Braves Dash Gael’s Title Hopes with Victory

Braves Dash Gael’s Title Hopes with Semifinal Victory
Posted on 02/15/2024

By Larry Moko
For the second consecutive year the Cathedral Gaels have suffered a high school basketball semifinal loss on their home court.

In 2022-2023, the visiting Bishop Ryan Celtics denied Cathedral a shot at the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic title and Wednesday the St. Jean de Brébeuf Braves did the same thing by walking away with a 62-54 victory.

Cathedral finished first in the standings this season with a record of 13-1 while third-place Brébeuf was 8-6.

The Braves will take on the defending champion St. John Henry Newman Cardinals in the final on Friday. Second-place Newman punched its ticket with a 45-35 win over the fourth-place Bishop Tonnos Titans.

“We worked hard on our game plan at practice over the last couple of days,” Braves coach Jae Dunphy said. “We really locked in on what we wanted to do and where we wanted to focus.”

The Braves, who lost twice to Cathedral during the regular schedule, trailed 14-11 at the end of the first quarter but took a 31-25 lead into the intermission. Brébeuf’s advantage was 47-45 at three quarters and it was ahead by as many as 10 points in the fourth.

Grade 11 student Omaree Francis sparked the Braves with 19 points and numerous dynamic defensive plays. Kevahn Taylor contributed 14 points and Joey Nsenda added 13.

For Cathedral, Josh Granger-Bigford netted 21 points. Jaden Campbell chipped in with 12 and Kaiden King-Stewart scored 11.

The visitors struck for three three-point baskets to start the final quarter – two by Francis.

“We made a little switch in our lineup having Omaree in a starting spot today,” Dunphy said. “He had normally been coming in off the bench around the four-minute mark.

“I think he wreaked havoc with their ball handlers in the back court. Knowing that he was lurking made them defensive and indecisive. He made some great plays when he committed to pounce.”
The Brébeuf coach said improved free-throw shooting was also a factor in the outcome.

“I think we went 9-for-14,” he said. “Considering where we’ve been in the last couple of weeks, we needed that.  We hit enough to keep ourselves in it and not lose confidence.”

Dunphy pointed out, too, that Nsenda, the transfer from France, played almost 31 of 32 minutes and made “great decisions” with the ball as a centre.

“In previous games he may have been a little rattled by the pressure, but today he was as cool as a cucumber. He made a big difference for us.”

Francis, a 6-foot-1 forward/guard, was pleased with Brébeuf’s overall performance.

“I was really disappointed how we played the first two games against them,” he said. “We lost off silly mistakes and let them get a lot of easy baskets.

“Now that we know how to position ourselves on defence it’s a lot easier for us.”

Dunphy sees similarities between Francis and Josh Omojafo, who played for Brébeuf’s 2019 championship team and currently leads the Gannon University Golden Knights in scoring (averaging 20.1 points).

“Josh was also an explosive Grade 11 athlete who made big plays. He was great on defence. He was our spark plug and had a knack for the moment. I see a bit of Omojafo in Omaree’s game.”

Newman and Brébeuf split their season series – 58-46 for the Cardinals then 61-43 for the Braves.

Cathedral recently reached the semifinal round of the Ontario Catholic Classic tournament in St. Catharines. The Gaels bowed out, 67-57, to Brampton Notre Dame.


Photos by Bob Butrym, RFB Sport Photography

More photos on the HWCDSB Athletics Facebook page here