Boys tournament rewind: The Ramblers went down to Naples, Florida, for the second December in a row to play in the Gulfcoast Holiday Hoopfest and once again returned home with the tournament title and an MVP award.
Loyola beat Deerfield Beach, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, 53-50 on Saturday at Golden Gate High School to finish 4-0. Senior guard Kevin Cunningham had 23 points, three steals and took two charges in Saturday’s win to secure MVP honors.
Cunningham, a captain, was more interested in talking about the team than himself.
“We took some really good steps forward,” he said. “This tournament was good for all of us, not just me.”
Loyola head coach Tom Livatino didn’t shy away from praising Cunningham’s performance. The team leader in points for the tournament — shooting 16-for-30 from 3-point range — he also dominated on the defensive end, totaling 14 steals.
In the 47-41 win over Lehigh in the semifinals Friday, Cunningham had 14 points, five rebounds, four steals and took two charges.
“He played with a lot of swagger,” Livatino said. “We need him to do that. He’s our best player, and he was the best basketball player at the tournament.”
The Ramblers (11-2) opened with a 49-33 win over Lely, of Naples, before beating Palmetto Ridge, of Naples, 46-35.
“We played with great energy,” Livatino said. “This was a real positive experience for us, and I hope we can keep it going back home. I’m encouraged where we are going.”
Supporting cast: While Cunningham was the star, several other Ramblers contributed to the championship.
Junior guard Connor Barrett scored a team-best 23 in the win over Palmetto Ridge and was selected to the all-tournament team. Senior forward Pete Mangan continued to show why he’s valuable to the Ramblers. In the title game, he had four assists and took two charges, both in the fourth quarter.
“Kevin, Petey and Connor have been consistent all year for us,” Livatino said. “Kevin and Connor do the scoring, but Petey helps us out in so many other ways. He’s a winning basketball player. He remains our unsung hero.”
Seniors Vahe Kalayjian, John Lynch and Patrick Russell and sophomores Bennett Kwiecinski and Jordan Kwiecinski all played key roles in Loyola’s run to the title, according to Livatino. The Kwiecinski brothers each dunked for the first time in a varsity game Saturday.
“Those five are crucial for us, and they all raised their level of play at the tournament,” Livatino said.
Girls tournament rewind: In their first trip to Florida for the holidays, the Ramblers took third place at the Naples Holiday Shootout by beating Council Rock North, of Newtown, Pennsylvania, 42-38 on Saturday at Gulf Coast High School.
Sophomore forward Addison Ebeling led Loyola with 17 points.
The Ramblers (14-2) beat Braden River, of Bradenton, Florida, 61-48 in the first round. They then lost to Ursuline, of New Orleans, 62-57 in the second round.
Junior guard Julia Martinez was named to the all-tournament team.
In a non-tournament game Wednesday, Loyola beat Colegio Adianez, of Puerto Rico, 55-44.
Traveling Ramblers: Several members of Loyola’s administration were in attendance at both the boys and girls tournament games in Naples.
Those who were seen cheering on the Ramblers included Principal Kathryn Baal and Executive Vice President Dennis Stonequist. Bill San Hamel, the counseling department chair, and Les Seitzinger, the principal gifts chair, also were rooting on the basketball teams.
“We had a lot of support,” Livatino said. “We know we are truly grateful to be able to come here and play basketball.”
Up next: The boys team visits Mount Carmel on Friday in a Catholic Blue game. The Ramblers are 1-1 in league play. The girls team plays Evanston at home Saturday. Both teams are at the Class 4A Maine East Sectional.