St. Francis CYO Basketball Team Falls in State ‘Final Four’

Apr 18, 2018
Photo by: Supplied photo The St. Francis CYO basketball team coached by Brian Muldowney won the Ocean County championship and finished 14-1, losing in the state tournament semifinals on April 12.

Coach Brian Muldowney had every reason to blame the weather and a bunch of other circumstances for the St. Francis CYO basketball team’s loss in the state tournament semifinals on April 12. After all, the tourney’s “Final Four” should have been over weeks ago. But the coach didn’t want to make excuses.

“The bottom line is we got outplayed,” said Muldowney, following the Rams’ 60-37 loss to Perth Amboy’s Our Lady of Fatima. “Whether we played it a month ago or three weeks ago, it doesn’t matter. We got outplayed.”

Still, had St. Francis played the game when it originally was scheduled, March 20 – the day of a major nor’easter that clobbered the region – the outcome might have been closer. At this point of the year, most of Muldowney’s players are now playing spring sports, which dramatically limited his squad. But beyond the storm, other commitments by several coaches, including Muldowney, who married at the end of March, got in the way.

Finally, the continuation of the tourney was scheduled for last Thursday. However, just hours before the contest, Muldowney wasn’t sure if he’d have enough players to even start the game and was considering a possible forfeit. Fortunately, many of them arrived to the St. Francis Community Center gym near the end of the other semifinal.

But while one team seemed to have a crew full of basketball players still in tourney mode, the other was haphazard right from the start. Fatima’s Wolves took a 13-0 lead during the first six minutes and never looked back. St. Francis was down 16-3 by the end of the first quarter.

“I’ve heard they practice every day throughout the season,” Muldowney said of the opponents. “We’re lucky to get the gym once a week. And most of our guys haven’t played much in three weeks and their mindset is on other sports right now. Our point guard is playing golf and had a match this afternoon. One of our big guys just played lacrosse this afternoon. This wasn’t an easy game right from the start.”

Nonetheless, St. Francis didn’t simply go away. With Fatima up by 15 with 2:24 left in the second quarter, Ethan Leming scored on back-to-back driving layups to trim the lead to 24-13, and Denis Osborn dropped in a putback at the buzzer to make it a 28-15 game at halftime.

It was still a 15-point affair midway through the third quarter before the Wolves pushed on the accelerator and went on a 10-2 run to close out the quarter, taking a 49-26 lead and all but sealing the victory.

“When you’re down by so much and have to climb back into a game, it takes a lot out of you,” Muldowney said. “We got back into the game, but then they hit a big shot, and then a few big shots, and the hole got bigger. Eventually, fatigue sets in and there’s not much you can do about it at that point. But our kids kept playing and that’s important.”

Leming finished with nine points to lead the Rams, while Shane Heck and Nick Guglielmo each contributed seven and Osborn and Tyler Colon each ended up with six. Ron Henefer added a pair of free throws to cap the scoring.

Prior to the state semifinals loss, St. Francis had won 14 straight, capturing an Ocean County championship along the way. The rest of the squad included Joe Orrico, Louis Scagnelli, Mike Elassar, Liam Anderson, Dillon Van Liew and Dylan Blauvelt. Alongside Muldowney, the team was coached by Dan Steadman, Robbie Engel and Hank Foster.

“We had a great season,” Muldowney said. “A 14-1 season, I’d sign up for that every year. We had a lot of experienced players, and I could tell they were going to have a good season when we started practicing this year. We’ve won four county championships in six years, so we’ve had a good run and we have a lot of great kids who work hard. They loved playing together, and it’s hard to see it end tonight.”

— David Biggy

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