By: Rich Flanagan
Videos/Photos: Angelise Stuhl, John Knebels & Mike Nance
PHILADELPHIA- With junior guard Hysier Miller headed to the line to shoot a pair of free throws, which would give Neumann-Goretti a seven-point advantage over Roman Catholic with under a minute and 30 seconds to play, Carl Arrigale called the other four players over and implored them to stick with what they had done all season and not to deviate because of the moment.
While playing at the Palestra, which has been home to 65 Philadelphia Catholic League championship games, in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 8,000 people, there have been examples of programs being in awe of the ambiance of the fabled arena... Not Arrigale’s teams.
He has spoken to his team countless times like this and in eerily similar situations. Concepts such as not fouling a jump shooter, boxing out and being strong with the basketball are a few of the things the longtime Saints coach stressed before Miller’s second foul shot.
There’s very few things Arrigale, who came in with 10 league titles, has had to correct in a game situation because his core of St. Joe’s commit Jordan Hall, Marist commit Hakim Byrd, Bowling Green commit Cameron Young and Miller have responded brilliantly in the latter part of crunch time this season. While he has won his previous 10 Philadelphia Catholic League crowns at three different arenas, No. 11 at the Palestra was one of celebration and relief.
Young scored a game-high 20 points and added seven rebounds while Miller had 17 points including nine in the fourth quarter to lead Neumann-Goretti to a 66-58 win over Roman Catholic and its first Philadelphia Catholic League title since 2014.
The victory was not only a return to the top of the league for the Saints but a career defining one for Arrigale, whose 11th crown surpassed former Cahillites head coach Dennis Seddon (10) for the most in league history.
Arrigale, who had not coached in a title game since 2017, has been back to the Palestra four times since claiming title No. 10 and felt his drive to get this one grew due to excruciating losses in that timespan.
“I don’t think it will hit me until later because I was so geared up from wanting these guys to win,” Arrigale said. “Even though we weren’t playing the best all year, a lot of guys didn’t think they would have the mental toughness to pull it off. Someday, maybe March and hopefully late March preferably, I’ll have the opportunity to reflect on it. It means I’ve coached a lot of good players, to be honest because I have had a lot of help.”
It was the culmination of a coaching career that has spanned over 20 years and he was able to share it with so many individuals who have helped him get to the pinnacle of his success.
St. Joe’s Prep head coach William “Speedy” Morris, who coached Arrigale at Penn Charter and won six Philadelphia Catholic League titles while at the helm of the Cahillites, was honored before the game by two of his former pupils in Arrigale and Roman Catholic head coach Matt Griffin. Arrigale won Inter-Ac MVP in 1984 and propelled the Quakers to the league title that season.
Arrigale was able to shake his former coach’s hand and embrace not only a mentor but a friend before shifting to being a coach of his own.
“He’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I’m doing this,” Arrigale said. “The two years I spent with him in high school and the impact that he and his family have had on my life (has been tremendous). He’s been a big influence why I chose to get involved in this crazy business of coaching. It was really nice that Matt and I were here in the final and we both played for him at different times in his coaching career.”
Arrigale watched this new group led by three seniors in Hall, Byrd and Hall alongside Miller, a Martin Luther King transfer, secure a long-awaited title. Young started off strong scoring 11 first-quarter points including three three-pointers with the last triple giving the Saints an 18-10 lead with 54.5 seconds left in the opening period.
Young stated flat out what this title was ultimately about.
“We wanted to get this one for Coach Arrigale, who was there with us every day,” Young said. “He never stopped believing in us.”
In the second, Byrd (12 points) began to assert himself with a pair of pull-up jumpers around the foul line then Hall tipped in a miss by Young to push the lead to seven at the 2:27 mark of the quarter. After trailing to begin the fourth, Miller closed things out by scoring all of his points at the charity stripe to seal the record-breaking win for Arrigale.
Hall, the undoubted leader of the Saints, noted how last year’s loss to the Cahillites at the Palestra drove them to get to this moment.
“It’s our senior year and we lost in the semis to Roman last year,” Hall said. “This is the first time the three of us have had the chance to play in the championship.”
The feeling of euphoria Arrigale experienced following the game had been building for days. It’s no secret the bond and comradery he has created within the Saints program has trickled down to players and that close relationship was evident right up to tip-off.
Former Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine, who played under Arrigale and led the Saints to Philadelphia Catholic League titles in 2005 and 2006, “showed up and almost ruined practice the other day,” Arrigale said jokingly. “He was trying to put sneakers on, saying, ‘Coach, we got to get them ready. They have to be ready.’”
Things began to truly come full circle for him when Chris Del Brocco and Brandon Brigman, who played at the University of South Florida, came to practice. Both players were starters on Arrigale’s first league title team in 2001 when the school was still called St. John Neumann. Another member of that team, Cantrell "Man-Man" Fletcher, who played at Towson, called his former coach to wish him luck leading up to the game.
Troy Harper, a member of the Saints’ 2014 and 2015 league title teams who starred at Drexel, texted Arrigale from another country as he’s playing professionally for New Elephants Grevenbroich in Germany. Tyreek Duren, who led the Saints to Philadelphia Catholic League crowns in 2009 and 2010 before going on to score 1,726 points in four years at La Salle, texted Arrigale congratulations on getting back to the title game along with well wishes for an 11th title.
Jardine was one of several former players in attendance at the Palestra including D.J. Rivera (2005-06), Lamin Fulton (2009-11), Rasheed Browne (Community College of Beaver County) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Villanova). Rivera and Fulton won multiple league titles while Browne and Cosby-Roundtree were teammates for two PIAA Class 3A state titles.
Like so many players who reached out and were on-hand to watch his head coach, Byrd expressed the sentiment they all felt when they chose to play for Arrigale at Neumann-Goretti.
“There’s nothing to say but I won a championship,” Byrd said. “That’s what I came here for.”
Arrigale needed the support of his former players because the Cahillites, the two-time defending champion, played like a team looking to become the first team to win three straight since Arrigale led the Saints to six consecutive from 2009-14.
Lynn Greer III, making the trip to the Palestra for the fourth straight season, had 17 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He converted a layup to give Roman Catholic a 42-41 lead in the third quarter then on the ensuing possession Justice Williams (21 points) drilled a triple from the wing to give the Cahillites a two-point lead heading into the fourth. Jalen Duren, the 6-10 sophomore big man, had a dominant title game with 11 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks but only one point in the entire second half.
Neumann-Goretti senior Cameron Young (No. 22) led the Saints with 20 points - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Greer nailed two free throws to push the lead to 47-43 with 7:16 left to play but the Saints answered with a 12-0 run, highlighted by three-pointers from Blaise Vespe (eight points) and Young, to claim the lead for good.
While Arrigale had his team huddled in the final two minutes, he couldn’t help but crack a smile. The smile was both one of elation for his players but also for finally being able to put No. 11 into the history books.
“It’s never been about me, dating back to when I started, but I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get that 11th one,” Arrigale said. “I tried not to talk about it but it’s talked about throughout my household. It’s definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
PHILADELPHIA CATHOLIC LEAGUE 2020 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (PHOTOS BY MIKE NANCE FOR PSD)