By JOE JASINSKI
Saint John’s Seminary, Seminarian
BRIGHTON — After nearly 13 hours that encompassed four 40-minute games, three trips back and forth between Saint John’s Seminary and Boston College’s recreation center, two gut-it-out battles against a machine-like unit out of Worcester that dropped 93 points in an earlier game, and one celebratory shower of water bottles that had his half-zip still soaked, Our Lady of the Angels (Hanover) head coach Tim Habeeb had to admit something.
“Honestly — and I don’t know if you want to say this,” Habeeb began with a chuckle, “but honestly, we thought it was going to be a bunch of pick-up games.”
Can you blame him? It hadn’t been done before, this fanciful idea cleverly coined the “Saint John’s Seminary Invitational” that actually, somehow, someway (Thank you, Blessed Mother), came to fruition on an unusually not-so-cold New England winter day. What started with all eight parish teams, representing the Dioceses of Worcester and Providence, R.I., and the Archdiocese of Boston, accompanied by family and friends, entering into the Saint John's Seminary Chapel for Solemn Morning Prayer and Mass at 8:30 a.m. finally concluded with Hanover’s Our Lady of the Angels erasing a 10-point halftime deficit to muscle past Auburn’s North American Martyrs and become the Invite’s first champion with a 51-47 victory.
“Our team never gave up. Never gave up. We were never worried … or at least the sidelines were never worried,” said Habeeb, who watched the likes of Joe and Brian Gill, Christian and Andrew Julian, James Richie and Co. march ahead with two minutes to play and never look back. “We had great support. What else do I say? What are some other clichés coaches say?”
“Did you say we never gave up?” Hanover guard Derek Keough asked.
Once Habeeb accepted the gold trophy, every Hanover player unscrewed the water-bottle top and let it rain on the nine-year Life Teen director. It rained like it had much of the day for North American Martyrs, whose 64 points per game marked the Invite’s highest scoring average. And it rained like it did for Resurrection (Hingham) sniper Chris Larnard in his tour-de-force 3-point contest title run, in which he buried 13-of-16 triples during one stretch in the finals.
“Honestly, competing in it was really nerve-racking. I was nervous just because you’re in the spotlight in front of everybody,” said Larnard, who’d asked his teammates if he could represent the parish in the shooting contest, “but once it started, I just found my groove, and obviously I ended up doing well.”
It capped a day to remember for Larnard, who’d canned a game-tying corner 3 in the final seconds of Resurrection’s first game of the day, sending them into overtime against the Saint John’s Seminary squad. The high-school junior, who serves as a Life Teen Core member at Rez, said some of the 3-ball magic might have had to do with the five sugar cookies he crushed at dinner (“They ran out, though. I would’ve had more.”). But more had to do with the day’s overall feel.
“I just liked the community, just getting to meet all different people from all different parishes, because I usually only get to meet, from a faith aspect, people from Resurrection,” Larnard said.
“But to do something fun, get to see the lives of seminarians — I had no idea what (they) do — it was just a fun day of prayer, basketball, being with people I know, and people I didn’t know.”
The “encounter” aspect proved thematic: From Deacon Peter Schirripa’s homily during Mass (“We are men of the Incarnation!”) to sharing meals, from 1,159 total points scored through the dozen games to encounters with Christ through Eucharistic Adoration and Confession (four priests availed themselves to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation) during a communal Holy Hour in the evening, “it just showed people what it’s all about: getting Catholic men together,” North American Martyrs captain Jeff Barbale said. “And what it’s really all about: God’s first.”
The hoops just follow.
For Habeeb, Hanover’s win came thanks to the “little things.” And that could be felt throughout the day as well. Jay and Janine Gonya watched from start to finish as their sons Peter, James, and Joseph helped Saint Thomas the Apostle (Millis) stave off SJS 50-43 in the third–place game to secure bronze, while four other Gonya kids (Jay and Janine have 16 total) scurried around the Margot Connell Recreation Center courts all day. After an opening-round loss, Immaculate Heart of Mary (Still River) grinded out a win in Game 2, in which Malkamu Creaghan came inches from bringing down the gym with his dunk attempt. Despite several players having sick kids at home, Holy Name (West Roxbury) battled through and even held a momentary lead against the eventual champs (“I was most nervous about our opening opponent,” Habeeb said of Holy Name.). And one player from St. Brendan’s, whose ever-present Providence supporters earned the “Best Fans” plaque, offered a casual remark that carried some serious weight: “I really want to become Catholic again.”
Anecdotes aplenty, the inaugural event offered so much — tension, tired legs, loads of memories, and motivation for next year. For North American Martyrs, who traveled together from Auburn, “The ride (home) together was tough,” admitted Barbale, who found himself still replaying the game in his head late into the night (before being woken up promptly by his three kids early Sunday morning).
“But we will be back next year,” he assured, “hopefully in better shape both religiously and on the court.”
Our Lady of the Angels 33, Saint Thomas the Apostle 29
North American Martyrs 57, Saint John's Seminary 42
Saint Thomas the Apostle 50,
Saint John's Seminary 43
Our Lady of the Angels 51,
North American Martyrs 47