Catholic High opened its District 5-5A season with a 63-53 home win over St. Amant in a game that wasn’t as close as the final scored indicated.

The hot-shooting Bears opened up a 28-14 halftime lead and led by as many as 26 before the Gators got on track and made Catholic fight off a rally for the win.

Catholic had nine 3-pointers, including four by Michael Francioni, who led the Bears with 18 points.

“We’ve been playing pretty bad,” Francioni said. “We lost to Brother Martin by 22 and had a bad game against Patterson, so some of us team leaders got together, and we stayed after practice to make 100 shots. We just said we have too much potential this year to let it slip away.”

That potential was obvious in a defense that held the Gators to four points in the first quarter and 14 for the half.

“I was extremely pleased with our defense,” Catholic coach Mark Cascio said. “The players executed the game plan well, and the coaching staff didn’t have to make any adjustments on defense. We started the game cold, so defense and rebounding were the story for us in the first half.”

It’s hard to have much offensive success with one-shot trips down the floor, but that’s what happened to the St. Amant (13-9, 0-1) in the first half. The Gators manage only a field goal by Courtney Julien and two free throws by Crandell Christoff in the first quarter.

They found some open shots against the Catholic man-to-man defense, but the shots weren’t falling and offensive rebounds were scarce.

Meanwhile Catholic (15-5, 1-0) had little trouble finding the basket against St. Amant’s 2-3 zone, draining five 3-pointers in the first half.

Francioni had three of his 3-pointers in the half, and Ethan Treigle and Grant Sceroler added one each. Sceroler drained two more 3-pointers in the second half while Francioni and Treigle had one apiece.

Just as St. Amant coach Travis Uzee was scratching his head wondering when his team would make something good happen, it did.

At the 3-minute mark of the third quarter, the Gators forced four straight turnovers and went on an 11-0 run and cut a 26-point deficit back to 14 before the Bears regained control.

“St. Amant’s a good team and coach Uzee does a great job, and I told my guys they’d be coming. Fortunately, guys made timely shots for us and helped us weather the storm,” Cascio said.

Uzee pointed to Catholic’s early lead as the start to his team’s troubles.

“I thought we’d have more of an edge tonight, but they jumped on us quick,” he said. “I don’t know if this was one of their better shooting nights, but it sure felt like it. It was a very physical game, and I’m not sure we were ready for their physicality. Catholic rebounded and defended well, and we just didn’t have the edge.”

Julien led all scorers with 22 points. Travis Cole had 11 fourth-quarter points to total 13 for the Gators.

Sceroler finished with 10 for Catholic. Treigle, Tolliver Freeman and Demarcus Shepherd all had eight for the Bears.

“We typically shoot pretty well as a team, and we’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the three,” Cascio said. “Guys made timely shots for us tonight and helped us weather the storm.”