Unveiling its new gym, the Rob and Alice Thomas Student Life Center, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy pulled out all the stops.
Before the game, the namesake donors were honored and given a commemorative piece of the hardwood.
During timeout breaks, there was a DJ, producing some juice the already-lively student section could feed off of.
At halftime, the school’s a cappella group kept the crowd entertained.
Oh, and the Wolves played some ball, too.
Despite hitting a severe cold-spell in the second half, SJCA hung on to a massive halftime lead, sinking Southern Huntingdon 64-58 on Wednesday night.
The Wolves (1-0) nearly blew a 22-point lead, allowing the Rockets to creep as close as four points.
But before their lackadaisical play in the final two quarters, SJCA was buzzing.
“First game, big crowd, we had a lot going on here, and the guys were psyched,” Wolves coach Richard Ciambotti said. “They came off firing.”
The Wolves jumped out to an early 10-2 lead thanks to two free throws and a pair of 3-pointers, sparking the student support. The free throws, sunk by Stephen Beattie, were the first points scored at the Rob and Alice Thomas Student Life Center.
They also got Beattie on the scoring sheet, something he’d continue to add to. The senior finished with a team-high 25 points, nailing 10 of 17 attempts from the field.
Ciambotti called Beattie “the whole package,” and he played like it.
His 14 points highlighted a dominant first half for the Wolves. SJCA’s 23-point second quarter was more than Southern Huntingdon’s first two periods combined.
Things were different to start the third quarter, though, as the Rockets drained 7 of 9 shots to start the second half. The Wolves gave Southern Huntingdon too much cushion defensively, and forced passes on the offensive end.
Ciambotti wasn’t happy.
“You have to continue to play,” the coach said. “You can’t ease up and try to coast to a victory.”
Meanwhile, Rockets coach Stacy Horne was pleased with his players’ fight.
“When you’re down 20-plus points, it’s hard to get kids to believe they can come back,” Horne noted. “But these kids are believers. They gave St. Joe’s a run for their money.”
In the fourth quarter, for the most part, it was all Southern Huntingdon. The Rockets clamped down defensively, not allowing a made field goal until the 3:40 mark, and on offense, they were consistent if nothing else.
Their 25-point fourth quarter was bolstered by unnerved free-throw shooting, converting 13 of 15 attempts in the face of SJCA’s student section. Six of those foul shots were made by the team’s lone returning letterwinner, Christian Cornelius. He recorded a team-high 20 points.
With 12.5 seconds remaining in the game, Southern Huntingdon cut SJCA’s lead to 62-58 after a 3-pointer by Noah Wilson.
But, after a necessary foul, the Wolves could ice a season-opening triumph.
It was on the shoulders of freshman guard Shawn Beattie. He had two free throws to put things to rest, and he capitalized, sinking both.
Beattie’s coach wasn’t surprised, either.
“He’s going to be in pressure spots,” Ciambotti said. “We wouldn’t have the ball in his hands if we didn’t have the confidence in him.”
With the free throws, SJCA polished off a win in its first game in its new home.
Ciambotti needed a deep breath before reflecting on the evening’s importance.
The coach has been with the Wolves since they started a basketball program three years ago, and, while not pleased with how the Wolves started the second half, he’s proud of how far SJCA has come.
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Ciambotti said with a smile. “I’ve thought about this night for probably longer than anybody else in here.
“And just seeing it come to fruition is awesome.”