 through three quarters as the Gaels (12-10) struggled to score with stars Matt Ryan and Ty Jerome still out. They roared back to claw within eight points, but the Crusaders continued to score, including a key three-point play Thomas set up for King.
While Iona Prep is just 4-6 since losing Ryan (double hip surgery) for the season, Stepinac has now won seven of 10.
The Crusaders host Fordham Prep on Tuesday in their regular-season finale and could meet Iona Prep again in the quarterfinals of the CHSAA Archdiocesan playoffs.
“You can’t count us out in the playoffs yet,” King said. “We’re going to make a statement.”