On a Paul VI team heralded in the preseason national rankings for its abundance of talent, Joshua Reaves stood as the unknown. After serving as one of the last players off the bench last season, Reaves, unlike many of his more highly touted teammates, was left alone by recruiters entering this season.

But in Tuesday’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final against DeMatha, with the Panthers struggling in the first half, it was the high-flying Reaves who lifted Paul VI — just as he has done at many points this season.

Paced by Reaves’s 19 points and a stout defensive effort, No. 3 Paul VI defeated No. 4 DeMatha, 56-37, at American University’s Bender Arena to win its second WCAC title in three years.

“Honestly, I didn’t think my role would be that big coming into this season,” Reaves said. “But Coach [Glenn] Farello said he saw something special in me, and I’m grateful that he trusted me enough to play a bigger role this year.”

During Tuesday’s first half, defense was again the focus for Reaves and his teammates. After Joe Hampton scored consecutive baskets to cut Paul VI’s lead to three early in the second quarter, the Panthers increased their intensity in the paint, quickly rotating off screens and tipping away passes to create opportunities in transition.

Paul VI beat DeMatha, 56-37, for its second WCAC title. The Paul VI girls beat St. John’s, 57-54, to win its first ever WCAC title. (Nick Plum/The Washington Post)

Bolstered by a Reaves follow dunk and a crafty crossover drive and score by Evan Taylor, the Panthers closed the first half on a 10-4 run to take a 26-19 halftime lead.

“We wanted to keep them off the glass and hustle for the 50-50 balls,” Farello said. “Evan Taylor is probably worn out from the job he did chasing around [DeMatha guard] Corey Henson all over the court.”

Whatever fatigue the Panthers (25-6) might have felt didn’t translate in their second-half play. Marcus Derrickson drew two charges in the opening minute, and sophomore Corey Manigault, who thrived after being inserted into the starting lineup late in the season, battled on the boards to create second-chance opportunities.

Meantime, the Stags (27-4) went cold from the outside, going nearly six minutes without a field goal.

“We just wanted it more, and I think it showed in the energy we brought out there,” said Manigault, who finished with nine points.

Reaves again served as the sparkplug in the fourth, scoring nine points on an array of moves, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk in the final minute that sealed the school’s second title.

“Coach tells us when we run, there’s no team in the country that can stop us,” Reaves said. “The fact that we won is still sinking in, but I know once I get home, it’ll hit me with what we just accomplished.”