Thursday brought a succession of first-round NCAA games for our enjoyment. Brackets be damned, upsets are part of the fun. This evening also gave us two playoff games to officiate in Bergen County, the first of which was a sixth-grade first-round girls’ game in Wyckoff. My officiating partner is a good friend and excellent official, Reggie Lawrence.
WYCKOFF 23, NORTH HALEDON 16
WYCKOFF, NJ - The sixth-grade league plays seven-minute quarters, allowing full court pressing only in the final two minutes of each half. The Wyckoff coach has a Villanova pullover and a UCLA hat, ensuring both coasts are covered for March Madness.
Both teams zoned and Wyckoff took advantage at the high post in a high-low zone offense. The Wyckoff high post could shoot, as well as crash the boards for second shots. North Haledon also had a big girl in the middle. She had a few putbacks, the main source of the visitors’ offense as they trailed 9-5 at the half.
The game stayed close through the third, then Wyckoff began to gain a little added separation. After a timeout, North Haledon returned in a man-to-man defense. Wyckoff then calls a timeout. Out of the break, Wyckoff isolates point guard No. 19. Her defender could not stay with her, and Wyckoff scored on three straight possessions. The lead was a double-digit margin, comfortable entering the last two minutes. Wyckoff substituted to get everyone time as North Haledon pressed and converted off a few turnovers. The final score is a bit misleading, as Wyckoff was impressive in victory. Probably the most impressive aspect was adapting quickly to North Haledon’s defensive change.
The sixth grade game started at 6 p.m. and ended at 7:05. Reggie and I both have to go to Ho-Ho-Kus for an 8 p.m. start. It is not a long distance, and with rush hour in the books, the trip is negotiated without an ordeal. There is a boys’ game before ours that finished just before 8 p.m. After they cleared out and the girls warmed up, we were ready for a seventh-grade semifinal.
HO-HO-KUS 50, PARAMUS 37
HO-HO-KUS, NJ - The Ho-Ho-Kus coaches are the same we had in the fourth-grade game on Monday, a husband and wife who both played at Trinity College. They have daughters playing on fourth and seventh-grade teams, which explains their double duty.
At Wyckoff, the buzz in the stands centered around Notre Dame surviving Princeton earlier in the day. Here, it is decidedly more on the action on the floor and occasionally about us.
Paramus got out to a 10-1 lead and appeared to be in control for a rout. Ho-Ho-Kus regrouped, showing good poise. Gradually, they got out in transition and chipped away as both teams zoned defensively. The seventh grade allows a press anytime, but it wasn’t employed much at all in the first half.
Both coaches are looking for calls. On one sequence, the Paramus coach says ‘you two are terrible.’ This could warrant a technical foul, but he did not holler it, and the late Edgar Cartotto always said a technical should make the game better. I decided we did not need one, as we had a good game. By the half, Ho-Ho-Kus had a 26-22 lead. I discussed with Reggie the coach’s comment previously noted. He heard it and felt I made a good move when explaining why no technical was called.
The second half saw the coaches more focused on the action on the floor rather than us. Ho-Ho-Kus’ lead guard, No. 13, broke down Paramus’ defense in half and full court pressure. Ho-Ho-Kus hits a few threes to open a game that was two possessions for most of the third quarter. During one timeout, the lady keeping score for Paramus said the way we signal a three-pointer is so cute. Cute? Never heard that before. The timer and Ho-Ho-Kus’ scorer are high school girls, and all three at the table are doing a nice job.
In the latter part of the fourth quarter, Ho-Ho-Kus is in complete control. After their early start, they maintained focus and during most of the contest, simply executed their sets and defended. Their reward was enjoying a big lead in the stretch to close out a trip to the finals. Postgame, I thanked the table personnel. When you have a tough game such as this, you want a smooth running table with no problems. Thankfully, we had that.
I wished the Ho-Ho-Kus coaches good luck in the final, and it was a pleasure to work for them. Peter, the husband, said he felt bad getting on us early. I told him he never crossed the line, and said it was all part of a semifinal in front of a capacity crowd, adding to the excitement. I also told him his No. 9 might be the MVP that night, as her board work; especially on defense, was nothing short of exceptional. Peter wholeheartedly agreed. I told Reggie the coach felt bad for getting a little crazy. Reggie laughed, saying, “he was fine, he doesn’t know what crazy is.” So true. All part of March Madness.