WASHINGTON, D.C. – Everything went according to plan for the DeMatha Catholic High School boys basketball team. Down by one, with 5.8 seconds remaining, junior Hunter Dickinson inbounded the ball to an open Justin Moore, the team’s top scorer for the past two seasons.
Moore began to drive inside the key, laying up a floating shot as time expired. As the ball moved floated in the air, Casey Morsell had other ideas. The senior guard swatted the shot away before it could touch the rim. Moore attempted to chase the ball down, hoping for a miracle.
However, a St. John’s player beat him to it and tossed it away as the buzzer sounded. Moore looked towards the sky, speechless, as Cadet players began to celebrate.
“We knew Justin was going to get it and we tried to make it as hard for him as possible,” Morsell said. “And we forced him to my side, and I knew he was not going to pass it, so that’s why I was able to jump up and go get it… We always believed we could be any team in the county if we execute and play a full 32 minutes and that is what we did today.”
One year after stunning the local basketball scene and winning their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Boys Basketball Championship after a seven-year hiatus, the Stags were the favorites to win it all. However, it was not meant to be as the No. 5 seeded St. John’s stunned DeMatha, 53-52 at Bender Arena, sending the Hyattsville-based squad home in the semifinals on Feb. 24.
The loss was a tragic end to their conference season, where the Stags only loss to two times against WCAC foes. DeMatha (27-5) entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed and had no problems dispatching Good Counsel in the quarterfinals, 81-42, on Feb. 23.
“We very disappointed we did not win but we fought, and I am very proud of my guys,” DeMatha Head Coach Mike Jones said. “But hats off to St. John’s; they have been a very good team all year long, and they made the plays that they needed to make.”
However, early on against the Cadets, DeMatha struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Only junior Earl Timberlake Jr. found his shot, scoring eight of his team-high 19 points in the opening period.
After being shutout for the first eight minutes, Moore woke up in the second quarter by adding five of his 15 points, (including a fadeaway 3-point jumper as time expired), to give DeMatha a slight three-point lead heading into halftime.
After a defensive third quarter by both teams, St. John’s (23-9) exploded in the fourth. The Cadets scored on four straight possessions, six points coming from Morsell, to take a two-point lead with under four minutes remaining. After trading the lead multiple times, junior guard Darius Maddox’s converted 3-point play with a 1:10 left gave St. John’s a four-point cushion.
Morsell was thought to have hit an early dagger after sinking in a floating jumper a step away from the charity stripe for his game-high 20 points. However, Timberlake was not finished with his star-making performance, scoring an over 25-foot 3-pointer with seven seconds left, bringing down DeMatha’s deficit to one.
A botched inbound play by St. John’s set up the Stags with one more shot at winning the game. Following the block to end the game, Jones and his players spend over 20 minutes in their locker room, reviewing the tournament and season as a whole.
“It just sucks that we could not get it done for the seniors,” Dickinson, who scored nine points, said. “It was a hard game; I just hope we come out in these next two weeks to get rest, come back and get it done for them.”
While admitting that his team is always thinking about the future, Jones wanted his players to think of its current state.
The Stags will have two more tournaments to claim glory before saying goodbye to this year’s senior class, which includes Moore. However, for the team’s captain, the semifinal defeat was an opportunity missed in winning back-to-back WCAC Championships.
“We definitely grew this season, and I thank my guys for fighting, but we just came up short,” Moore said. “I just hope that the younger guys can learn from the mistakes that we made and come back next year and perform.”