Next step on the Express: PSAL semifinals

Forget the No. 12 seed, the fourth-place finish in Brooklyn AA and the big names Transit Tech has taken down to reach the PSAL Class AA semifinals.

The Express isn’t an underdog. They don’t want any glass slippers mentioned with their run.

“I don’t think one guy in this locker room would call themselves a Cinderella team,” coach Mike Perazzo said. “There’s no way we’re a 12 seed. It’s only a number and we didn’t really care about that going on. We knew to win games, we had to play well.”

Play well, they have.

One day after eliminating No. 5 John F. Kennedy, last year’s runners-up, the Express sent division rival Thomas Jefferson, the fourth seed, home early, too. Aided by a stingy defense, the shot-blocking prowess of Manhattan College recruit Rhamel Brown and a balanced offensive attack, Transit Tech held off the favored Orange Wave, 60-53, Sunday afternoon at St. John’s University.

“I expect my team to play hard and win the games we won so far,” Brown said.

Brown had 19 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and seven blocked shots, dominating the paint at each end of the court. Shaquille Paugh scored 13 points, Deylon Bovell added 12 and Barry Posey had 11.

Bovell limited Stony Brook-bound guard Dave Coley to 15 points before he fouled out late in the fourth quarter and Anthony Prescott and Antoine Williams held Davontay Grace, the St. John’s prospect playing in front of his future coach, Norm Roberts, to just eight.

“I’m so proud of the kids, they played so hard from start to finish,” Perazzo said. “We defended almost every single possession on a big floor for 32 minutes.”

Jefferson, meanwhile, came up short yet again. After losing in the semifinals back-to-back years, the East New York, Brooklyn school failed to get out of the quarterfinals.

“I’m definitely disappointed, but I’m not that disappointed because I don’t think the guys worked hard enough to win and seize this opportunity,” Jefferson coach Lawrence Pollard said.

Transit Tech (18-9) did win, 70-60, at Jefferson Dec. 17, but the last time the two teams met, the Orange Wave (20-10) coasted to a 72-49 victory. Much of that win came with Brown on the bench in foul trouble. He finished with four fouls, but spent much of the afternoon on the court.

Brown was in the middle of every significant run. During a 9-3 spurt late in the third quarter, he basically swallowed up a Thaddeus Hall runner that led to an easy Bovell layup and added a hoop of his own. After Jefferson responded with a 9-0 run to get even at 41 with 7:27 remaining, he answered with a free throw and a soft jumper in the lane.

His seventh and final rejection set up Posey’s go-ahead layup with 1:54 left, and he pushed the lead to three with a short jumper with 1:21 to go. He also hit three free throws down the stretch, which is usually his Achilles heel.

“He’s the kind of player that can effect every possession of the game,” Perazzo said. “There aren’t many players that can do that on any level.”

The win gives Transit Tech a rematch with No. 1 Cardozo, which beat them, 78-54, in the Rucker HS Invitational Feb. 21. Brown didn’t play that day, sitting out after missing practice.

“There’s no way the kids will walk onto the floor thinking they are not gonna win,” Perazzo said.

Win or lose, the Express has come a long way in two years, from winning back-to-back ‘A’ titles to beating powerhouses JFK and Jefferson to get to the ‘AA’ final four.

“We want to improve a little more by going a bit further,” Brown said.