BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The St. Augustine Prep boys basketball team came into the 2013-14 season with a young nucleus and not a lot of high expectations.
So a trip to the Non-Public South A semifinals wasn't a bad way to end a good year. The Hermits, the second-seed in the bracket, lost 47-36 to third-seeded Paul VI at home Monday.
St. Augustine (23-5) is No. 9 in The Press Elite and Paul VI (24-4) is No. 1.
"We had a great year, a year people didn't think we could have" senior guard Brian Seward said. "We went into this season ranked 17th in South Jersey, and now we're No. 3 and playing in games like this against someone like Paul VI."
The Hermits' scoring was led by the younger players. Sophomore Sa'eed Nelson scored a team-high 10 points and sophomore Mike Vasturia scored nine.
Paul VI advances to play top-seeded St. Joseph-Metuchen, who beat fifth-seeded Bishop Eustace 78-44 on Monday, in the Non-Public South Group A final.
Both teams had a hard time scoring in the first half, especially St. Augustine, which managed one point in the second quarter.
The Hermits crossed midcourt, but a suffocating half-court press by the Eagles forced turnovers and didn't allow the Hermits to set up their offense. Paul VI forced the Hermits into bad passes and rushed 3-point attempts.
"We were trying to get the ball out as quick as possible, but we couldn't do that," senior guard Kevin Kennedy said. "We tried to get it to the middle of the floor and kick it back to the wings on a fast break, but we couldn't seem to do that."
The ends of the second and third quarters were telling for St. Augustine.
Paul VI got five points late in the second quarter on perimeter shooting by Ivan Robinson and Jair Green, including Robinson's buzzer-beating jumper to take a 17-9 lead into halftime. Despite coach Paul Rodio being pleased with the fact his team held Paul VI to 17 first-half points, it forced the Hermits to play from behind.
"We really should have held them to 12 or 13 points; a couple of little mistakes," Rodio said. "But (to hold them to) 17 points without any kind of a second quarter whatsoever (makes it) a one- or two-point game."
St. Augustine showed some life and gained momentum with more than three minutes left in the third.
Vasturia drained a 3-pointer to cut the Eagles' lead to one. Paul VI attempted a quick strike, but a block by freshman forward Justyn Mutts set up Kennedy's 3 to give the Hermits a 27-25 lead in the third.
The Hermits didn't end the third quarter the way they wanted to, and Paul VI erased the lead and took all the momentum heading into the fourth.
With time winding down, Jay Howard hit a 3-pointer to make it 31-27 in favor of the Eagles. With a second left on the clock, Alex Danko stole the inbound pass and put in an easy layup to give the Eagles a 33-27 lead after three.
The Eagles kept up their defensive pressure in the fourth quarter to put away the Hermits and end a season the younger players will build upon.
With the work the seniors put in around them this year, it was no shock to Rodio that the end result was a 23-win season.
"(The seniors) did a great job for me - Seward, (Nate) Segal, (Steve) Corbo, and Kennedy especially played the most for us," Rodio said. "They became the nucleus for us around which we built the younger kids and were able to let us build upon them, and I think that was the key to us winning 23 basketball games."
Contact John Russo:
Paul VI 4 13 16 14-47
St. Augustine Prep 8 1 18 9-36
P- Mosely 2 1-3 5, Robinson 2 1-2 5, Rosbia 1 0-2 2, Danko 2 0-0 5, Green 6 1-4 15, Howard 3 8-8 15. Totals 16 11-19 47
SA-Nelson 2 6-8 10, Kennedy 1 0-0 3, Mutts 2 2-3 6, Seward 1 0-0 2, Segal 1 1-2 4, Vasturia 3 2-2 9, Toner 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 11-15 36.
3-pointers-Green (2), Howard, Danko P; Vasturia, Kennedy, Segal SA
Records-Paul VI 24-4, St. Augustine 23-5