It was shaping up to be another season to remember for the St. Peter’s Prep basketball team.
The defending Hudson County Tournament champions appeared well on their way to another championship season, winning their first eight games of the truncated COVID-19 created season of 15 contests.
The undefeated Marauders were ranked No. 5 in the entire state by NJ.com. They had some signature victories over Hackensack and Montclair Immaculate, two highly regarded squads. The win over Immaculate, the state’s No. 7-ranked team at the time, came courtesy of a 3-point shot by Rayshawn Ford at the buzzer in overtime. The Marauders also defeated Marlboro, one of the top teams in the Shore Conference, by 14 points.
“We were lucky enough to get those games to fill out the schedule,” St. Peter’s Prep head coach Alex Mirabel said. “With this pandemic, you never know when you’re going to get shut down.”
Maybe that was foreshadowing.
Mirabel said that the Marauders were having a blast every day.
“We were having so much fun in the gym at practice,” Mirabel said. “We made sure every practice was competitive. The practices have been great. The kids get after it with each other every day. It’s great to see. We have 10 or 11 kids playing regularly.”
Last Monday, the Marauders faced Memorial and won 67-23. Every single Marauder who played found a way into the scorer’s book.
“Everyone played and everyone scored,” Mirabel said. “It was a great win.”
Mark Armstrong, who scored 11 points in the win, had scored the 1,000th point of his career earlier in the season, well on his way to a possible 2,000-point milestone, which would have made him the first St. Peter’s Prep player to ever get to 2,000 points in a career.
Ford, who has already signed his national letter of intent to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University in the fall to play for fellow Prep grad Greg Herenda with the Knights, scored nine points, as did Jackson Tindall.
Gavin O’Farrell, who has declared his intentions to play at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall, had eight points and eight rebounds.
“Mark and Ray complimented each other very well,” Mirabel said. “Gavin is our workhorse who embraces his role.”
It was a total team victory.
Less than 12 hours later, it all came crashing down, when it was learned that a handful of Marauders started to feel sick and were tested for the coronavirus.
“When you get two or three guys not feeling well, then they all have to get tested,” Mirabel said. “They had symptoms and the most important thing was everyone’s safety.”
And because of counter tracing, not only was St. Peter’s Prep shut down for two weeks, but so was Memorial, Hoboken, North Bergen and Union City. Five boys’ basketball teams all shut down because of the coronavirus in one fell swoop.
It’s the way of the world. And with it, so went the hopes of another county championship for the Marauders.
The HCIAL athletic directors met via a Zoom meeting after hearing of the Prep shutdown and determined that there would not be a league tournament at season’s end as previously discussed.
“It made more sense to decide to do this,” said HCIAL president Nick Marniello, the athletic director and head boys’ basketball coach at Hudson Catholic. “We’re all scrambling just to get games. We tried very hard to make it work. It’s been very difficult. We were discussing the tournament and the domino effect in play. I guess in hindsight we should have not said anything. But we have a certain number of days left, so we should try to find games and play games.”
Mirabel was still hopeful to have an HCIAL tournament, but that doesn’t seem possible now.
“Well, the coaches want it,” Mirabel said. “It’s only right to find a way to make it happen. We will try to convince the ADs [athletic directors] to let it happen. We’ll see what happens. If we don’t play again this year, then that would be rough. We want to finish it out.”
If the Marauders’ season is over, then Mirabel will have a tough time telling that to his team.
“It’s tough for the seniors,” Mirabel said. “We will miss them. We have a good sophomore group and a good group of juniors led by Mark. We want to close the year out and play for something meaningful. That’s what we want.”
Mariniello said that there was no true formula to finding a solution.
“There’s no perfect science to this,” Mariniello said. “We’ve all been working together. I’ve been talking to other ADs every day and moving games all over. It’s been a lot of work. There’s been a lot of emotional wear and tear. It’s been horrible.”
Mariniello said that it was a league-wide decision for both boys and girls, which angered some of the HCIAL girls’ coaches, because some of the top girls’ teams have not had their seasons interrupted.
Mirabel said that he was aware the season could end at any point.
“We always knew it could stop at any minute,” Mirabel said. “It was hard for me to go to sleep at night for fear I would get a call or a text from someone saying, ‘Coach, I’m not feeling well.’ Everyone was feeling healthy.”
For now, the Marauders have rescheduled games with Hudson Catholic and Union City.
“It’s fortunate that it’s happening now and not later,” Mirabel said. “At least we can finish off the year on a good note. Something like this was always in the back of my mind. We were prepared for it. What do we do now for two weeks? Well, that’s the bummer.”
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely St. Dominic Academic track and field coach and athletic director John Nagel, whose career at the Jersey City school spans five decades.