NEW YORK – Getting to the quarterfinals at Fordham can be something of a barometer in the CHSAA’s highest division. Advance there and the season has been somewhat of a success, especially for all but the very best.
Iona Prep felt that satisfaction Thursday night. In a season that saw them lose the league’s best player for the year, the Gaels beat St. Peter’s 51-43 at St. Raymond to earn a berth opposite Archbishop Molloy in Sunday’s quarterfinals.
“It’s huge,” said Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo, whose team has played without player-of-the-year favorite Ty Jerome since Christmas. “That was our goal. We don’t want to just get there and lose, but we said if we can get to the quarters, that would be a great accomplishment. This is our fourth year in a row and we’re ecstatic to be there.”
The Gaels (12-15) fell behind 8-0, but they finished the first quarter strong and never looked back. Senior Patrick Fleming had 18 points, four rebounds and four assists. Sophomore Bryce Wills — who missed most of the season due to injury before returning last week — added 12 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
Iona Prep will be an underdog when it meets Molloy, the Brooklyn-Queens regular-season champ, at 2:30 Sunday. Still, the team has long since overcome its midseason nine-game losing streak that included Quirolo installing a new offense and new defense midseason.
“We just have to be better than the other team for 32 minutes,” Fleming said. “It doesn’t matter what we did. It’s one-game elimination now, survive-and-advance. We just have a clean slate every game.”
Despite its abundant talent, Stepinac never quite managed to push that rest button all season. The Crusaders saw their season end Thursday in a 77-60 defeat to Holy Cross, a team they lost to at the buzzer in their previous meeting.
Sophomore Aundre Hyatt had 23 points and 11 rebounds, including 18 points in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. Even that wasn’t enough for Stepinac, which surrendered a rally late in the quarter that was fueled by Holy Cross guard Chazz Platt (29 points) and trailed 43-31 at the break.
“We’re not defending at the level we need to to win in the CHSAA,” said coach Pat Massaroni, who finished his first season 10-17. “Guys played hard, but we missed layups and we didn’t defend. When you don’t do that against good teams, that’s what happens.”
Stepinac started the game without junior Jordan Tucker, who sat the first four minutes for what Massaroni deemed a “team discipline issue.” The 6-foot-7 swingman finished with seven points and 10 rebounds and later said the season was a disappointment.
“We had a much better team than we did last year,” Tucker said. “We thought we were going to have a much better season, but early in the season we got into bad habits: not closing out games, turnovers, settling too much. Every time we corrected something, there was something else to correct.”