Pope John wins girls basketball 2024 NJSIAA North, Non-Public A Championship
Pope John celebrates after winning the North, Non-Public A Girls Basketball Championship. (Photo by Christopher Shannon- JSN)

Pope John Secures First Girls Basketball Sectional Title in a Quarter Century

Before the celebration began in earnest, Pope John girls' basketball head coach Peter Torres had to sigh a huge sigh of relief. After all, his team had just won a thriller of an NJSIAA North, Non-Public A Championship Game, topping Immaculate Heart Academy, 39-38, and ending the Blue Eagles' sectional title streak at 11.

The tone of the game was set early as it was clear that both teams were evenly matched, and the game would be a dogfight--even though the game itself was a battle between lions and eagles.

From the start, the teams struggled to score against their opponent's defense, with neither team being able to muster more than 14 points in a quarter, with at least one team being held to single digits in three of the game's four quarters.

A team led by its defense throughout the season, IHA held Pope John to their second-lowest point total of the season and lowest in a win. Still, the Lions were able to match the Blue Eagles' defensive intensity, holding Immaculate Heart their third-lowest point total of the year.  Additionally, the Lions recorded five steals compared to the Blue Eagles' three, with Kaitlyn Platt and Mia Washington leading the way for PJ with two apiece.  Furthermore, Pope John out-blocked IHA five to zero.  Addison Platt had three stuffs to lead the Lions.

Pope John was led offensively by Katie O'Keefe and Washington, who dropped 12 and 10 points, respectively, against Immaculate Heart, while the Platt sisters cleaned up on the boards, pulling down 17 of the Lions' 21 rebounds between them.  The two Platts also played a pivotal role in the outcome of the game as Addison scored the go-ahead bucked with under two minutes to play, and Kaitlyn grabbed the rebound that would seal the game for Pope John after two missed Blue Eagle free throws with 0.7 seconds left in the game.  

Sofia Valente was the only IHA player to score double figures, netting 11 points, while Samantha Grella hauled in eight rebounds.  Defensively, Selena Cieszko had all three of the Blue Eagles' steals.

With the win, Pope John took home their first sectional crown in 26 years and advances to play Red Bank Catholic, a 44-26 winner over Paul VI in the South, Non-Public A sectional, in the NJSIAA Non-Public A State Championship Game at Rutgers' Jersey Mike's Arena on Friday.

Christopher Shannon