High School Night: St.Mary 31 Becton 29 (OT)

Rutherford, NJ - "You come out to all the exciting ones." Those were the first words St.Mary coach Jamie LoBue said, catching her breath, moments after her Gaels defeated Becton 31-29 in overtime. Thursday night's game at St.Mary Gymnasium brought the hosts' record to 7-1. Becton fell to 4-2.

There were numerous lead changes in this fast paced affair between two schools , about two miles apart. There were also momentum changes aplenty.

Full court pressure was the order of the evening. Often teams will employ pressure not so much to force turnovers, rather the intent being to quicken the pace and/or keep an offense from executing their sets. Make no mistake-forcing turnovers was the priority of both teams in this one. Becton employed a 1-2-1-1 while St.Mary opted for man to man pressure.

The visiting Wildcats led 9-6 after the first period. Two quick baskets pushed the lead to eight minutes into the second stanza. as points would be at a premium in this one, LoBue was concerned with her group falling three possessions behind early in the game.

The Gaels were able to get going on the offensive end. When the Gaels beat the pressure then set up in half court, Becton fell into a 2-3 zone. Some high/low post zone offense afforded opportunities. St.Mary converted several opportunities to draw with 16-14 at the half.

The Gaels came out 'winning' the first four minutes of the second half 4-2 to draw even. Pressure defense was the order but with foul trouble and bonus situations a problem, both teams utilized a little more zone after halftime. St.Mary fell into a 1-3-1 zone in halfcourt. Becton chose to break it by attempting perimeter (mostly beyond the arc) shots. They failed to find the range. St.Mary took advantage of the stops by building a 23-18 lead in the final period.

The scoreboard seemed stuck on 23-18. There were opportunities for the home five. Missed free throws, turnovers and one layup in particular where the ball headed down but popped right out-as if the basketball gods inflicted a cruel fate.

Ten seconds left the Gaels were holding a one point lead with the ball, when they threw it away. On the final possession Becton converted a free throw, Overtime tied at 23.

The visitors drew first blood. They opened the overtime scoring, banking in a foul line jumper. St.Mary would have its resilience tested. "This is a very resilient group," LoBue said. "each day through practice and the games they show the ability to bounce back." It was definitely on display this evening.

After a late game five point lead evaporated the Gaels appeared to have lost momentum as they allowed the first score in OT, later adding a three throw. In a game of this type, a three point deficit felt like 10 or 15. As LoBue said, their resiliency was ever present as they regrouped.

With 52 seconds left they got a steal, converted the layup and drew the foul. The home crowd erupted. The Gaels held a 31-29 lead with 20 seconds to play. Time out. Seated in the bleachers a few rows behind the St.Mary bench you could hear LoBue's instructions to her team. No one else (beside her team) could as the gym was still in a cheering frenzy anticipating the finish. The Gaels got the stop. A missed free throw gave Becton had one last opportunity. They had to go the length of the floor with four seconds left. The attempt failed, St.Mary prevailed 31-29.

"A back and forth battle but our defense kept us in." LoBue said. The D was the difference yet LoBue conceded, "we have to polish it (defense) up. We reach in too much and get in foul trouble. We are working on improving defense, and other things every day in practice." Another thing the coach addresses is "staying under control." A number of times the Gaels beat pressure and forced transition, instead of setting up half court, without the numbers. All part of a relatively young team improving and growing daily.

St.Mary was led by Bianca Diaz with 12 points. Emma Diaz added 9 points 3 rebounds. Alyssa Whalen, "she came up big for us in overtime," per LoBue, added 9 points 4 rebounds 5 steals. Becton was paced by sophomore Francesca Matraxia with 10 points.

LoBue was asked whom is next . She thought a moment before noting Weehawken is the opposition. Traditional 'coach speak' says 'take them one at a time'. LoBue adheres and preaches this, staying in the moment. Not looking ahead. Focusing on the game, then practice one day at a time. Each day to improve. Seven out of eight with a championship in the Eastern Christian tournament over Christmas, is validation.

Postscript: Impartiality rules with the notepad and at they key board. There is a hint of emotion (partiality/) in visiting this gym, home of the high school alma mater. Back in the day Becton (now regional) was East Rutherford High School. Coach was the venerable Dick Vitale. Star player-Les Cason. The rivalry beyond intense. Today there is rivalry to a degree as the two schools, in close proximity, share the NJIC Meadowlands conference affiliation plus, proverbial 'bragging rights'. Today the St.Mary gym lighting is better, floor better but when the crowd gets going, it's a reminder of back in the day.

Exit the gym. Get in my car and turn on the radio. Playing is In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. Maybe that was a perfect 'anthem' for the type of game just witnessed.