St. Aug showing signs as Catholic League’s best

The 2016 football season went out like a lamb for our local Catholic school teams.
 St. Charles Catholic came closest to winning a division championship (you may notice that I no longer refer to the division and class finals as “state” championships because the playoffs are separated into two sections of schools that do not play each other for a common prize).
 St. Charles is the lone Catholic school to make it to the Division III championship game. The Comets lost to district rival Riverside Academy, but they were the lone survivors among the archdiocesan schools.

 So, let’s turn our thoughts to basketball. From early observations, St. Augustine appears to have one of the best teams in the area by virtue of its 11-1 record.
 I watched the Purple Knights dismantle John Ehret, 50-35, en route to winning the Newman Invitational Tournament. A week earlier, Coach Mitchell Johnson’s squad won their school’s tournament. St. Aug’s only loss was to Sophie Wright by one point very early in the season.
 Are the Knights the quintet to beat when district play begins on Jan. 3?
From what I’ve seen so far, the district is up for grabs among a few schools.

I can tell you one thing: if Class 3A De La Salle was part of District 9-5A, the Cavaliers would be among the top three finishers. Ask any coach in the Catholic League.
Brother Martin, which experienced more success early in the season with two of its starters playing football, figured to be a suitor for the district trophy. But entering the week, the Crusaders have to get past Chalmette and St. Paul’s, two dangerous opponents, to show improvement from a 7-3 start.
Could John Curtis win a district championship, as its football team did? The Catholic League’s newest member has won nine of 11 games but failed two big tests against De La Salle (83-72) in the CYO Tournament and St. Augustine (79-53) at Newman.
Is Holy Cross a darkhorse? Mister Kirkwood’s Tigers are off to a 8-2 start with wins over Archbishop Rummel and Brother Martin in the CYO Tournament. Rummel (6-3) has won its last three games and could figure in the mix.
It should be an interesting campaign.

Teams of the decade
I’m firmly convinced that had not Hurricane Katrina paid its deadly visit in 2005, Brother Martin would have won a third consecutive Class 5A state basketball championship in March 2006. The Crusaders were just that good.
But the winds blew away the senior season of two key players – three-time All-State guard D.J. Augustin and Courtney Wallace, an outstanding center – after their junior years. The two relocated for their senior years.

I’m also convinced that had the storm not happened, St. Mary’s Academy would still be a championship contender under longtime coach Keith Haywood.
Although the end result of the mass flooding was a beautiful new campus, the basketball program has yet to return to its former prominence.
But what a great decade these two schools provided local high school sports fans.
From the two schools came the most outstanding players of the 1997-2006 decade: Augustin and St. Mary’s Shondra Johnson.
Augustin returned to receive a diploma from Brother Martin after graduating from a school in Texas. Today, he plays for the Orlando Magic of the NBA, his eighth team since being drafted by Charlotte in 2008.

Johnson, who led St. Mary’s to the 1998 Class 4A state championship, became a three-time All-SEC guard at the University of Alabama. She also coached at Samford and Tulane universities before taking a teaching job at Chalmette High School.
Next week: the 2007-2016 teams.
Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.  

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