HomeE/M SentinelE/M Sentinel NewsSt. Thomas Aquinas claims both boys and girls GMC basketball crowns

St. Thomas Aquinas claims both boys and girls GMC basketball crowns

For the second time in three years, the Greater Middlesex Conference boys and girls basketball landscape was headlined by St. Thomas Aquinas High School of Edison.

Trojan Nation reigned supreme at Monroe High School on Feb. 25 during the finals of the conference tournament.

Just like in 2020, both the St. Thomas Aquinas boys and girls basketball teams walked out as conference champions, cementing the school’s place as a basketball powerhouse on both sides of the GMC and in the state.

“We want to turn this school into a basketball school,” said St. Thomas Aquinas boys basketball player Adam Silas. “Pretty soon, I see this school becoming the basketball powerhouse of New Jersey.”

Silas led the Trojans to their second conference crown in three years with a 69-53 victory over Colonia High School of Woodbridge, scoring a game-high 37 points with 11 rebounds in his double-double championship performance that earned him Finals MVP.

The stellar play of Silas helped St. Thomas Aquinas climb out of an 11-2 hole to begin the contest.

Silas busted the Trojans on a 23-6 run with his 18 first-half points, which ultimately led to St. Thomas Aquinas taking a 31-24 lead over Colonia into the half.

“We knew it was going to be a game of runs,” Silas said. “We knew (Colonia) was going to have their run. They had their run first, so we knew when we went on our run that it had to be way better and we did that.”

Silas and the Trojans kept on rolling in the second half, extending their lead to 49-33 entering the fourth quarter.

St. Thomas Aquinas racked up its third conference championship in the fourth quarter with momentum shifting plays.

Following a three-point play by Silas, junior Jalen Pichardo followed up with a three-point sequence of his own that put the Trojans up 57-43 with just over four minutes to play.

Pichardo jumped up to grab the offensive rebound off the missed shot by teammate Jaden Kelly and went right back up with his right hand to knock in the layup as he was fouled. The junior went on to complete the three-point play at the free-throw line to put St. Thomas Aquinas up 14 and finished his night with 11 points and eight rebounds.

Kelly also finished in double figures for the Trojans, scoring 10 points in the victory over Colonia.

There has been a lot of winning for the Trojans the four years with Bob Turco at the helm.

In his four years as head coach, Turco has led St. Thomas Aquinas to a mark of 79-18 and two GMC championships. St. Thomas Aquinas is currently 26-1 this season.

The Trojans claimed their first GMC title since 1992 two years ago when they defeated South Brunswick in the conference final.

Turco said breaking the drought and winning that first championship in 2020 was exciting, but believes this recent conference title means more to the program.

He feels it shows the growth of the program the last few years and most importantly, how good his new crop of players are as a team on and off the court.

“This is the best team I’ve ever had,” Turco said after winning the final game. “They’re Division I people. They truly like each other and care about each other. These kids come to practice every day and work their tails off. They absolutely showed everyone what they can do together.”

On the girls side, St. Thomas Aquinas earned a three-peat by defeating South Brunswick High School 64-58 in the GMC final.

St. Thomas Aquinas won back–to-back years in 2019 and 2020. The GMC Tournament was not held last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is special,” said head Coach Joe Whalen after winning the GMC championship. “I’m so happy for the girls. We hope to do this all the time.”

The Trojans’ front court duo of junior Jessica Cooper and freshman Leah Crosby wreaked havoc in the paint all game long.

Crosby tallied a team-high 21 points with 14 rebounds, while Cooper knocked in 20 points and racked up seven boards. Crosby won Finals MVP with her double-double championship performance.

“It feels so good,” Crosby said of being named MVP. “My teammates are so proud of me. My family is so proud of me. It makes me happy to make them all proud.”

Cooper scored eight of her 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Trojans hold off a late comeback attempt by the Vikings.

St. Thomas Aquinas led South Brunswick 49-29 heading into the fourth quarter and watched the Vikings fight back to make it a six-point game (60-54) with 26.8 seconds left to play.

Cooper would knock in two free-throw attempts to get the St. Thomas Aquinas lead back up to eight and helped the Trojans hold on to win their third consecutive conference championship.

“This was the biggest game of my life so far and I came ready to play,” Cooper said. “We knew what we had to do to win. This is something we’ve all been preparing for. It’s really exciting for us.”

Senior Kayla Perez scored 12 points and knocked in three shots from behind the arc for the Trojans in the victory over South Brunswick.

St. Thomas Aquinas is currently 21-3 on the season.

 

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