By Dan McGrath

Unfortunate that not a single survivor of the thousand-point, thoughtlessly inhumane beatdown the Leo Lions administered to St. Francis de Sales last season was on the floor for the Pioneers in the rematch at Leo on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

How they would have savored St. Francis’ 67-55 victory.

Too bad it only sort of counts.

After the humiliation of a winless season in 2021-22, struggling St. Francis intended to compete at the frosh-soph level only in the Catholic League this season. But a new coach and enough transfers showed up in the weeks before school started that the Pioneers were able to field a varsity team—a quick, tough, athletic team at that. 

The Catholic League schedule had already been drawn up, however, so it was determined that St. Francis’ varsity games would be recorded as nonconference skirmishes. 

Transfers, you say? While St. Francis was loading up on them, Leo was losing five returnees from last season’s 25-5, CCL championship team in the wake of Coach Jamal Thompson’s resignation. Regardless of what it means in the CCL standings, Tuesday’s exercise proved that the Pioneers’ newcomers were superior to the Lions’ holdovers.

St. Francis closed the first half on an 11-2 run to lead by nine points (34-25) at the halftime break. That lead would grow to 14 and shrink to seven over the course of the second half, but Leo never seemed in any danger of winning as tireless Brandon Lowe Jr. (30 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) and hiccup-quick Aden Stuckey (12 points, six assists, three steals) controlled play at both ends of the floor.

The Pioneers were on every loose ball, they controlled the backboards and they made 17 of 21 free throws. 

Leo (5-11) got 29 points, six rebounds and three blocks from Keeland Jordan, but the Lions seemed a step slow all night and never did solve St. Francis’ 2-2-1 press, which kept them out of any semblance of an offensive flow while forcing 22 turnovers.

The resumption of Catholic League play sends the Lions to DePaul Prep on Friday, Jan. 13. The Rams (1-4 Catholic League, 10-6 overall) handed Leo its only loss in CCL play last season, then administered another overtime loss in the Joliet Supersectional to deny the Lions a trip downstate.

Revenge would be nice, but unlikely, given recent developments and present circumstances.