Defending champions take on newcomer
After battling through a playoff bracket filled with talent, the Bishop Grandin Ghosts and the Notre Dame Pride are set to duke it out for Division 1 dominance on Saturday at Crescent Heights High School.
When the season began, many predicted the defending champion Ghosts would have a chance to defend their title – but the road to the finals has been bumpy.
Although struggling through injuries and untimely suspensions has been a burden for the team, head coach Mike Henry says the hardships have only strengthened their unity.
“We’ve had the ability to play our entire bench,” Henry said. “We’ve lost some of our best players for key games but the other guys are picking up the slack.”
With top players like John (LJ) Hegwood and Zac Hartley absent from Thursday’s semifinal matchup at home against Henry Wise Wood Warriors, the Ghosts leaned on the superior play of George Jackson and star player Deiter Posein.
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, the two players helped to rally the Ghosts comeback, combining for 36 points to beat the Warriors 77-72 in front of nearly 750 frantic basketball fans.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year,” said Posein. “The Warriors scored 25 points on us in the first quarter but we tightened up our full-court press and attacked the rebounds and turned it around.”
The Ghosts now face a very different finals opponent in Notre Dame.
Unlike the Warriors, the Pride squad is stacked with tall, physical players who enjoy showing off their athleticism with awe-inspiring blocks and dunks.
Although Notre Dame is not the team coach Henry expected he might meet in the finals, he says he knew the Pride had the ability to get there.
“Notre Dame is a fantastic team and Mike McFarland is a fantastic coach,” Henry said. “The two best teams are going to be playing each other in the finals and it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Despite an impressive 9-1 regular season record, the Pride come into Saturday’s match as distinct underdogs. This role, however, is one that they are growing increasingly accustomed to.
Having already lost once this year to the Bishop O’Byrne Bobcats, the Pride were seemingly no more than an afterthought going into Thursday’s semifinal matchup.
Few high school basketball followers outside of Notre Dame’s fan base thought the Pride had a shot to beat the No. 1 ranked Bobcats, but thanks to the clutch play of forward Emmanuel Joshua, they did just that.
Bishop O’Byrne led the Pride for nearly the entire game, but in the waning seconds ofthe fourth quarter, Joshua stepped up, hitting a 20-foot jump shot to take the lead and win 67-66. Joshua’s late-game theatrics gave Notre Dame its first finals appearance in school history.
“It is the last game before the finals and we had nothing to lose,” Joshua said. “We needed something to spark us and I guess I found the way.”
Joshua also credits the Pride’s coaches for keeping the individually talented squad playing with a team-mentality.
“We have a really solid coaching staff who treat us like family,” Joshua said. “When we’re down they pick us up and that has kept us together.”
Although Pride head coach McFarland happy with the win, he knows that they still have an arduous venture ahead of them in Bishop Grandin.
“The task now is to get the guys refocused,” McFarland said. “We just beat one of the best teams in the province but now we have to focus on the finals.”