Verona, NJ- "Thank you. You guys did a phenomenal job tonight."
So said assistant coach Mark Criqui to us following his team's 5-4 loss. There is no misprint. In a fifth grade Suburban League travel game this past Friday, Verona defeated Essex Fells 5-4.
"You have to be kidding," said my assignor Rich Mattesky when I told him after getting home.
An officiating veteran of the Suburban, thought Rich saw it all. Evidently this was news even for him.
"That is unbelievable. It must have been so tough to officiate," said DePaul Media Relations contact Alicia Powers. We spoke at Walsh Gym at Seton Hall before covering the women's game there on Saturday. The 5-4 game, on mention, got some reaction and attention.
"Wow. Sounds like a combination of good defense and not so good offense," said Washington Mystics coach Trudi Lacey, a press row ‘neighbor' in South Orange for a scouting trip. Don Criqui, noted sportscaster and Mark's dad, was at the Rec Center game in Verona to watch his granddaughter play. No mention of that 5-4 contest on his call of New Hampshire-Vermont on Sunday. Regardless, this was classic.
Pre-game my partner, Jay Rosenfeld, another sound official I enjoy taking the floor with joked, "the over/under on jump balls (specifically a ‘tie up' with results settled by the alternating possession arrow) is 37." The fifth grade league allows no full court pressure at all. A wise move indeed.
From the outset, shots are available. Nothing is dropping. The ice is broken with 3:02 remaining, in the second quarter. A Verona player cans a short jumper in the paint. Before halftime Essex Fells hits two from the charity stripe. We are tied at 2 at the break.
Sipping Gatorade at halftime a horrific thought enters my mind.
"Jay, what if we go overtime?, I ask.
"Then," Jay replies in a lighter tone, "we will go to the shootout method like soccer. Forget overtime."
Second half sees much of the same. Jump balls, good shots missed, some not so good shots off the mark and turnovers. Plus the fouls. What you would expect at this level. The teams are setting up against the zones or man to man defenses, moving the ball but not scoring.
The kids were trying and generally enjoyed getting out and playing. The game went without incident except for yours truly warning the Verona coach after he made sideline antics following a call he did not agree with. The tough part from our point was the absence of a flow. Rare was the sequence of play going even a minute without a whistle. Still, as an official you keep working hard and show an enthusiastic demeanor. The kids deserve your best effort!
New Jersey Senator Richard Codey's team has the next game. He arrives late fourth quarter and gives me a thumbs up on eye contact. He is an avid Seton Hall fan and we generally chat at halftimes of games at the Rock.
The score is 5-4 with about a minute to go. An Essex Fells player has two free throws. Both are missed. There are opportunities on both sides, for Fells to tie it or Verona to ‘extend' the lead. No one cashes in. Following Fells' last attempt to win with seconds to go, Verona gets the ball and the clock is run out.
Players and coaches form a line to congratulate each other. The fans cheer the effort of both teams which was nice and appropriate. On the line, a few Verona girls say, "thank you, you are a really good ref." I tell them smiling, "thank you ladies and just remind your coach (in reference to the previously alluded exchange)."
Codey tells me, "the last few minutes were as long as the last two of an NBA game." I jokingly said, "I went to officiate a Suburban girls game and a Notre Dame-Seton Hall game broke out." He laughed at my line in reference to the men's game Wednesday covered at the Rock where Seton Hall could not buy a basket and lost.
Heading to the locker room Mark Criqui commends us and reminds, "we did not get a field goal all night. We had just four three throws." Something not realized until he told me. Still, that was almost enough. After the game Jay tells me the ‘over' kicked in.
"A coach said there were 50 jump balls," he said.
They were legitimate because the girls could not ‘wrestle' the ball from an opponent's grasp. As pointed out, a fun game to work despite the absence of a flow. Before we head out for the boys game, I tell Jay, "good game as usual and I think there is some nice ‘column' material."
Thank God years ago alternate possession replaced the jump ball after a tie up.