East Rutherford, NJ - A four pm start does not lend itself to a big crowd. In New Jersey many varsity games will start at 7, following the JV. There are those who choose a 4 pm tip with JV to follow. On this gray January afternoon the Becton Regional High School girls are set to host Hawthorne. The admission is $3 with $2 for students and seniors. The lady taking admission is not inundated.
A walk through the hallway outside of the gym gives you some basketball history. Becton, a regional school encompassing several towns, was once East Rutherford High School. In the trophy case is a fading newspaper clipping with the team picture of the last team at East Rutherford, the 70-71 group that won the state title. That team featured Les Cason, a 6’11" standout on virtually every school’s recruiting radar and the coach, one Richard (Dick) Vitale whom we all know well. There are clippings of Tom Sienkiewicz, who starred for Becton and later Rollie Massimino at Villanova ('78 though '81).
The Becton team is warming up. They are going through their routine with a purpose. An assistant coach monitors the pre-game routine. Head coach Mike Ryan is at the scorer’s table taking a few moments to discuss his team, with a 6-3 record entering this contest.
"Our defense has been good," Ryan said. "We start five sophomores so a lot of these kids have great experience from last year." Ryan admits the schedule presented a few teams that haven’t been very competitive. He did point out to the Garfield Holiday Tournament over the Christmas break as challenging and a good experience. "We beat a good Lyndhurst team in the first round," Ryan said. "We lost to Park Ridge (in the semis) who was pretty good then came back to defeat Garfield. Our only one sided loss this season," Ryan continued, "was against Immaculate Conception (one of Bergen County’s stronger teams) . We have them next week and I think this time around the kids will be ready for a better showing."
Becton’s leading scorer is Katie Reiner. The 5’10 sophomore can swing between the guard and forward spots. "She’s a really good shooter and a good ball handler," Ryan said of Reiner. "She also has a great basketball IQ."
In general the coach is pleased to work with a group making coming to practice enjoyable. "We have a self motivated group," Ryan praised. "As a small school our girls play three sports which helps in their basketball development. They really work hard and are a joy to coach."
As we finished speaking visiting Hawthorne arrived. No need for a trip to the locker room, they went right to their bench, peeled off their sweats and started to warm up.
The game opens with Becton in full court pressure. The first possession Hawthorne turns it over and Reiner converts a layup. More turnovers by the visiting Bears. Less than a minute in Reiner has five points as she buries her first three pointer of the afternoon. Becton races out to a 15-0 lead midway through the first period. Ryan takes the press off and puts the Wildcats into a 2-3 zone. Hawthorne is struggling on offense. Becton’s zone is not pressuring or trapping, still, the Bears are having difficulty. The period ended with Becton ahead 24-0 and Reiner already having hit three from downtown.
Second period Hawthorne hits a mid range jumper early to break the ice. The Bears changed zone offenses several times. They are settling for jump shots so the coach goes with a five out alignment. The crowd is relatively quiet. The only cheering is from the boys varsity who are in the bleachers waiting for their bus to arrive for an away game. Midway through the period the boys leave, as does the cheering. In one possession during this period, Reiner illustrates her IQ. She is on the wing with the ball and not closely guarded. She sees a teammate posting on the blocks. Reiner gets her the ball. The post player senses a defender playing behind and passes back to Reiner who drains a three. Classic inside/out execution. Becton takes a 33-9 lead into the half.
The halftime ‘show’ sees a girl of about seven shooting baskets. The crowd cheers every made shot by this potentially future Wildcat. Becton comes out to warm up and a mother sitting near me calls her daughter over. She tells the young lady to tuck in her shirt. "Didn’t the refs tell you to tuck the shirt in ?," mom asks. "No," daughter replies. Mom goes on to say it is a rule to keep the shirt tucked in and you never see professional players with a shirt untucked. The daughter listens to mom and complies.
The first four minutes of the third period Becton scores the initial five points. Nothing much has changed. Both teams are in a zone defense and playing at half court not looking to get out in transition. After three it is 45-16 Becton.
Ryan has gone to his bench frequently mixing reserves with starters. Becton is sharing the ball, making good passes and running their zone offense with precision. They are not tested by Hawthorne at all. Regardless, Ryan wants his group executing and attending to detail as if this was a one or two possession game,
Becton outscored Hawthorne 12-2 the final eight minutes to finish a 57-18 triumph, their seventh of the campaign. Reiner led the way with a game high 28 points (six three pointers). She also pulled down eight rebounds. Shania Healy and Francesca Buda scored seven each for Becton. Gracie Taylor and Alalise Feliz had 14 rebounds each for the Wildcats. Becton improved to 7-3 while Hawthorne fell to 0-10.
After checking the totals at the scorer’s table I spoke briefly to Ryan as the JV teams warmed up for their game. Told the coach how impressed I was with Reiner’s ability to work within the framework of the offense and as a leading scorer, prove to be very unselfish. Ryan smiled adding," she can shoot it can’t she." Ryan said goodbye then went to talk to his team. This one is in the books. A game with Lodi two days later awaits. Preparation begins almost immediately.