High school boys basketball: Senior Erik Stern rallies Walsh Jesuit for 54-46 victory over Archbishop Hoban

Jimmy Miller
For the Beacon Journal
Walsh Jesuit's Ben Ligan, left, celebrates as the Warriors beat Archbishop Hoban 54-46 on Tuesday night. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Behind late-game heroics and timely shots in the paint, Walsh Jesuit defeated Archbishop Hoban 54-46 Tuesday in the Barry Gymnasium.

Warriors senior forward Erik Stern, who was held scoreless in the first quarter while Walsh (11-3) fell behind by double digits, said it was his worst offensive performance of the season. Had things not drastically changed early, freshman forward Jonas Nichols – who had five points just three minutes into the game – and the Knights would’ve continued to run away with the victory.

But Warriors coach Kevin Byrne called a timeout and challenged his players to get more aggressive in a message that he joked was just “a subtle reminder.”

From there, the Warriors hung around until they finally took their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter, in which Stern scored five of his 16 points when the Warriors needed him most.

Archbishop Hoban's Jonas Nichols, left, has his shot blocked by Walsh Jesuit's Erik Stern during the Warriors' 54-46 win Tuesday night at Hoban. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

“In the second half, we were able to get it inside to Erik a little bit more effectively,” Byrne said. “It was kind of a cliché game in some ways where they’re so active and they’re a little smaller, and we’re a little bigger and we have to try to get the game played to our strength. Finally, we were able to get a little separation in the end.”

Stern has been the team’s leader all season and he’s pulled through as of late. Junior guard Rico Pickett said Stern, not known to be a “rowdy guy,” sent a long message to his teammates after the Warriors’ blowout loss to St. Vincent-St. Mary in mid-January that has since inspired the team’s four-game winning streak.

Walsh Jesuit's Erik Stern, left, is fouled by Archbishop Hoban's Thomas Crowe, right, as he brings down a rebound during the Warriors' 54-46 win Tuesday night at Hoban. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

For his part, Stern said he started pushing to get back into the paint Tuesday night. At 6-foot-8 and as the tallest player on the court, he said it was important to start feeding his teammates from the inside out.

“I tried to get my teammates involved and let shots come to me,” Stern said. “I was a little too much out on the wing ... but I got back to the post and I think that’s what helped turn it around.”

For a while, it seemed the Knights (11-3) couldn’t miss anytime the Warriors pulled close. With Hoban leading 27-26 late in the first half, senior guard Colin Jaroch made a 3-pointer, drew a foul on Walsh junior forward Kole Kuczynski and completed the four-point play.

The Warriors didn’t even manage to get another shot off before halftime.

At the tail end of the third quarter, the Warriors tied the score for the first time on a 3-pointer by Pickett. It had been a particularly quiet quarter for the Knights, who had scored just four points prior to their last possession.

But there was Jaroch again, nailing another 3-pointer to give the Knights a narrow advantage heading into the final quarter.

“They make shots,” Bryne said, adding his team’s defense in the third quarter turned around the game slowly but surely. “Every time you feel like you’re making progress, somebody buries a 3 on you.”

Stern opened the fourth quarter by scoring the first four points for the Warriors, giving them their first lead of the night with a turnaround jumper in the paint. Then, off a Knights miss on the other end, Stern found Pickett on a long outlet pass that Pickett turned into an easy layup.

Kuczynski had a steal and converted it into another score moments later, and senior forward Dom Grguric added two more points after three consecutive missed free throws by Hoban.

When the game unraveled for the Knights, Byrne said he was glad to see his team was still right there ready to take advantage. They even survived two more of Jaroch’s 3-pointers late in the quarter.

“[We knew] they’re not going to stop spreading the floor, we have to stop it ourselves,” Pickett said. “Coach told us to wall up like we do at practice and we’ll be fine.”

Pickett led all scorers with 19 points, and Stern added 16 for the Warriors. Jaroch led the way for the Knights with 18 points, all but two on 3-pointers, and Nichols added 14 points.

“I thought that we played a lot as a team tonight instead of ‘me’ basketball, which is really good,” Stern said. “We hustled on the defensive end and played team basketball, and that’s how you get wins.”

Archbishop Hoban's Jonas Nichols, left, makes a pass around Walsh Jesuit's Max Matta during the second half of the Warriors' 54-46 win Tuesday night at Hoban. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]