Stepinac coach Tim Philip was not about to push the panic button earlier this month, when the defending CHSAA 'A' champs suffered through a four-game league losing-streak, which included losses to Mount St. Michael and Cardinal Hayes.
The Crusaders showed how far they've come on Saturday, leading start to finish and handily beating Fordham Prep, 71-44, in the CHSAA 'A' quarterfinals held at Mount St. Michael.
James Chillemi scored a game-high 17 points and Josh James added 12 points as Stepinac (17-9) won its fifth straight game. The Crusaders will play Mount St. Michael in the semifinals on Tuesday at Spellman High School.
The Crusaders made 25 of 37 shots and were 17-for-22 from the free throw line.
"We've been playing really well. It's been balanced," Philip said.
Fordham Prep (20-5) had been the hottest team heading into the 'A' playoffs, winning seven of eight regular season games to clinch the Central Division title. But the Rams had no answers for Stepinac's balanced offensive attack.
Stepinac came out on fire to start the game, racing to an 11-1 lead just three minutes in. The Crusaders were able to create their own shots on their way to a 21-12 lead and continued the hot shooting straight into halftime, at which point they led 41-25.
"They've got so many options. They're good," said Fordham Prep coach Kevin Pigott. "It wasn't in the cards for us this time around."
As well as they played offensively, the Crusaders will need the same defensive effort against Mount St. Michael and its leading scorer, Pete Aguiar, when the teams play on Tuesday. The senior guard was a key factor in Mount's two wins over Stepinac in the regular season, the most recent being a 58-49 victory on January 28.
Aguiar put his skills on display in an earlier game on Saturday, scoring a game-high 27 points as the top-seeded Mountaineers (24-1) dispatched Monsignor McClancy, 72-50, in another quarterfinal. Tuesday's game between the Mountaineers and Crusaders will be held at Cardinal Spellman HS.
HAYES 73, FARRELL 52: Junior center Amadou Sidibe scored a game-high 24 points and junior forward Fadil Yacoubou added 22 points to lead the Cardinals (20-5), who will play Iona Prep in Tuesday's ‘A' semifinal.
IONA PREP 36, ST. EDMUND PREP 29: The Gaels (12-12) held St. Edmund scoreless for the last 4:19 of the game to earn a spot in the semifinals. St. Edmund (15-10) missed its last seven shots.
"Neither team could make a shot," Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo said. "It was a defensive battle, but that's what we hang our hats on - defense."
GIRLS SEMIS SET: In the Archdiocesan girls quarterfinals at Cardinal Spellman, Spellman beat Notre Dame Academy, 69-35, and Moore Catholic beat Maria Regina, 48-35. In the quarterfinals at St. John Villa, St. Peter's won, 64-38, over Preston, and St. John Villa beat Our Lady of Victory, 67-41.