BY RAY FLORIANI
South Orange, NJ - Saturday’s Our Lady of Sorrows February Frenzy called for an eighth-grade girls' semifinal. The noon game was delayed a few minutes, as an earlier contest went into overtime. By 12:30, the teams were warmed up and ready for action.
St. Vincent Martyr 44, St. Thomas (Bloomfield) 39
My officiating partner is John Jones. We have worked games in this tournament as far back as two decades ago. On the floor, we have a good officiating chemistry, and he is one of my favorites to be paired with.
St. Vincent, from Madison, NJ is in gold. St. Thomas is also in the same color, so it is decided that Vincent will wear red ‘pinnies.’ Putting them on, one player from Vincent comments the size is too small. My light-hearted comment to the gentleman coaching Vincent was, "even before a semi, the girls are fashion-conscious." Coach agreed and shared a laugh.
From the beginning of the game, you could see this would be competitive. Both teams had a good ball handler, while Vincent’s had a few inside finishers. A week ago, the mercury was at six degrees. On this day, it was 62, and the warm gym is a factor. In the second quarter, we were lined up for a free throw. One of the Vincent bigs was breathing hard, but assured us she was okay.
Neither team full court presses the whole game, but does use it a possession or two as an element of surprise. The game has a nice flow, and at the half, Vincent leads 28-24. The second half sees Vincent build a few nine-point leads. Each time, Thomas responds and gets it to one possession. Vincent has opportunities to expand the lead, but misses several close in shots. They break Thomas’ full court pressure thanks to a good point guard with court awareness.
One of Vincent’s best players does not play a minute in the final quarter. She is very nauseous from the warm gym and sits out. Her teammates never lose the lead. In the stretch, the game becomes a free throw contest. Thomas is in the fouling mode again. Vincent can expand the lead, but comes up empty on the charity stripe.
Late in the game and down five, Thomas is making a last run. Their best player (#15) drives the lane, crashes into the defender, and I have an offensive foul. My partner loves the call, but it was easy. If the defender takes it in the chest, we go the other way.
Vincent's point guard dribbles out the clock. At the buzzer she turns, hands me the ball and extends her hand, saying “thank you so much for working our game.” I thanked the scorers' table crew, which had a distinctive Seton Hall emphasis with a Hall undergrad on the clock and former instructor on the book.
St. Pat’s (Chatham) 52, St. Vincent (Madison) 32
Sunday saw the consolation and finals. I was originally scheduled for fifth/sixth-grade boys, then the call came, switching me to eighth-grade girls. Either way, a final assignment is an honor. Getting the girls' championship was the icing. Entering the gym, I noticed two doors were open. The temperature is in the mid- fifties, and tournament directors want to maintain ventilation. The St. Vincent’s coach said by a quirk in scheduling, the two teams will meet in league play at 6:30. The Sorrows title game is at 4:00, which means after the game and getting awards, the girls get in their parents' cars and head about 12 miles west to Madison.
Early in the game it is even, but as the first quarter winds down, St. Pat’s shows separation. Neither team presses, except on a given possession as an element of surprise. Pat’s has a play ‘five out’ for their non-post offense. The first time I heard it, it led me to grant a timeout. The coach said he was calling out his play, so the timeout was wiped clean and we resumed, though maybe he should name the offense ‘Michigan’ in honor of one of John Beilein’s offenses. Pat’s built a 25-15 halftime lead. Good guard play, some strong inside work, and general hustle provided the edge. Still, Vincent’s was in striking distance.
After a enjoyable but long week, the tournament director notes “six more quarters (the girls' second half and boys’ contest to follow) to go.” My partner Greg and I go over a few points, and are pleased with the way the game is going from our end.
Pat’s lead expands to twenty. Fatigue is setting in, as several times, a Vincent’s player hits the deck in a rebound scramble. One Vincent’s player twists an ankle and is attended to by a gentleman that I hear was a former New Jersey Nets doctor. St. Pat’s closes out the game to win 52-32. The Pat’s coach tells me about the two teams meeting very soon. I note how the girls put it all out there in a title game and have to come back. “We tried to reschedule,” he said,” but Vincent’s had a ceremony planned in advance for their last home game.” Both teams were given individual awards. Team awards and special sportsmanship awards are also conferred, a nice touch by the Sorrows committee running a great event.
I later tell both coaches it was an absolute pleasure to work their games. The two teams had great kids as well. The entire tournament is one made possible by dedication and devotion, to the kids and the game. A tournament program, snack bar (empanadas to die for!), shirt sales, halfcourt shot contests, 50-50 raffles, etc. Are you a bracketologist? The brackets for all groups are on the Our Lady of Sorrows site. February Frenzy, no name fits and depicts it all any better.