By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
Aaron Clarke and Eddie Davis combined for 49 points while directing the Pope John XXIII Regional High School boys basketball team to a 58-53 comeback victory over Hunterdon Central in the Hunterdon Warren Sussex Tournament semifinals on Saturday at Warren Hills High School in Washington Township.
With the win, the Lions advanced to the tri-county championship game for the sixth time in school history and first time since 2016 when they made it for a fifth consecutive time. The Lions will try to win their sixth HWS title — and first since 2016 when they won their fifth in a row — on Friday night when they take on North Hunterdon in the final at Sparta High School.
“It’s great,” Pope John head coach Vincent Johnson said of his team reaching the final. “The county championship is one of our goals each year. Now, it’s time to complete that process on Friday.”
The Lions (14-10) earned this opportunity in large part because of their dynamic duo in the backcourt.
Clarke, a senior guard bound for NCAA Division I Sacred Heart University, dropped a game-high 29 points for the Lions. As for Davis, a junior guard, he added 20 points.
However, their play — and the Lions’ effort — in the fourth quarter made the difference against the Red Devils (14-10).
Having trailed most of the game and down, 40-35, after the third quarter, the Lions outscored the Red Devils, 23-13, in the fourth. During the period, Clarke and Davis combined for 14 of Pope John’s points, with all their scoring coming in the final three minutes of the game.
The Lions also received some great defensive efforts in the game from Marcus Hopkins, Tahki Hooks and Diandre South. Hopkins led the team with 12 rebounds and three blocks, Hooks notched a team-high three steals and had seven rebounds, and South had six rebounds and two steals.
Johnson was proud of the way his Lions never gave up.
“This group is very resilient,” Johnson said. “They have been through a lot of highs and lows. Pulling it out today just shows the amount of trust they have gained in each other.”
Pope John 58, Hunterdon Central 53
PJ 9 14 12 23 — 58
HC 10 16 14 13 — 53
Pope John: Aaron Clarke 29, Eddie Davis 20, Diandre South 6, Francisco Paulino 2, Marcus Hopkins 1, D’Andre Reed 0, Tahji Hooks 0
Hunterdon Central: David Johansson 16, Sam Johnson 13, Sean Oberman 11, Alex Degen 7, John Sperrazza 6
Records: Pope John 14-10, Hunterdon Central 14-10