By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Worcester – Saint John’s High boys’ varsity basketball head coach Bob Foley will admit in all candor and humility that it never gets old. It never has nor will it ever be.
For the third time in as many years, his Pioneer squad has captured the championship of the Laska Yuletide Invitational tournament held this year for the 12th time at Worcester’s Assumption College on Dec. 29. St. John’s (6-0) broke open a close contest in the second half of its matchup with Wachusett Regional High, taking home the title with a decisive 54-43 victory before a standing-room only crowd at the Laska Gymnasium.
“We just love this tournament. It’s a great atmosphere,” said Foley who is assisted by Bob Foley, Jr., Ken Webster, Mike Curran and Matt LaBove along with manager Reese Brunelle. “People treat us so great. This final game is always a big one. You’ve got a packed-house out there and it’s just fun for the kids to play in this atmosphere.
“I thought we had a lot of sparks out there. We played amazing defense. I’m so proud of our defense because I’ve seen that team (Wachusett) play and they score usually in the 70s and 80s. We live off our defense and our rebounding so this was my type of game tonight.”
“This is always a good time playing at Assumption,” added senior co-captain and team-leading scorer Adham Floyd, who fell into foul trouble early in the third quarter and thus saw less than customary floor time. “It’s great to win with this group of guys. As seniors, this is really special for us this year.”
The Pioneers were led by an across-the-roster performance that was as much about team and no one or group of individuals. Alex Bradley led all scorers with 17 points while Sean Burke and Tyler Moda each added eight along with Nick Lukasevicz chipping in for seven and Cole Stairs, six.
“We have great team chemistry and everyone contributes,” said senior co-captain Lukasevicz. “We all can score. We’re all unselfish and we love passing the ball for open shots. The unselfishness is incredible. Everything is really clicking.”
One of the team’s goals coming in was to at least contain, if not shut down, Wachusett scoring sharpshooter Tyler Dion, who has at times single-handedly carried his team in his four years with the Mountaineers. Foley zeroed in on the diminutive point guard early on and the strategy paid off. Dion netted just eight points, a mere fraction of a typical Dion performance.
“We know how good a talent he is. He can really shoot,” Lukasevicz explained. “He can drive, he can pull up. He’s really a triple threat so we emphasized shutting him down and I thought we did a real good job of that tonight. I thought everyone played him really well. He’s a great kid and a great player but we did really well against him tonight.”
St. John’s now looks ahead to 2016 and hopefully a continuation of the success that has rendered the team undefeated to this point. All six victories have been by double-digit margins against competitive teams proving that the team’s success is no accident.
“Our game is to win one game at a time. We never look ahead,” Foley said. “That’s a big thing for our kids that we don’t take anyone lightly. We don’t take any game lightly. These kids come to play. We work really hard at practice.
“We have such youthful enthusiasm. I lost key players from last year but these kids have really stepped up. Alex Bradley stepping up the way he did. Tyler Mola did a great job at the point guard. Sean Burke did a great job rebounding and scoring. Our seniors give us leadership and lead the way.
“There’s never any jealously at St. John’s. If a young kid can play, the seniors adopt him and don’t get upset that he might be taking someone’s place. It’s all about the team and that’s why they do such a good job.”
Coming off the bench with solid contributions on the night was senior guard and co-captain Joe Murphy who appreciates the competitiveness of tournament victory along with a collective team approach that all players have adopted under Foley’s leadership.
“It means a lot that we can come out in a dogfight like tonight and just play our game and believe in each other,” Murphy said. “This is a special team we have. “I’ve never been on a team like this with such great chemistry on and off the court. This group of guys makes playing basketball fun.”
Besides captains, other members of the 2015 12th Annual Laska Yuletide Invitational champions are senior Joe Lewis (forward) as well as juniors Alex Bradley (guard), Matt Sacco (forward), Cole Stairs (center) and sophomores Hunter Gorgas (center), Tyler Mola (guard), Sean Burke (forward) and Jackson Emus (forward) and freshman Will Goss (center).
Following the game, Bradley was honored as recipient of the Joseph M. O’Brien Memorial Award as outstanding tournament player.