By Larry Moko
Colour the 2019 All-Ontario Catholic Classic a different shade of blue.
Entering this year’s 16-team, two-day tournament in St. Catharines, Toronto’s St. Michael’s College Blue Raiders had captured four consecutive provincial Catholic boys’ high school basketball titles and six of the past seven.
The Big Blue of Cathedral ended that streak, however. The defending Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league champions convincingly defeated St. Michael’s, 73-55, in the final at the Denis Morris gym Saturday.
The last time Cathedral – an original All-Catholic participant 44 years ago -- took top honours at the event was 16 years ago.
“This was a big win for our school,” said tournament MVP selection Nathan Bilamu of the Gaels, who scored a game-high 23 points in the final. “We hadn’t won this since 2003. We played very hard. It was great victory.”
Bilamu averaged 23.2 points, including a tournament-high 33 points in a 56-52 opening-day victory over Oakville’s Holy Trinity Titans. “My teammates fed me the ball a lot more in this tournament and I capitalized on that,” the veteran forward said. “We’re really deep this year.”
Bilamu sank back-to-back 3-point shots to open the scoring and added a third three-pointer to help the Gaels race to a 20-8 first-quarter lead. He also excelled defensively.
“Nathan was dialed in right from the beginning of the tournament,” Cathedral coach Luca Fortino said. “He really did everything. He knew it was his last chance at an All-Catholic championship.”
Zach Powell added 13 points for the Gaels, who led 39-19 at the half and 57-33 heading into the fourth quarter. All but one player figured in the scoring for Cathedral.
“As the season has gone along, the guys have got used to each other,” Fortino said. “They share the ball really well now. When they see the open player they are not selfish. They don’t care who scores any more. They know when two points goes up it’s Cathedral scoring.”
St. Michael’s – coached by former McMaster Marauders forward Jeff Zownir – was riding a 19-game undefeated streak at the All-Ontario Catholic.
Said Fortino: “To beat St. Mike’s in a final is a big accomplishment. Hats off to them. They have a great program year in and year out.”
The Cathedral coach said a key to the win was the focused effectiveness on defence of Gaels’ Mark Cadet and Powell. “St. Mike’s has a really strong player in No. 35 (Aleer Aleer Leek),” Fortino said. “I tasked two of my guys especially to guard him. Mark and Zach did a great job. As soon as we shut him down their offence became stagnant.”
Leek, named to the tournament all-star team, was held to 11 points by the Gaels.
Cathedral reached the championship game with a 66-51 semifinal decision over the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves. In that contest Bilamu tossed in 18 points. Josh Coward contributed 11, while Kionte Collins and Malcolm Maganda added 10 apiece.
For Brebeuf, Cale Calura led the way with 17 points.
Brebeuf won its first two games – 67-63 over Milton’s Jean Vanier Knights and 70-60 over the St. Marcellinus Spirit of Mississauga. Daniel Graham paced the Braves with a combined 31 points.
The St. Thomas More Knights split their first two starts. They defeated Welland’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 79-73, behind the 22 points of Jojo Lingisi and 19 by Isaiah Parkinson. The Knights then fell, 74-69, to Brampton’s St. Marguerite d’Youville Panthers (Jonah Fournier netted 13 points for More).
A fourth HWCAA team also saw action. The Cardinal Newman Cardinals lost 46-42 to Holy Trinity and 86-80 to Toronto’s John Paul II Panthers. Dezayne Mingo, with 24 points, and Alban Pllana, with 26, were the top scorers for last year’s finalists from Newman.
Cathedral’s opening victory Friday was 59-56 over John Paul II.
Other all-star selections from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association were Collins (Cathedral) and Calura (Brebeuf).
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league quarter-final playoffs begin Monday, Feb. 11. The Bishop Ryan Celtics take on Cathedral, while the Bishop Tonnos Titans face Brebeuf and the St. Mary Crusaders play at Cardinal Newman. First-place St. Thomas More has an opening-round bye.