East Rutherford, NJ - The state tournament brings the excitement, and unfortunately, heartbreak. It’s inevitable when you sign up for postseason play. No matter what level. Both teams enter the contest full of hopes and expectations to move on and maybe make a run. One team does that, The other team realizes there is no tomorrow. In virtually an instant, the season is ended. With it go all those chances of playing for at very least another day.
On this Tuesday afternoon, seventh seeded Becton hosted 10th seed Lyndhurst in a North Jersey Group 2 Section 2 first round matchup. About a half hour prior to game time the bleachers are not even near half full. Becton coach Mike Ryan remembered the Seventies saying, "when I played on the team here with Tom Sienkiewicz (a Becton great who later had a solid career at Villanova) both bleachers were filled and there were people standing," Ryan said. "Not anymore, it’s changed." Today, the bleachers behind the team benches are not pulled out. The bleachers cross court are the only ones in use. By game time they are about half filled with parents and relatives of the players. There is almost no student body attendance. Yes, it is very different these days.
Ryan also noted the absence of his second leading scorer, Chrissy Akiki, out with a concussion. Becton had faced Lyndhurst twice this season, winning both in two close games.
The first period saw both teams come out in a man to man defense. There was a defensive wrinkle for both teams. The Wildcats would full court pressure following a score. That pressure bothered Lyndhurst. The visiting Golden Bears, on the other hand, were doubling Becton’s prolific sophomore scorer Katie Reiner. Lyndhurst enjoyed a good start, leading 8-4 before Becton went into a 1-3-1 zone.
Trailing 12-6 after one period, Becton saw the effectiveness in their zone defense. Lyndhurst was having difficulty getting inside the zone. Several possessions lasted a good 40 or so seconds. Often, they settled for perimeter shots that did not fall. Becton had their own problems on the offensive end. Reiner was struggling to get an open look. A very unselfish player, Reiner did move the ball to set up her teammates. At the half however, Becton was looking at a 16-11 deficit.
Becton was back in the man to man defense the second half. Lyndhurst was pressuring following a score and the pressure bothered Becton. Offensively Asya Akar and Brooke Harper were effective inside, especially in the rebounding department. Coach Christian Boyce’s Golden Bears maintained a six point lead that felt like 16 in a game with points at a premium. With 2:36 remaining, Reiner scored her first point, on a free throw.
The final period began with Lyndhust holding an eight point advantage. The Golden Bears ran a lot of motion sets with screens allowing the guards to get to the basket. Reiner hit two threes for Becton, which accounted for almost all of the Wildcats fourth period point production. In fact, a double digit deficit forced Becton to rely on attempts beyond the arc almost exclusively during the latter portion of the period. With about a minute left both teams went to their respective benches. The outcome was not in doubt.
Lyndhurst’s 40-26 victory advanced to a second round game at Madison set for Thursday. For Becton, the season, and it was a very good one, was over. For Lyndhurst, Harper, a freshman, led the way with an excellent 14 point, 13 rebound double-double. Akar added 9 points and 6 rebounds. Reiner and Analise Feliz shared Wildcat scoring honors with 7 each. In the first period Lyndhurst had an 80 offensive efficiency (points per possession times 100) of 80. Becton checked in at 43. The final period saw the Golden Bears efficiency at 88, Becton 50. Lyndhurst was efficient both offensively and defensively. Lyndhurst improved to 16-10 while Becton finished at 19-8.
Following the game, colleagues in the athletic department congratulated Ryan on an excellent season. A few parents came over with a ‘thank you’ for his fine work with their daughters all season. The coach then reflected.
"Our two wins against Lyndhurst were both close," Ryan said. "We played without our second leading scorer (Akiki) but that was not the difference, they defended Katie (Reiner) very well and they were a better team tonight." Ryan noted how his club was beaten going to the basket, especially the second half. "We are a young team starting sophomores," he noted. "This type of game was a learning experience. They will learn from it. The part’s over but we won 19 games, losing just eight." Becton is a small school meaning Ryan’s team will be involved in softball or track in the Spring. Reiner will also play AAU. For the offseason though, Ryan has a few expectations. "We needed to cut down on turnovers," he admitted. Individually I want them all to work on getting stronger with the ball,"
As we spoke, a few of the Becton players filed past with a tear in their eye. The emotion of the loss in the state tournament took effect. As did the realization that what was an outstanding and enjoyable season for all, had suddenly ended.