St. Joseph’s Once Again Overcomes Adversity to Win Title

Seemingly Dead and Buried at Mid-Season, Falcons Win 13 of 15 to Win 4th Straight GMCT Crown, and 9th in Past 10 Years

St. Joseph’s Boys Basketball huddles prior to the start of the second half of its 2019 GMCT Semifinal game against 2nd seeded Colonia on February 21st. The Falcons won 13 of its last 15 games including the 2019 GMCT Championship over 5th seeded Piscataway to win its fourth straight title, and 9th in the past 10 years.

EDISON, NJ—Nearly a month and a half ago, I wondered what happened to St. Joseph’s, which was anointed the 2018-19 Pre-Season No. 1 team. The Falcons had just gone through a terrible stretch of losing to J.P. Stevens, Old Bridge, and South Brunswick to drop to 5-6 overall on the season, and more importantly, down toward the bottom of the GMC Red, a rare place for these birds in recent times.

Many around Middlesex County were not only wondering the same thing, but also saying everything except giving last rites to the three time defending champs. Some comments on twitter had surprised me. One said after the South Brunswick loss that Joes was, “done.” Another tweet indicated the record of 5-6 while former Falcons head coach, Dave Turco was standing at 16-2 over at Middlesex County College.

Yours truly was even woken up in the middle of the night by WWE personality, Paul Bearer, the former manager of The Undertaker, who sent me a message from the current Dante’s Inferno existing in Satan’s underworld, that basically said he had finished polishing his special golden urn. He had made the funeral arrangements. Ordered the flowers for the funeral services. Designed the tombstone that would read, “Here lies the 2018-19 St. Joseph’s Falcons: Dynasty Over. RIP.” The burial plot and funeral pyre were ready.

The Undertaker himself even texted a message to let me know that the blood in his veins had gone ice cold, which was an indication that he was in the midst of preparing for St. Joe’s demise. However, to borrow a quote from ESPN’s Chris Berman, “Nobody circles the wagons, better than the St. Joseph’s Falcons.” St. Joe’s began the season with a victory over arch rival East Brunswick at Maglio Gymnasium on opening night, but then lost 83-68 at Piscataway on the following Tuesday. The Falcons then struggled early on before rolling past Monroe in Metuchen on December 20th.

St. Joseph’s then lost to Seton Hall Prep in overtime before winning its two holiday tournament games in Long Island. However, the Falcons then lost 4 of its next 5 starting with an historic loss at J.P. Stevens followed by an expected defeat at the hands of mighty St. Benedict’s of Newark. Over the next week to 10 days, St. Joe’s would lose to South Brunswick and Old Bridge to fall to 5-6. While everyone began to doubt, GMC Hoops said don’t warm up the hearse for the Falcons just yet. It made sense since the Falcons have been through a great deal of tumult over the past three seasons, and still found a way to win.

Then, the Falcons began to get going. St. Joseph’s would win thee straight going into a contest against St. Peter’s of Jersey City in the Hearts 2 Hands Showcase at Kean University on January 27th. The Marauders had defeated crosstown rival Hudson Catholic earlier in the season, and had a record of 11-3 coming into the game. Nevertheless, the Falcons found a way to win the game by the score of 56-54. The victory over St. Peter’s Prep might have been the game that was for the 2018-19 Falcons that the hard fought loss the 2012-13 team had to Patrick School at the Bernoskie Games at Rahway High School in early February with big man Karl Anthony Towns sitting on the bench.

While the Falcons didn’t defeat the Celtics then led by Deandre Bembry, they found out a little bit about themselves in the contest. Wade Baldwin scored 30 points in the contest including 20 in the fourth quarter to help Joes make a game of it after trailing by double digits for a good portion of the game. From that point on, the 2012-13 St. Joseph’s Falcons were a totally different team and put together a dominant run through the first three rounds of the GMCT before taking on top seeded and that year’s GMC Red champion, East Brunswick in the 2013 GMCT Championship. By defeating St. Peter’s Prep, the Falcons began to play with renewed confidence.

St. Joe’s would win another five in a row including a win over this year’s GMC Red champion, Old Bridge to go into the GMCT seeding meeting at 15-6. Then, after losing to Hudson Catholic in the Dan Finn Classic and Snyder of Jersey City in county tourney tune-up, the Falcons, seeded third in this year’s GMCT, who roll past 14th seeded East Brunswick (60-39) behind the double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds from Luke Fresco. In the quarterfinals and semifinals, St. Joe’s would meet familiar foes in 6th seeded Carteret and 2nd seeded Colonia. Once again both games were classics in which, St. Joseph’s withstood the best that the Ramblers and Patriots could give before coming from behind for victories.

In the win over Carteret in the quarterfinals, the Ramblers had an eight point, 40-32 lead at one point in the second half before St. Joseph’s, which outscored its GMC Blue foe by a 40-30 margin in the final two periods, rallied with a 37-21 surge for the 69-61 win. K-Shawn Schulters scored a team high 16 points including 7 from the foul line to lead the way while Fresco added 15 points and 3 steals and Tyree Ford chipped in with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Howard McBurnie battled foul trouble to collect 11 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals. In the semifinals, Colonia also had St. Joseph’s on the ropes.

Trailing 31-22 at the half, the second seeded Patriots, which had rallied from a 35-16 second half deficit to take a lead late against Joes in the 2018 GMCT Championship, rallied with a 30-15 surge including four free throws as a result of a foul and a technical foul to take a 52-46 lead. St. Joseph’s once again clamped down with a 13-4 spurt to end the game including a three point play and three pointer by Fresco (18 points), a jumper by Matt Cruz, and a layup by Ford. Then Ford (10 points) was fouled after getting a steal, and Fresco made one of two free throws with seconds remaining to help the Falcons hang on for a 59-56 victory.

Finally, in the Championship, the Falcons traded baskets with fifth seeded Piscataway in a back and forth, and frenetically paced first half before things slowed down to a half court pace in the second half. P-Way broke away from a 26-26 tie with an 11-9 third quarter showing and had a 37-35 lead with a little over five minutes remaining before Schulters sank a three pointer from the left wing off an inbounds by Ford to give the Falcons the lead again. The game would remain taut for the balance of the contest until Joes broke away from a 43-43 tie with two FTs by Ford with 42.9 seconds left, and two more from Schulters with 21 seconds to play for a 47-43 advantage.

Then, with 6.3 seconds left, Piscataway gets a three pointer from Daryl DeCohen to pull the Chiefs within one at 47-46. Fresco was then fouled in the Falcon backcourt with 4.7 seconds left on the clock. Ford put the game away with a putback of a missed Fresco foul shot to give the Falcons its fourth straight championship and 9th in the past 10 years. St. Joseph’s has played in each of the last 12 GMCT Boys Finals. St. Joseph’s won 13 of 15 games to accomplish this feat, and improve to 18-8 overall on the season. Ford, who collected 13 points in the victory, was selected as the 2019 GMCT Boys MVP.

Once again, the Falcons responded after being declared down and out, and showed the resiliency it has demonstrated in each of the last three seasons to win yet another title. True, St. Joseph’s has talent, but the gap has been closing the past several seasons in the GMC. The Red Division was the most competitive it has been in many years. While St. Joe’s had to overcome EB in 2013, the Falcons and Bears were head and shoulders above anyone other team in the GMC that year as demonstrated in two of the most lopsided GMCT semifinals. This year, St. Joseph’s finished three games back of Old Bridge at 10-4 despite handing the Knights their only division loss.

In addition, Piscataway, which defied pre-season expectations after falling to Colonia in the 2018 GMCT Quarterfinals, finished right behind Joes with a 9-5 divisional mark. Monroe had perhaps its best season ever in the GMC Red while South Brunswick managed to tie the Falcons for fourth place after winning one games all season long a year ago. Stevens had started the season at 7-0, the best start since the 2007-08 season before sinking to just above .500 by regular season’s end. Nevertheless, the Hawks, which defeated Joes and Bishop Ahr, gave P-Way all it could handle in a 56-52 Round of 16 loss. East Brunswick struggled for much of the season, but then defeated Monroe on the eve of the GMCT Seeding and recently defeated Bishop Ahr in a state tourney tune-up.

Despite all of its struggles, and all of the adversity, St. Joseph’s found a way to once again finish at the top of the GMC when the dust settled at Middlesex County College on Friday night. In a season with a number of wild twists and turns, and bizarre games with crazy endings, perhaps the craziest one of all was the fact that St. Joseph’s overcame a 5-6 overall start including a 3-4 mark in Red Division play, and didn’t win the GMC Red for the first time in six seasons, ended up champion in Greater Middlesex Conference Boys Basketball once more.