SMITHFIELD — Tuesday night proved to be a valuable learning experience for St. Raphael Academy, particularly for the second unit.
With Charles Correa, Cesar Mejia and the rest of the first teamers resting comfortably on the bench, Tom “Saar” Sorrentine turned to Kaseem Sams, Jordan Peguero, Zach and Nick Mays and Darshaun Vargas. The sight of seeing Correa and Mejia sporting warmups and sipping Gatorade must have been heaven to Smithfield, which trailed 59-41 when Sorrentine called off the hounds.
Instead of enjoying the final 4:44, Sorrentine could only watch with one eye open as the Sentinels made a fast and hard push. By no means where the Saints at all in danger, but Sorrentine didn’t sound like a happy camper after his team “held on” for an appearances-can-be-deceiving 63-55 final.
“This was a night that we could get everyone in. I was telling the guys in the locker room that when you get your shot, you’ve got to produce and show what you can do,” Sorrentine said after St. Raphael improved to 8-0 in Division I-East. “That’s what we’re looking for when those other guys go in.”
What Sorrentine wasn’t in the market for was what transpired in the closing stages Friday night. Granted, Smithfield got hot, particularly reserve Ben Grundy, who hit three 3-pointers after not getting off the bench in the first half. His sweet stroke helped bring the home team to within five (61-55) with 7.9 seconds left. All told Smithfield ended the game on a 14-4 surge.
Looking through a longer lens, the question that Sorrentine has to ask himself moving forward is whether there’s enough adequate cover in the event something happens to Correa, Mejia & Co.
“We need other guys to come in and step up,” Sorrentine implored. “It can’t be the same guys every single night. We need other guys.”
As usual Correa and Mejia lived up to their billing as the game’s headline attractions. Both started the game on an absolute tear with Correa netting nine consecutive points with Mejia just as galvanizing, the senior netting 12 points in a four-minute window.
When Sorrentine opted to step on the breaks, Correa had 17 points and 10 assists with Mejia registering a game-best 21 points. Chad Fair was the only Smithfield player to hit for double figures, the senior finishing with 10 points.
The Sentinels got off to a rough start, missing 14 of their first 15 shots to fall behind 21-6. Defensively Smithfield could only watch with awe as Correa weaved his way around the court, firing off pinpoint passes that resulted in easy scores for Mejia. Correa and Mejia teamed up to score 27 first-half points as SRA took a 35-19 lead into recess.
“Charles and Cesar came out of the blocks and they were hot early,” Sorrentine noted. “They got us going.”
With the Saints comfortably ahead, 33-16, with 2:59 left in the opening stanza, Sorrentine chose to sit Correa, Mejia, Davon Robertson, Malcolm Williams and Abdou Bah down. It’s rare when a coach gets presented with an opportunity to have a teaching moment in the heat of competition. That’s what Sorrentine felt he had when he decided to call upon the second string.
SRA’s band of reserves only scored two points while giving up three to close out the opening half. On a team that counts on Correa and Mejia to be great every single time out, what Sorrentine is on the lookout for is a few good options to provide some sort of spark off the bench. It’s one of the key storylines moving forward as the Saints eye the playoffs and a chance to defend their state championship.