By Larry Moko
The winningest high school in Hamilton Catholic senior boys’ basketball history hopes to end a decade-long championship drought next month.
The Cathedral Gaels, who currently find themselves alone in first place with a 7-1 record, last won a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior boys’ hoops title in 2008.
The Gaels – 15-4 overall this season -- stretched their undefeated streak in league play to three games with a 61-46 victory over the visiting Bishop Tonnos Titans Thursday.
“It’s been a long-time,” Cathedral coach Luca Fortino said of the Gaels championship dry spell. “Hopefully, we can bring one back. The stretch run will be tough, though.”
Cathedral’s closest competitors are the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves and the defending-champion Cardinal Newman Cardinals who each have 6-2 records. The St. Thomas More Knights are 5-3, while the Bishop Ryan Celtics possess a mark of 2-5. Tonnos has one victory in seven starts and the St. Mary Crusaders are 0-7.
The first-place finisher earns an opening-round playoff bye.
“This team is a cohesive unit,” Fortino said of the Gaels. “They’re becoming a close-knit group. It looks really fluid out there. I hope we can continue on this path.”
Against the Titans, Cathedral led 31-23 at the half before Tonnos reeled off 10 unanswered points to begin the third quarter. The Gaels, however, then went on a run of their own -- 19-2 -- to take a 50-35 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We had a change in tempo,” Fortino said of the way Cathedral took control after falling behind. “We had some younger players that went out there with a little more energy.
“It was all defence and hustle that led to the comeback.”
Nathan Bilamu paced the Cathedral attack with 26 points. Zach Powell chipped in with six and Taylor Thomas added five.
Nick Passaretti netted 19 points for the Titans, while Brandon Bernardo and Liam Craven scored eight and six, respectively.
“We struggled offensively in the second half,” Tonnos coach Steve Maga said. “I thought their half-court perimeter defence was very good, not allowing us to get to the paint much. They knew who our shooters were and did a pretty good job of guarding them for the most part.”
According to Maga, the Titans are a young team with a potentially bright future. The roster includes three Grade 9 players -- Craven, Cristian Craciun and Michael Frisina.
“Often on the floor we have one Grade 12, two or three Grade 9s and another in Grade 11,” the Titans coach said. “We’re excited to have guys contribute at a young age. It’s kind of a work in progress.”
Maga was also proud to see Michael Brovac – a basketball enthusiast dealing with the health challenges of IPEX syndrome -- come off the bench in final two minutes for Tonnos and immediately hit a three-point basket from the corner.
“He’s doing great,” Maga said of Brovac, the shortest player in the league who made his Titans debut last season. “They’re saying he’s never been healthier. The physical activity and feeling that sense of unity and purpose from belonging to the team is really helping him.”
In HWCAA action Wednesday, Cardinal Newman edged Bishop Ryan, 52-50, and Brebeuf topped St. Thomas More, 73-57.