MANHASSET, NY - It was a battle down to the wire on Saturday afternoon in Long Island as St. Mary's hosted John S. Burke Catholic.
Both teams came out looking to get the big marquee non-league victory, and the back and forth contest wasn't decided until the final seconds as each team brought it's A game from start to finish.
In a fight to the end, St. Mary's would improve its record to 2-1 as they topped Burke Catholic, 70-68.
Going into the game some of the St. Mary's players admitted not knowing much about their upstate opponents in Burke Catholic, with freshman guard Devonte Green admitting that some members of the teams didn't know much about them until watching a game of theirs online on Friday. Gaels Coach Bill Harkins though knew that it would be a tough challenge.
"We lost to them last season so I knew exactly how good they were, and I expected a dogfight, and that's what we got." Harkins said.
Burke Catholic coach Doug Janeczko on the other hand knew exactly what the game against St. Mary's meant for his squad.
"I schedule these games so that we can learn what we need to improve on more and to play the best competition around." Janeczko said.
It was high level competition right out of the gate on Saturday with Jessie Govan scoring on a couple pretty post moves around the smaller, quicker bigs of Burke.
Green got in the act as well early knocking down 5 quick points early on as the point guard for the Gaels showed he can control the game in many different ways. St. Mary's was up 11-5 early on, and the Eagles looked in a bit of trouble as big man Stan Buczek picked up 2 early fouls to put him on the bench. Luckily for Burke Catholic, their guard play started to pick up behind Jack Dwyer who hit from long range twice in the last minute of the quarter to keep them in the game. Govan continued to dominate though with 8 in the quarter, and St. Mary's was up 17-12 after 1.
The 2nd quarter saw Buczek come back in to start the quarter, and even though he didn't do much scoring, his presence was clearly felt. He didn't pick up a cheap 3rd foul, and did a solid job containing Govan, and after Kyle Smith hit a left wing three pointer, Burke Catholic went up for the first time in the game 21-19. St. Mary's would call a timeout to try and regain control and that's exactly what they did, as they reeled off a 10 straight out of the timeout to take charge. Patrick Jackson led the run knocking down a couple long range shots, as the Gaels found their range from deep.
Burke Catholic knew something needed to change so they put on 2-2-1 trap which clearly rattled St. Mary's. It let to 4 straight turnovers by the Gaels which helped get Burke back in the game. It was a two point game in the waning seconds of the half when Jackson knocked down another three right before the buzzer to give St. Mary's a 34-29 lead at the break.
The 3rd saw much of the same defensive principles Burke Catholic played with in the 2nd quarter, and they continued to work as the Eagles started the 3rd on a 10-0 run of their own behind the great post play of Buczek who seemed comfortable in the paint and managed to score around Govan on back to back occasions in the run.
St. Mary's changed up game plans at that point. Instead of trying to break the trap by dribbling through it, they worked more passes and got free by moving the ball better. It helped as the Gaels stemmed the tide as Jackson and Green continued to stick jumpers from all over the court. Buczek finished with 10 in the 3rd though as the Eagles and Gaels were knotted at 49 going to the 4th.
The Eagles scored the first 5 of the forth with Buczek hitting a nice reverse in the lane around Govan and Kevin Polman draining a long range three. Momentum seemed to be on Burke's side as they were up by as much as 7 with 4 minutes to go, but Green came alive for the Gaels as they once again looked to regain the edge.
The sharpshooting point guard knocked down a couple big three's as St. Mary's went from down 63-56 with 4 minutes to go, to up 65-63 with 1:45 to go. It was a tremendous run that had the St. Mary's crowd on its feet.
Burke Catholic wasn't out of it though as Mike Coffey converted two steals into easy layups to give Burke a one point lead with under a minute to go. Green and Steve Milhaven each had chances to give St. Mary's a decent sized lead from the line, but each could only convert 1 of 2 late. It gave Burke a chance, but Buczek missed a short jumper and St. Mary's grabbed the rebound and Govan tipped in a Green miss to seal it with less than 5 seconds to go to give St. Mary's the win.
A hard fought win, but a win nonetheless. Green and Govan each tallied 20 in the victory for St. Mary's, while Buczek led all scorers with 22 for Burke Catholic.
After the game, each coach came out feeling like they learned a lot about themselves after the game.
"While we got the win, I think we learned we have a long ways to go." Harkins said. "We took too many hurried shots in crucial situations, but we are young and games like this early on will help us get better."
From the Eagles side, Janeczko was disappointed with the result, but happy of the performance from Buczek.
"He was awesome. Going against their big man is no easy task and for him to come out and play like he did in the 2nd half says a lot."
It did say a lot, and Govan, who also finished with 16 rebounds and 10 blocks showed respect to Burke Catholic after the game.
"You don't travel 2 hours to get here and not play tough, and man did they play tough. They are a real good team, one of the best we will face all year and I'm just happy we were able to get the win." Govan said.
It was a great game between two big time Class "A" teams. A rematch could always happen come March in Albany, something Harkins also wouldn't write off.
"That's where we want to be in March, and I am sure that is their goal as well so you never know."