HAGERSTOWN, Md. — St. Benedict’s junior guard Lester Quinones was applying an ice pack to his side after his team’s 52-44 defeat of host St. James School in a semifinal Friday at the St. James Invitational.
“One of my teammates got me,” said Quinones, a 6-5 junior guard who led St. Benedict’s with 19 points.
The Gray Bees from Newark, are 22-0 and the No. 4 team in the Super 25 though they don’t have a senior in the top 100 of ESPN’s player rankings.
“It’s an interesting team and people ask me how good we are and to be honest I don’t know,” St. Benedict’s coach Mark Taylor said. “All I know is, no matter who we play, we end up winning. We don’t always look the best, but something’s right.”
Quinones hit a putback early in the fourth quarter to put St. Benedict’s up by 12, but St. James refused to go away quietly. The Saints (15-6), coming off a 10-point loss last week to No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)., went on an 11-0 run and trailed only 43-42 in the final moments.
St. James coach Dan Prete, a former assistant to legendary Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) coach Stu Vetter, said the Saints’ difficult schedule prepared them for Friday.
“I was most proud of the fact that our guys didn’t quit when they got up by 12 points and we wound up making it a one-possession game,” Prete said. “I learned from being with Coach Vetter all those years how to strategically plan things out. There was a purpose with a young and new group to have some battles before their own tournament.”
Ebrima Dibba hit a trey to give the Gray Bees some breathing room and Quinones hit four consecutive free throws to ice the win.
“I feel like in the first half, when Precious (Achiuwa) and (Dibba) picked up two fouls early, I was the only scorer in the game,” Quinones said. “I feel like there was a lot on me. I made plays and was unselfish. As soon as they came back in the second half, they couldn’t stop all three of us.”
Quinones had 13 points in the first half, including two big three-pointers early.
“They were sagging off me in the beginning, so I kept letting it fly,” Quinones said. “After their coach started telling them to deny that, I called for a pick and rolls and fed my teammates and went to the rim.”