St. Edmund Prep’s mission to win the CHSAA Class A intersectional title is an undertaking that actually started last February.
The Eagles were unceremoniously bounced by Iona Prep in the quarterfinals last year at Mount St. Michael. Senior guard Matt O’Neill said the team stopped themselves from making a concerted run at a title.
“It wasn’t a good feeling,” O’Neill said. “Me and Nicky [Grasso] had big minutes in that game, but it wasn’t a good feeling because we felt we should have kept going but we got knocked out. I think we felt we should have taken it.”
St. Edmund Prep moved one step closer to mission accomplished on Saturday, as O’Neill scored a game-high 19 points and the Eagles swarming defense continually hounded St. Joseph by the Sea in a 67-48 Class A quarterfinal victory at Mount St. Michael.
It doesn’t matter to the Eagles that they are undersized, with the biggest player in the rotation is 6-foot-2 sophomore Altine King, according to coach Dan Wiatre. There was no confidence lost when a streaking St. Edmund Prep team was originally picked to finish 10th in the pre-season power ratings.
This is a team that is confident in their ability to take on anybody, said 6-foot-1 Nick Grasso, a returning starter who had 16 points against the Vikings. St. Edmund Prep captured the Brooklyn/Queens A Division title and has now won 10 games in a row.
“This is not much of a surprise. I always have high hopes for this team,” Grasso said. “We lost our big man [to graduation], we are undersized but we take that to our advantage.”
St. Edmund Prep (19-6) will take on Xavier in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mount St. Michael. Justin Henderson had 14 points to lead St. Joseph by the Sea (10-16).
To make up for their lack of size, the Eagles swarmed defenders inside and outside the post. St. Edmund Prep led 12-11 to start the quarter, but a key 12-0 run eventually stretched its lead to a commanding 18 points at halftime. The Vikings only scored three points in the quarter after being forced into hoisting a numerous amount of contested shots.
Wiatre says the team has bought 100 percent into his game plan.
“In the second quarter, we adjusted and played defense without fouling, and we got out on transition,” Wiatre said. “We are undersized, so they bought into playing full-court defense and they swarm when the ball goes inside."
Grasso said he points to the patch on his uniform as he gathers his teammates in the huddle before a game. It is a dedication to Jose Rodriguez, a sophomore who died during basketball tryouts in November and a reminder to the senior core that if they want to win a title for themselves – and for Rodriguez – now is not the time to get overconfident or complacent.
“Before the game every time I bring the team into the huddle, and we got a patch on our chest and I say remember who we are playing for,” Grasso said. “He is watching over us.”