Saint Joseph Prep win semis to set up D4 state final

Below is a news article written by Nate Weitzer, featured in The Boston Globe.

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by Nate Weitzer, Globe Correspondent | The Boston Globe

While his team dominated most facets of Wednesday's Division 4 state semifinal matchup against Wahconah, Randolph coach Kalon Jenkins still feels there is room for improvement.

The top-seeded Blue Devils rolled to an 80-51 victory over No. 4 Wahconah at Worcester State, setting up a date with No. 6 Saint Joseph Prep at Tsongas Arena in the D4 state final.

"We still haven't played our best," said Jenkins, who is in his 13th year at Randolph. "Every team that's worth anything – and we hope we are too – is always in search of perfect. You may not ever get there, but you still want it. The more you win, the more you want to be better, and that's what's so special about these guys."

Randolph (22-1) led from wire-to-wire with five players scoring at least 9 points, led by junior Lenny Tangishaka and senior captain Stevens Joacine, who netted 20 points apiece. Senior captain Evans Appiah anchored the defense and added 9 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks, while senior captain Malik White orchestrated the offense with 5 assists. The Blue Devils racked up 19 assists in an impressive team performance.

"You can only develop what someone has inside," said Jenkins. "You always want your team to share the ball, but we didn't really have to ask these guys to do that much. They really enjoy the success of their teammates and it shows. It's just fun to coach."

Junior guard Brody Calvert paced Wahconah (17-7) with 20 points. The Blue Devils were able to limit Calvert to 2 points in the third quarter, as they stretched a 46-30 halftime lead out to 20 points.

Many of Randolph's key players brought the school its first Super Bowl title last fall as a No. 8 seed, with several long road trips in the early rounds. The Blue Devils have hosted all of their basketball tournament games at Holbrook High due to capacity requirements.

So Jenkins and his group won't mind taking another long ride up to Lowell for a chance to bring the school just its second state title in any sport.

"We weren't able to play at home this entire postseason, and because [this fall] they had to do nothing but get on buses to the western part of the state, they didn't care," said Jenkins. "For these guys, just the opportunity to get out and play, after the pandemic and everything, they're excited to be out here.

"You get this close, and you can smell the opportunity."

The Saint Joseph bench goes airborne as the Phoenix notched the biggest win in program history.

Saint Joseph Prep 68, Snowden 65 — Before this season, Saint Joseph Prep boys' basketball had never won an MIAA tournament game. After rolling through the first three rounds this season, the No. 6 Phoenix wound up in the semifinal against No. 23 Snowden. It was a battle for all 32 minutes, and the game was tied, 65-65, with under 30 seconds to go.

The Phoenix weren't about to let the magic end.

Sophomore Jake Witalisz drilled a corner three with 10 seconds remaining to give Saint Joseph Prep (22-1) the win over Snowden (14-7), sending the Phoenix (22-1) to the final.

"As soon as I released, I knew it was going in," Witalisz said. "This was the craziest game we've played. We knew something like this was going to happen. I was just ready."

After junior Kendric-Davila Diaz got hurt and senior Darius Peterson and junior Antonio Agard both fouled out, Saint Joseph Prep coach Kyle Callanan went to his bench. But the Phoenix still got immense contributions from their two remaining starters — sophomore Ethan Robertson scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and sophomore Nate Robertson led all scorers with 20 points along with 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

"We knew we had to come in here and scratch and claw to get the win, and that's exactly what we did," Callanan said.

The Cougars held a one-point lead at the half, then ripped off a run to open the third, with senior Omari Brooks scoring seven straight points to push the lead to eight. After a quick timeout, the Phoenix hit back with a 16-4 run to end the frame, forcing turnovers and using their speed in transition to punish Snowden's mistakes.

"I said at halftime that the third quarter was ours, and [Snowden] came out and punched us in the face," Callanan said. "I called a timeout and I said, 'This is our quarter.' And they just responded."

The Phoenix held a six-point lead with 52 seconds to play, but Brooks banked in a three to make it a one-possession game, then dove on a loose ball after the inbound to give the ball back to the Cougars. Snowden then turned the ball over to Nate Robertson, who beat everyone down the floor for a layup to push the lead back to five.

But in the final moments, after Snowden's Jaquan Hines hit a three, then hit both free throws as he was fouled after the shot, it came down to one final possession. Nate Robertson found Witalisz in the corner, and Witalisz delivered.

"That's a big-time play," Callanan said. "Big-time players make big-time plays."

Brooks finished with 15 points for the Cougars to lead five scorers in double figures. Senior Marquis Miller (14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 steals), junior Ruben Garcia-Diaz (13 points, eight rebounds), junior Damoni Pena (11 points), and Hines (10 points) all made an impact for the Cougars.

Saint Joseph Prep will face No. 1 Randolph in the final. The run started with the program's first playoff win, and after his heroics Wednesday night, Witalisz gave the Phoenix a chance for a state championship.

"It feels amazing," Witalisz said. "We're making history at this school, and that's just great to see."
Mike Puzzanghera reported from Watertown.