BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — St. Augustine Prep basketball fans cheered as a recent cancer survivor suited up for his first game in two years.
They carried a team manager off the court after he scored three points in his varsity debut.
Coach Paul Rodio setting the South Jersey record with his 776th career victory was almost an afterthought in the Hermits’ 66-33 win over Lower Cape May Regional in a Cape-Atlantic League game Monday night.
“I’m glad I was able to do it with that group of kids,” Rodio said. “This is a good group of seniors. ... It’s really not about me.”
Rodio hit the milestone on his second try, after a 65-55 loss to Camden on Saturday. Former Camden coach Clarence Turner held the previous record.
This time went much more smoothly as St. Augustine (18-3) scored the game’s first 10 points and never let the Caper Tigers (0-21) within single digits after that.
Blake Rossell had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Hermits, who are ranked No. 9 in The Press Elite 11.
For Senior Night, St. Augustine suited up all three of its senior managers as well as Matt Piratzky, who had not played since his sophomore year due to acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Piratzky, an 18-year-old Northfield resident, said he is cancer-free but still has about 11/2 months of intense treatment remaining. He said the team came to him and asked him to play on Senior Night.
“It meant a lot knowing that once you’re a part of the basketball team, it’s really a family,” Piratzky said. “They really take care of you.”
Piratzky wasn’t the only cancer survivor to score a basket in the game. Team manager Garrett Catalana made a 3-pointer about three minutes into the fourth quarter.
Catalana was diagnosed with cancer as a 15-month-old but has been in remission since 1995. This past weekend’s Olympic-Cape Challenge showcase event benefited the Shoot Down Cancer Foundation, which was started by Catalana’s parents, Dave and Beth.
“We have two cancer survivors that played in that game tonight, two kids that had a lot more adversity than we had trying to beat Camden’s man-to-man defense the other night,” Rodio said. “They went through everything — and to (set the record) with them as a part of that is very special.”
Two other senior managers, Nick Pfeifer and Vince Silvanio, also played. Pfeifer made a layup with just less than three minutes left in the game, and the Richland Rowdies cheering section briefly flooded onto the floor in celebration as play was stopped for a foul.
The Rowdies chanted Pfeifer’s name for most of the game. After the final buzzer, they stormed the court and ran right past Rodio to hoist Pfeifer on their shoulders.
“It was an amazing night,” said senior point guard Mike Greenman, who scored seven points. “Everything went the way that you would want a night like this to go.”
After Pfeifer had his moment, the crowd’s attention was directed toward one corner of the gym, where a giant banner to honor Rodio’s record was revealed.
Rodio, 60, later posed for a picture with the entire team. In his 36th season, he is 776-216.
“It’s a really special moment,” Greenman said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. For Coach Rodio to break the record, he’s such a great guy. All the work that he’s put in, he’s really earned it.”
Shortly after the game, Rodio already was looking ahead to Wednesday night’s game against Pitman. But he likely won’t forget the milestone win any time soon.
“It’s something really special that a lot of people are going to remember for a long time,” Rossell said.
Contact Jason Mazda:
Lower Cape May Regional 10 10 5 8—33
St. Augustine Prep 25 13 18 10—66
LCM—Freeman 1 0-0 3, Szubski 5 2-4 13, Renna 1 0-2 2, Kline 1 0-0 3, Melo 2 0-0 4, Olson 3 0-0 7, Von Savage 0 1-2 1. Totals 13 3-8 33.
SA—Greenman 3 0-0 7, Sullivan 3 5-6 11, Rossell 8 1-1 18, Gatto 1 0-0 2, Seward 1 2-2 4, Segal 1 1-2 4, A. Nelson 1 0-0 2, Kenncoy 1 2-2 4, Vasturia 1 0-0 2, S. Nelson 2 0-0 4, Piratzky 1 0-3 2, Catalana 1 0-0 3, Pfeifer 1 1-3 3. Totals 25 12-19 66.
3-pointers—Olson, Kline, Szubski, Freeman LCM; Rossell, Segal, Greenman, Catalana SA.
Records—Lower 0-21, St. Augustine 18-3.