Phoenix win seventh OFSAA medal in past 15 years
The St. Francis Phoenix lost 54-52 to Mother Teresa in the gold medal game of the OFSAA AA boys basketball championships in Pembroke. Photo from OFSAA website.
On the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA boys basketball website, there’s a picture of the St. Francis Phoenix wearing their silver medals.
The looks on the faces of the players and coaches says it all following a 54-52 loss to Mother Teresa.
“It’s heart breaking and my heart breaks for the kids,” Phoenix head coach Jono Marcheterre said. “For us, it was 365 days of preparation to get there and they played their hearts out.
“We were preparing to win gold and we were preparing for that game and that day all year long.”
Many teams are happy just to get to OFSAA but for the Phoenix — playing in their 13th OFSAA championship in the past 15 years — getting there isn’t enough.
“It’s not a given to get to OFSAA and we respect that, but our goal was not just going there,” Marcheterre said. “But to define it as a silver medal and a failure isn’t accurate. Guys are heart broken but we have to look at the season as a success.”
In time, the players surely will see it as that, but not so much in the moment.
“It was very disappointing and I am pretty heart broken,” said Phoenix player Tyrell MacLellan, who arrived back in St. Catharines with his team at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. “We were close to winning OFSAA gold and couldn’t have gotten any closer.”
It wasn’t the result the team was hoping for, but MacLellan could take some comfort in knowing how much the Phoenix accomplished during the season.
“We got really far and not a lot of teams can say that,” he said. “I am proud of all my guys, my brothers.”
MacLellan is sad that his Phoenix basketball career has ended.
“I won’t be able to play with all my friends and brothers again and it has been a wonderful five years,” the 19-year-old said. “I loved playing for St. Francis and I have a lot of great memories.”
With the silver medal, the Phoenix have now won one gold, four silvers and two bronze medals at OFSAA in the past 15 years.
“It’s a program and it’s not just a team,” MacLellan said. “It’s built through the junior team with Mr. (Rich) Anderson and Mr. (Mike) Lucas and they set you up for senior,” MacLellan said.
Coaches and players all work together to ensure success.
“One thing I really appreciate about St. Francis basketball is they don’t only look to make you better players, but better people outside of basketball,” MacLennan said.
On the way to the final, St. Francis defeated Francis Liberman 72-63 (Sam Braithwaite 21), Glenview Park 55-43 (Braithwaite 14), Corpus Christi 71-60 (Braithwaite and Jack Riddell 21) and St. Theresa’s 66-54 (Braithwaite 21).
In the final, fell just short against Mother Teresa.
“We were playing for the win and looking for a three to win it,” Marcheterre said. “We had a shot at the buzzer to win and it just kind of rattled out.”
Mother Teresa won the final after defeating Lasalle in double overtime in the semifinals.
“Overall, the field at OFSAA was really, really competitive and usually in the second game you get a game where you can breathe easy and that wasn’t the case at all this year,” Marcheterre said. “We played five tooth-and-nail battles.”
The Phoenix trailed their first game to Francis Liberman at the end of the first and second quarters. In its second game versus Glenview Park, St. Francis trailed after the second and third quarters and, in their third game versus Corpus Christi, the Phoenix were down by six after the first quarter.
“The final game was the same,” Marcheterre said. “The second half was back and back, trading leads and neither team was able to extend it. It came down to them making a couple of shots at the end.”
All the close games made making the final even more special.
“It would have made it that much more exciting if we had come out with the victory because we battled so hard in each and every one of those games,” MacLellan said. “When you look at the tournament as a whole, we had a great tournament.”
St. Francis will loose 12B players MacLennan, Juan Guerrero and Warsame Bille to graduation while Grade 12 players Mark Mesiha, Jack Riddell and James Hughes are questionable on whether they will return.
“We are happy to see them move on because of what that means but we would also be very happy to have them back,” Marcheterre said.
Other members of the team competing at OFSAA were Cam Van Hezewyk, Igor M’Baya, Abdu Elamin, Luc Fortin and junior callup Quinton Duemo.
“Sam Braithwaite had an incredible tournament and as a Grade 11, he was turning heads and imposed his will,” Marcheterre said. “We saw him take a big step forward and saw how he can take over games.”
Every player on the team made contributions on the team led by MacLellan, who Marcheterre described as the poster boy for St. Francis hoops.
“I can tell you about every guy and how they were important and Mark (Mesiha), of course, is that quintessential hard hat, lunch bucket player that you can’t win without,” Marcheterre said.
“Igor M’Baya spent most of the year as our third or fourth guard option and he had a huge tournament. He finally clicked into the kind of player we have been pushing and prodding him to be. He is starting to assert himself and he will be a big piece next year.”
Marchettere thanked assistant coach Jeremy Della Cruz and his brother-in-law Pat Sullivan for helping him out at OFSAA.
“Jeremy is a key part of this and it is fun to watch him grow as a coach,” he said. “And for us to have Sully with us was incredible. He has been a mentor for me for quite a while as a basketball coach and it was a special occasion for us.”
Marcheterre expects the Phoenix will be good again next season, bolstered by graduates from the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association-winning junior team, coached by Anderson and Lucas.
“They have been doing it successfully for some time, developing players and introducing players to what St. Francis basketball is,” he said. “Them winning SOSSA is part of the process and we are going to see a good handful moving up to senior to add to the players we have this year.”
Marcheterre feels Duemo, M’Baya and Van Hezewyk are all ready to take the next step, and Braithwaite is on the verge of stardom.
“They are all prepared to take that leap and that spotlight role now,” he said “I definitely think we will have a strong team but I can’t make any predictions.
“You are also seeing Centennial and other teams that are developing in the area and they will continue to give us a handful.”
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