On the eve of what could be Neumann-Goretti's first-ever PIAA boys' basketball championship, Saints senior guard Tony Chennault was asked if he were nervous.
"About what?" said Chennault, the Pennsylvania Gatorade player of the year who averages 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds. "Oh, tomorrow night's game? No, it's just another game. We're going to come out with a win."
So goes the confidence, momentum and swagger - they have it - of Neumann-Goretti (29-1) as the District 12 champs prepare for Friday's 8 p.m. tip against District 7 champion Chartiers Valley (29-1) in the Class AAA final at Penn State University's Bryce Jordan Center.
"This team is incredibly loose," said Saints coach Carl Arrigale, who invited his team to his house for a post-practice dinner Thursday night, followed by a Syracuse-Butler game watch to root on former Saints Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson of the Orange. "Our players . . . have been saying all year - I haven't said it - that they have unfinished business going, and I assume that means to the end."
Last season, Neumann-Goretti beat Class AAAA state champion Penn Wood during the regular season and twice defeated Archbishop Carroll before falling to the eventual Class AAA champion Patriots in the state quarterfinals.
"We thought we had a really good year last year," Arrigale said. "We just didn't win that quarterfinal game, and it seemed like that's what everyone wanted to talk about."
The Saints exacted revenge on Carroll in this year's quarterfinals, 53-38. Now, Neumann-Goretti is ranked No. 2 in the nation on ESPN Rise behind Yates, the undefeated Texas 4A state champion and the only team to defeat the Saints this season, 97-96, at the 'Iolani Classic in Hawaii on Dec. 23.
Friday's opponent, Chartiers Valley, has outscored Neumann-Goretti by an average of 12.2 points per game in the state tournament, 84.5-to-72.3.
Colts senior guard T.J. McConnell, a 6-foot Duquesne recruit, leads the state in scoring at 34.3 points per game.
"I can see them playing us like St. Joe's Prep played us - slow it down and shoot a lot of threes," Arrigale said, referring to Neumann-Goretti's 74-60 Catholic League semifinal win on Feb. 24 when St. Joseph's sank 14 treys. "I'm expecting a lot of outside shots. I'm hoping we play defense and then turn some of those long rebounds into fast breaks."
Chartiers Valley made 15 of 31 three-pointers in its 76-67 semifinal win over District 7 two-seed Hampton.
McConnell, son of Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell, is joined by 6-foot-3 junior forward Matt Noszka (15.2 points per game) and guard Wayne Capers, a 6-foot-1 sophomore averaging 12.5 points at states since returning from foot surgery.
Neumann-Goretti will start Chennault, a Wake Forest recruit, senior point guard Tyreek Duren, a La Salle signee (14.3 points per game, five assists), 6-foot-6 dunk machine Danny Stewart (Rider; 13.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg), senior guard Mustafaa Jones (Hartford, 9.7 ppg) and junior guard Lamin Fulton (10.7 ppg).
All five starters scored in double-figures against previously undefeated Eastern York in an 81-73 semifinal win Tuesday night.
Chennault raked in more accolades Wednesday night when the Markwood Club named him both the Catholic League and city player of the year.
Leaving the awards dinner, he turned to Arrigale.