Sunday, April 14, 2024

Girls’ Basketball Lions Win Program’s 1st HWS Championship

It’s been over a month since the Pope John Lions girls’ basketball team lost a game. They’ve only lost four games throughout the entire season, falling most recently on January 22 to the Chatham Cougars for the second time of the season. With a 12-game winning streak, an HWS championship, and the number one seed in Non-Public A, the Lions are ready to take on the state tournament.

The HWS run for the girls was special this season as last year’s sting of losing to the Sparta Spartans in the championship game still sat in the hearts of the Lions. However, this team was different. It was a very young team led by junior Katie O’Keefe, the oldest member on the team. With a starting lineup of a freshman, sophomores and O’Keefe, the Lions were not favored to be 14-4 heading into February and the HWS tournament.

The Lions hosted the quarterfinal round after earning the number one seed in the tournament as they dominated the Delaware Valley Terriers 58-23 to move on to the semi-final. Sophomore Addy Platt led the Lions with 19 points in the victory while sophomore Mia Washington scored 15. 

The Lions entered Wallkill Valley Regional High School the following Saturday with a lot of confidence and were ready to take down the Warren Hills Blue Streak. The Lions could not be stopped, holding the Blue Streak to 35 points while scoring 62 of their own. Platt nearly earned a double-double as she scored 22 points and 9 rebounds while Washington scored 15 and freshman Kaitlyn Platt scored 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. 

After the victory, the girls watched and waited as the number six seed Spartans tried to take down the other powerhouse of the tournament, the Voorhees Vikings. The Vikings won, advancing to face the Lions as the matchup was set: Friday, February 16 at Centenary College. The week leading up to the game was promising as practice went well for the Lions, and head coach Pete Torres was very pleased with what he was seeing from the girls.

“The girls all play basketball year round; they want to be good and they want to learn,” said coach Torres last week. “The lessons the coaching staff and I are teaching them are sinking in and they are seeing the benefits of those lessons.”

The Lions took an early lead, but the second quarter was the difference in this game. The Lions outscored the Vikings 11-2 in the quarter, taking a 23-12 halftime lead and never looked back. The Vikings did outscore the Lions 11-6 in the third quarter, but the Lions bounced back in the fourth, outscoring the Vikings 14-9 and winning the game 43-32. The entire team and student section were ecstatic when the final buzzer sounded as this was the first ever HWS championship in Pope John girls’ basketball history. O’Keefe was very proud of who the team became after the loss to Chatham and how they found an identity throughout the entire season.

“Everyone felt amazing. We were all celebrating in the locker room. It was just the greatest feeling because after the first two years of us losing, we wanted to win,” said O’Keefe after the game. “Hopefully, we can carry this momentum on to our state run.”

The MVP was awarded to Washington as she scored 17 points. She was very excited to be recognized for her efforts, but even more thrilled because the team had won the game, not one individual.

“When the final buzzer hit, it was very exciting,” said Washington after the game. “I was very happy for our team getting this win. To be the MVP was an honor, but specifically to share this moment with my teammates was amazing.”

Addy Platt had eight assists, five blocks and three steals in the game, and coach Torres stated in a postgame interview that defense had won the girls the championship.

“We had to be a good defense team to win championships, I said to the girls early in the season,” said coach Torres. “About three weeks ago, the girls turned a corner and have played excellent defense down the stretch. Voorhees had 13 points at the free throw line and two or three transition baskets, meaning they only had 14 points off our defense.”

It was announced not long after the conclusion of the game that the Lions had earned the number one seed in Non-Public A and will begin at home in the state tournament. The young team battled adversity, but never gave up and now will hold their HWS trophies high in triumph as they head into the state tournament on a 12-game winning streak.

Andrew Nowel, Contributing Sportswriter
Contributing Sportswriter

Currently enrolled at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York, Andrew Nowel is an up-and-coming journalist/photographer and broadcaster. He wrote sports' articles for his high school, Pope John XXIII Regional High School. Andrew has worked with Morris Sussex Sports in sports broadcasting and analyzes professional sports in his free time. Andrew and his friend Ryan have a podcast that talks about professional sports and Canisius Athletics. Andrew also runs his own website about Canisius Athletics. He strives to inform the people about local sports and the young athletes of our communities from Buffalo to New Jersey and everywhere.

Andrew has provided previous and remarkable sports stories and photographs for the Ridge View Echo since he was 16 and enrolled at Pope John High School.