080304 StJ/Kowalski

080304 StJ/Kowalski/lkpt DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Buffalo - St. Joe� Paul Kowalski heads up court against Nichols at Canisius College.

As Paul Kowalski’s game has rounded into shape over the past few weeks, the same has happened for the St. Joe’s Marauders.

The 6-foot-6 senior isn’t counted on to score big points — that job falls on seniors Phil Scaffidi, Phil Maiarana and Matt Spitler — but Kowalski does serve an important role for St. Joe’s.

“I’m not really a scorer, I’m more of a defensive player,” he said. “I’m used to that by now. I just try and do whatever I can to help the team.”

That role is one that Marauders coach Mark Simon knows is important for any good team.

“You can’t win big games without inside play,” he said.

On their way to the Manhattan Cup title, St. Joe’s has defeated Canisius and Nichols, games in which Kowalski, Sean Mulhern and Evan King provided a post presence to compliment the Marauders’ perimeter game.

“We really showed how much we’ve improved as the season went on,” Kowalski said.

The start of that improvement for Kowalski began by staying on the floor. Foul trouble had been a constant problem early in the season, but he found a way to correct it as the season went on.

“The last couple weeks he’s been at his best,” Simon said. “He had a hard time getting it going because he always in foul trouble, but the games he didn’t get into foul trouble, he’s contributed. His rebounding has been crucial.”

Though he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard often, Kowalski did provide one of the highlight moments for St. Joe’s this season.

In an early-February win over Nichols, Kowalski came away with a steal at raced into the open court, just him and the rim. His one-handed dunk brought the St. Joe’s bench to its feet, exploding in applause.

“It was a great thrill,” Simon said. “His father jumped out of his seat. We all had big smiles on our faces. His personality is that he’s a little shy, so it was nice.”

Kowalski won’t soon forget the moment, either.

“It’s the highlight of my basketball career,” he said.

Kowalski, 18, will attend Niagara University in the fall, where he’ll major in education.

Kowalski and the Marauders will take on Chaminade at 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Dominic High School on Long Island in the state Catholic semifinals.

Chaminade (16-6) defeated St. Dominic 58-38 Tuesday night to win the CHSAA title. Junior Dan Di Vietri led the winners with 24 points.

The game will be broadcast over the Internet by former St. Joe’s star Andrew Spitler. A link to the game can be found through the school’s Web site, www.sjci.com.

Contact editor Jay Skurski at 693-1000, ext. 117.

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