By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
The three frontrunners still face the possible pitfalls that could occur in games against non-title contenders Brother Martin, Archbishops Rummel and Shaw and John Curtis, but there is little doubt that the Purple Knights, Blue Jays and Tigers are the best of the eight.
The key game of the sixth week of league play will take place on Feb. 8 when Jesuit hosts St. Augustine. It is the likely deciding factor to the question which schools will hoist the 9-5A championship trophy.
Jesuit enters this crucial period with a district record of 7-2. St. Augustine, which has played one fewer game, has a 6-2 league record.
The third principal in this heated race, Holy Cross, also enters the final stages of the regular season with a 7-2 district mark.
With four regular-season games remaining, Jesuit has a 26-4 record and the No. 2 power ranking in Division I behind No. 1 Scotlandville (28-2).
St. Augustine (23-4) holds the No. 4 spot in the current rankings. And Holy Cross (24-6) is ranked No. 3 among the 13 Division I select teams.
Two shocking setbacks
St. Augustine showed why it was the preseason favorite to win the Catholic League by reeling off a 14-2 record, which included two tournament championships and a 53-52 win over Jesuit for the Chalmette tournament title. The Purple Knights were on a 16-game win streak, which included five straight district triumphs, before they suffered a stunning 60-54 defeat against Rummel, which had lost 18 of 24 games at the time.
The cold shooting woes continued three nights later when Holy Cross routed the Knights, 62-44. St. Aug had earlier defeated the Tigers, 59-52.
An understandably perplexed coach Mitchell Johnson needs to have his team at its best when it visits Jesuit on Senior Night (Feb. 8). Then it needs end district play with wins over Curtis and Rummel.
Jays the current hot team
It was apparent that veteran coach Chris Jennings had fielded his best team in recent years when Jesuit entered district play with an 18-2 record.
The Blue Jays won their first nine games before losing to the No. 2-ranked team in Division II, Country Day. They lost their second in the Chalmette Tournament championship game to St. Aug by one point.
Following district wins over Curtis and Rummel, the Blue Jays fell to archrival Holy Cross, 58-53, in the “Bird Cage” on Jan. 8. A week later, they lost at St. Augustine by the humbling score of 64-46.
Not affording another loss, Jesuit began playing its best basketball of the season by posting wins over Curtis, Rummel and Holy Cross in a return match on Feb. 1.
There was never a doubt about the outcome of this rematch. The Blue Jays scored an easy 67-46 win, improved their district record to 7-2 and moved into the No. 2 spot in the Division I power rankings.
Tigers’ roar was felt
This Tigers team has proven to be coach Mister Kirkwood finest, and there are visions of a district championship for the first time in four decades.
They entered the race with a 16-4 record and on a six-game victory streak. And, in spite of a 64-54 loss to Jesuit in the CYO tournament championship game on Dec. 1, the team continued to think of itself as a winner. A 59-54 loss at St. Aug in the district opener hardly dampened the optimism of Kirkwood’s team, which rallied to win seven consecutive district games and leaped into first place with a 7-1 record.
Its biggest wins came early in the league season at Jesuit by three points, and at St. Augustine by 18 points.
Then, before a near SRO crowd at the Holy Cross Student Center, Jesuit handed the Tigers a disappointing 67-46 setback, which dropped Holy Cross a notch to No. 3 in the Division I power rankings.
In head-to-head play among the three, Holy Cross has a 2-2 record. Jesuit and St. Augustine have one win against two losses.
If nothing more bizarre happens in the remaining weeks of league play (but don’t rule that out), Holy Cross and Jesuit will share the Catholic League championship with 2-2 records in round-robin play, if the Blue Jays can finally beat the Purple Knights. And, St. Augustine will fall out of the running.
But, if St. Augustine defeats Jesuit, Mitchell Johnson’s preseason favorites will share the district crown with Holy Cross at 2-2.
The two champions will each receive a trophy.
It’s coming down to the wire. But you really didn’t ever expect anything less, did you? This is Catholic League basketball at its best.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.