A year ago, the St. Peter’s Prep Marauders were the underdog darlings of the HCIAA Coviello playoffs. They had to win five straight games to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, then upset three higher seeded teams to capture their first HCIAA title since 2000.
The situation made a dramatic 360-degree turn a year later. Not only were the mighty Marauders the pre-season favorites to win the league, but they rolled through the regular season undefeated in the league and were the No. 1 seed as the playoffs began this year.
“Yeah, I’d say things were very different,” Prep head coach Mike Kelly said. “I don’t want to say that it was any less fun, but it was a little more stressful. It’s more of a challenge when you’re on top and everyone is out to beat you.”
Kelly said that the pressure to remain on top and unblemished in the league was intense.
“I’d look at our schedule and I would wonder if we were going to be able to beat the next team,” Kelly said. “It shows the kind of respect that I have for the teams in our county and our league, especially when the league starts beating up on each other. I’d constantly ask my assistant coach, ‘Can we beat this team?’ and go on to the next game.”
A year ago, the Marauders made their title push with the help of three freshmen, namely Keith Lumpkin, Kevin Walker, and Chase Fluellen. So with just those three standouts returning, the Marauders were easily the pre-season favorites to repeat.
But the Marauders bolstered their chances with the arrival of stellar shooting guard Myles Davis from St. Benedict’s and powerful forward Ronald Roberts from Bayonne. Add in the contributions of fabulous freshman Dallas Anglin, and the Marauders went from being a team that just barely made the HCIAA playoffs to a state-ranked powerhouse.
The Marauders rolled through the 14-game regular season without a loss.
“To be able to do that in this league is unbelievable,” Kelly said. “I mean, you have to go to Union City, Memorial, Snyder. Those are all good teams and we won every game, including the road games. That’s probably the biggest accomplishment of all, going out and winning all those games.”
The Marauders then rolled through three playoff games and capped off their undefeated local campaign with a resounding 85-50 victory over Bayonne last Saturday at St. Peter’s College’s Yanitelli Center to capture their second straight HCIAA Coviello title.
In the title game, the Marauders unleashed a barrage of outside shots, connecting on 10 three-point field goals. Davis, a sophomore, earned Most Valuable Player honors by scoring 19 points and freshman Anglin, who could very well develop into the best of the bunch, scored 15.
“We have guys who can shoot it,” Kelly said. “We have kids who enjoy playing together. The chemistry has worked well. It might have been a concern at one point, with the new kids coming in, but it isn’t now. And never in my wildest dreams could I have ever thought we could win 17 straight games in this league without a loss.”
It marked the first time that St. Peter’s Prep repeated as HCIAA champions since the school captured three straight from 1961 through 1963.
“It’s been a long time,” Kelly said. “Our kids know about the history. They’re glad to be part of that history. It’s exciting for these kids to be mentioned in the same breath with that 1963 team, with players like Jim Barry. We have the picture of the 1954 team up in our locker room. I told the kids that 50 years from now, someone will be talking about this group winning back-to-back championships. They made their own history. If you win one, there’s no history, but if you win two, it’s memorable.”
What makes this championship memorable is that it’s the last HCIAA Coviello boys’ basketball championship ever. The league has been disbanded after this season, in favor to the new-fangled realignment plan that includes schools throughout northern New Jersey.
“They were definitely aware of that as well,” Kelly said. “They wanted to be the last ones ever.”
The Marauders now take their gaudy 22-2 record, their No. 4-ranking in the entire state (easily the best state ranking the school has ever enjoyed) and head to the NJSIAA Non-Public A North playoffs, where the Marauders are the top seed and await the winner of the Bergen Catholic-DePaul game for the sectional quarterfinals at the Prep gym March 5.
“We want to live up to being the No. 4 team in the state,” Kelly said. “Sure, the expectations are higher now. Sure, the pressure is there. The kids don’t see it. They’re just having fun and they’re teaching me to have fun. But I feel the pressure every minute. I just don’t want the kids to feel it. I think this team is too young to see it. They’re all having too much fun.”
That’s the scary part. Lumpkin, Walker, Fluellen and Davis are sophomores. Anglin is a freshman. Only Roberts is a junior. But they will all be back next year, causing havoc in a new league and going after a new Hudson County Tournament title, a tourney that is expected to include St. Anthony next year.
Now, won’t that be exciting?
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