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With as much talent as any roster in the Shore Conference, St. Rose did not have the look of a team that would have to deal with much adversity during this past boys basketball season, but hardship hits in many forms and finds the best of teams.

For St. Rose, there was the first 11 games of the season in which it played without three transfers, then a team-wide bout with the flu right after the three transfers became eligible.

The toughest test for the Purple Roses, however, was dealing with a crushing defeat. After squandering a 13-point lead with 1:56 to go in an overtime loss to Ranney in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal, St. Rose then lost a road regular season game to Marlboro and went into the state tournament playing its shakiest basketball of the season.

By the end of the NJSIAA Tournament, St. Rose reasserted itself as a contender for the No. 1 spot in New Jersey heading into 2024 and nabbed the final Jersey Mike's Team of the Week Award of 2023.

Photo: Steve Meyer
Photo: Steve Meyer

Even after the poor finish to the pre-state-tournament schedule, the Purple Roses had a golden opportunity in front of them as the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Non-Public B bracket. After earning a first-round bye, St. Rose overpowered three straight opponents to capture the program's first state sectional title since 2004.

First, St. Rose rolled through Holy Cross Prep, 65-47, on Feb. 24 to close out their first calendar week of the NJSIAA Tournament. The Purple Roses then opened last week with a resounding, 87-52, win over St. Joseph of Hammonton in which they outscored the Wildcats, 31-9, in the first quarter.

In the win over St. Joe's, juniors Matt Hodge and Gio Panzini combined for 27 of the 31 first-quarter points, with Hodge exploding for 17 of his game-high 24 in the first eight minutes. Hodge also added 10 rebounds and five assists, while Panzini supported the cause with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.

In its next game, St. Rose traveled to Lenape High School for the South Non-Public B championship against second-seeded Bishop Eustace -- a neutral site, but just a 20-minute drive from Bishop Eustace High School and well over an hour from Belmar.

St. Rose made itself at home early and and put the game away with an 11-2 fourth-quarter run that stretched its lead to 53-34 with under three minutes to go. Hodge was again the star, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a 59-43 Purple Roses win that ended a 19-year championship drought for the program.

With a team that does not have senior in the top seven of its rotation, St. Rose had an opportunity to establish itself as an early favorite in 2023-24 by taking on defending Tournament of Champions winner and top-ranked Roselle Catholic in the Non-Public B championship game Friday at Rutgers.

The defending champion Lions boasted three players committed to Power Five college programs: Mackenzie Mgbako (Duke), Simeon Wilcher (North Catholina) and Akil Watson (Arizona State). Against that talented roster, St. Rose took a 44-43 lead into the fourth quarter, sparked by a 16-2 mid-third-quarter run that turned a 10-point deficit into what was, briefly, a four-point lead.

During the fourth quarter, Roselle Catholic flexed its muscle and pulled away for a 68-59 win over the Purple Roses, but St. Rose's third-quarter run was a window into what the Purple Roses could be in 2023-24, when they are set to return those top seven players: Hodge, Panzini, sophomore Bryan Ebeling, sophomore Peter Mauro, sophomore Evan Roman and freshmen Jayden Hodge and Tyler Cameron.

Even without pulling off the massive upset over Roselle Catholic, last week was a landmark one for a St. Rose program that came into the season with considerable expectations and succeeded in putting the program back on the statewide map.


2023 Jersey Mike's Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Raritan

Week 2: Southern

Week 3: Middletown South

Week 4: Lacey

Week 5: Ocean

Week 6: Ranney

Week 7: Manasquan

Week 8: Marlboro

Week 9: St. Rose


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