The Holy Spirit High School boys basketball team played its best game of the season Thursday night, according to coach Jamie Gillespie.
The Spartans will have to be even better Saturday.
Third-seeded Spirit (21-6) will play No. 2 seed The Patrick School (22-5) in a South Jersey Non-public B semifinal. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at Rahway High School.
Spirit advanced to the semifinals with a 67-52 win over sixth-seeded Gill St. Bernard on Thursday night.
"We played well defensively," Gillespie said Friday. "We shared the ball on offense. We made good decisions. At the end of the year when everything is on the line, you want your kids to give their best effort. I think we've done that the first two (playoff) games."
Gill St. Bernard is one of the state's top programs. Sophomore Tyus Battle scored 29 points for the Somerset County school against Holy Spirit. Villanova already has offered Battle a scholarship.
But Battle's performance Thursday was not enough to overcome Spirit.
Forward Junior Saintel scored 27 for the Spartans, including a first-quarter dunk off an ally-oop pas from guard John Middleton that changed the tenor of the game. The dunk gave Spirit energy and belief in itself.
"The score was 4-4 when that play happened," Gillespie said. "Everybody in the gym thought the pass was going over the top of the backboard."
Saintel, a 6-7 senior, has turned in two impressive performances this week. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots against Gill St. Bernard. Saintel also scored 18 in a 73-29 first-round win over Mater Dei.
The Patrick School is located in Elizabeth and was formerly known as St. Patrick's. The team is favored to win the state Non-Public B title but also is considered a top contender for the Tournament of Champions.
The Patrick School has won 10 straight games, including 62-54 over Linden to capture the Union County championship last Saturday.
The Patrick School features 6-foot-9 center Angel Delgado, who is headed to Seton Hall University, and sophomore guard Bryce Aiken.
But with Saintel, Middleton and forwards Jordan Taylor and Leon Daniels, the Spartans have shown the talent to play with any team in the state this season. The Patrick School beat Roman Catholic of Philadelphia 59-57 on Jan. 26. Spirit lost to Roman Catholic 58-57 on Dec. 30.
"We're going up there to compete and win a game," Gillespie said. "We're going to give it our best shot. The only thing I'll ask my kids (today) is to leave the game with no regrets. If we leave the game on the winning side, that's unbelievable.
"If we leave the game on the losing side but with no regrets, we can live with that."
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