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In a season filled with unexpected twists and turns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dreams came true for one Monsignor Martin team – the St. Joe’s Marauders are once again champions.

The Marauders, who hadn’t won a Manhattan Cup as champions of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association since 2008 – and hadn’t won a championship and a regular season title since 2006 – clinched their status as the best team in the league on Saturday with a 78-67 win over Bishop Timon-St. Jude. That victory also avenged their loss in the final the year before.

“It feels normal to me at this point,” coach Gabe Michael said. “If you think about it, a year ago things aren’t looking great. The world’s in a different place now and to accomplish what they did today, I think it’s a really special thing. Just looking back retrospectively, I think these kids will really enjoy this moment – I don’t know if anyone’s won a Manhattan Cup on their home court before, because normally we’re playing at Canisius College and teams cut down nets there, so that was pretty cool. We took these opportunities and just ran with them and made the best of the situation.”

The Timon Tigers, who were trying to win their first Cup in 20 years, took the loss in stride.

“Our guys fought hard and so did Joe’s,” coach Jason Rowe said. “This is what you want to be a part of as a coach because it was an awesome game. We had a lot of bad turnovers and mistakes, and I feel like we didn’t get the stops that we needed… we would score but when you would get two or three baskets in a row and then they come right back and hit a big one – that takes that four-point lead to seven in a matter of one possession. It kind of takes the air out of the room a little bit. “But our hats are off to Coach Michael and his team for how they executed their game plan. Slaughter especially, he hurt us a lot in transition.”

Slaughter – that is, Marauders senior Jaden Slaughter – was named Most Valuable Player of the game after scoring a team-high 25 points in the win.

“Slaughter had a heck of a game. He was outstanding, he does that for us almost every night and if he doesn’t, then we’re not the same team,” Michaels said. “He’s a great player and he was very focused on the task at hand today.

“Jaden is great at what he needs to do for the team. Certain teams are going to try and just take him away and he’s going to say, ‘Ok I’ll get my nine or 10 assists.’ He’s just great at playing the game and doing whatever it takes to win.”

The game itself was a back-and-forth battle between the two squads over the first two quarters, with the Marauders taking leads of five and four points after the first and second quarters. The intensity was obvious, as each side drove to the net hard and took bumps and hits to make plays.

The Marauders got hot in the third quarter as they built leads of 14 points twice, especially after Jamyier Patton was pulled after picking up his fourth foul of the game. But the Tigers wouldn’t go away. Patton came back in, and he and Kamar Goudelock helped their team climb back with a 10-1 run to be down by five going into the last stanza of play.

It wasn’t meant to be for the Tigers, however. Patton fouled out with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter and had to watch as both Slaughter and junior Justin Glover put the game away with multiple big plays.

Following the contest, Michaels looked around and noticed that some sense of normalcy had returned to the Marauders’ home court. A limited number of fans and spectators were allowed to watch the title game, and it reminded him of what the team had to go through to make it through the season unscathed.

“Today was really cool because it felt like a normal game with people in the stands, and all season it’s been tough to deal with COVID restrictions,” Michaels said. “But they embraced it and we always talk about unexpected adversity, but this season was the ultimate form of unexpected adversity. The question then becomes, ‘How do you handle it?’ It turns out that we handled it really well.”

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