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Thoughts & Views: Mars? Tempting but focus on Earth first

After listening to President Obama’s most recent State of the (Dis) Union speech last Tuesday night, I couldn’t help thinking, I’d sure like to be Scott Kelly.

Just to remind you (since none of the TV commentators bothered to point this out), Kelly has been picked to become the first U.S. astronaut from NASA to spend a year in space – possibly a prep for a future voyage to Mars.

Remember NASA? That’s the National Aeronautics Space Administration, although you wouldn’t know that from a quick perusal of the NASA website. But I don’t blame them. Our space agency has lost much of its hype since our government forced it to reinvent itself after discontinuing funding of human flights beyond our atmosphere, although that could change soon.

But I digress.

Kelly will be blasting off in March, appropriately enough, the month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and for our man in space, it will be the very tip “top of the morning” when he goes on his way.

Ironically, as noted by the website space.com, Kelly “is scheduled to launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station” where “he and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will live and work on the orbiting outpost for one year.”

I wonder what Comrade Putin has to say about this. I certainly hope the leader of all the Russias (including Crimea) was at least consulted. Given the Kremlin’s expansionist policy, let’s hope that Putin doesn’t extend the Russian empire’s grasp to holding the Space Station – and the American within – hostage. Remember, the U.S. government’s policy is no ransom payments.

Despite the potential risk, I’d still trade places with Kelly because he’s in the forefront of what the President characterized in his address as being in a “race for the kind of discoveries that unleash new jobs … pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay (my emphasis).”

This means colonization, folks. No question about it.

Obama and his advisers are firm believers in global climate change and they know that the timeline for Planet Earth is rapidly winding down, thanks to out-of-control development, coupled with overpopulation and the widening of income inequality.

That’s why Obama is subtly reversing course – abandoning all pretense of developing a domestic policy once aimed at eradicating poverty and enhancing our quality of life – and turning now toward conquering the Final Frontier … Space.

Mars is now our Destination of Choice and I want to be part of the vanguard that will, undoubtedly, be re-shaping the Red Planet as our new home. I don’t know if I’ve got The Right Stuff to make it there but maybe, at the very least, I can become the First Journalist in Space.

Forget about “middle class economics” – how does not charging for community college do anything really to change the high dropout rate? The whole thing is just a smokescreen for the President’s real intent: to create the Great Space Society.

After all, you didn’t hear any mention of gun control, did you? Nothing about immigration reform or the willful emasculation of Frank-Dodd by bank lobbyists. He’s caved on everything – all the remedies for fixing the ills here on this planet.

I’m sure that the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Jamie Diamon and probably even Bill Clinton, have their reservations already secured for that expedition to Mars.

But, despite everything, I believe Bill and Melinda Gates will still be down here, giving it their all for this world.

Which, I suppose, is where all of us should be engaged, after all.

– Ron Leir 


A story in the Jan. 13 issue of The Observer about a fire at Plaque Art Creations in Harrison incorrectly reported what the factory made. It has manufactured plaster moldings.

Have you seen these suspects?



Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Belleville Police Chief Joseph Rotonda are seeking the public’s help in identifying two suspects who held up the Radio Shack store in a mall on Main St. last month.

As had been reported in The Observer, the robbers — one armed with a handgun — entered the store at 404 Main at 11:24 a.m. on Dec. 21, the Sunday before Christmas, a time when the area was crowded with shoppers.

The men reportedly tied up the three Radio Shack employees, pistol-whipping one of them, and took a large number of personal electronic devices, including cell phones, tablets and headphones.

Police, responding to a 911 call, arrived as the robbers were leaving.

Authorities said the getaway car rammed a Belleville patrol car and then fled south on Rt. 21, toward Newark.

Last week, the Prosecutor’s Office released the security video images shown here.

Anyone who recognizes these suspects or who has information regarding the crime is asked to contact the prosecutor’s tips line at 1-877-TIPS-4-EC (1-877-847- 7432) or the Belleville Police Department, 973-450-3333.

The Essex County Sheriff’s Crime Stoppers Program is offering up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest.

– Karen Zautyk 

Guns, ammo & more: KPD blotter

Last Thursday evening, Kearny police responded to the report of a man with a gun in a home on Linden Ave. What they found, Chief John Dowie said, were several guns, including an assault rifle. And lots of ammo.

Officers Frank West and Chris Levchak and Sgt. Pete Gleason went to the residence on the 100 block at 7:30 p.m. and confronted occupant Robert Conlin, 32, who allegedly had threatened another man during a verbal altercation. In plain view in the home, police said, was a .45-caliber automatic pistol. But West also reportedly noticed a .223 rifle round, which was not ammunition consistent with the handgun. And, protruding from under a bed, was a rifle case.

In that, police said, the officers discovered a .223 Bushmaster assault rifle.

A second case reportedly contained a pistol-grip Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun.

Also found, police said, were a high-capacity magazine, two blackjacks, a can of OC spray and several boxes of ammunition for the three weapons.

Conlin was charged with aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession for unlawful purposes, possession of a prohibited weapon (the assault rifle) and making terroristic threats.

He was remanded to the Hudson County Jail in lieu of $45,000 bail.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Jan. 16 

At 6:30 p.m., a tenant in an apartment complex on the 700 block of Schuyler Ave. returned home from work and walked in on a burglary in progress. In her bedoom, she encountered a man in the process of stuffing her jewelry box into a pillowcase. She began shouting, and the thief dropped the loot and fled out a back door. Police said he had gained entry by kicking in the front door. The suspect was described as a black male with a short beard, about 40 years old and more than 6-feet tall. He was wearing a gray jacket.

Officer West, who had responded to the call, checked the area, but to no avail. Det. John Telle processed the crime scene and is conducting the follow-up investigation.

Jan. 19 

Officer John Fabula, on patrol on Maple St. at 3 p.m., arrested John Rodrigues, 24, of Kearny, on an outstanding warrant from Lyndhurst. Rodrigues was processed at headquarters, and the Lyndhurst PD was notified.

Jan. 20 

At 8 p.m., Fabula was at Garfield and Davis Aves. when he saw an apparently intoxicated man quaffing a bottle of Chardonnay. The 50-year-old Newark resident was issued a town-ordinance summons for drinking in public.

• • •

On Bergen Ave., at 9:30 p.m., vice detectives stopped a car operated by Eric Castellanos, 21, of Kearny, whom they believed had just engaged in a drug transaction, and confiscated marijuana that reportedly was in the center console.

He was charged with possession of the drug and drug paraphernalia.

Jan. 21 

At 8:30 p.m., a resident of the 100 block of Brighton Ave. reported he had returned home to find his house had been burglarized and several watches and assorted jewelry were missing from a second-floor bedroom. Police said a rear window had been pushed in. Officer Jay Ward took the initial report, and Dets. Scott Traynor and Ray Lopez processed the scene and are investigating. Jan. 22  Officer Levchak was on patrol at Passaic and Johnston Aves. at 4:30 p.m. when his onboard license-plate reader alerted him that a passing 2000 Volkswagen had a suspended registration. He stopped the car on Passaic and found that the driver, Guadalupe Martinez, 23, of Newark, also had a suspended license and a $250 Harrison warrant, police said. She was arrested, charged on the MV violations, which also included failure to surrender a suspended license, and her vehicle was impounded. Harrison police were notified.

Another suicide & more: NPD blotter

Nutley PD has labeled the death of a 49-yearold Washington Ave. man initially discovered unresponsive at his home as a suicide.

He was pronounced dead on Jan. 15 – the same day that police found the lifeless bodies of a man and woman in a Hillside Ave. residence – fatalities that police categorized as a murder-suicide. In the first incident, police said they responded to a 911 call relayed by Bergen County Police at 10:25 p.m. Jan. 13 regarding a serious injury to a resident in his home at the north end of Washington Ave.

Police said the man was unconscious and suffering from head trauma. The man was transported by Nutley Rescue to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Paterson, where he was pronounced dead two days later.

Police said detectives called to the scene on Jan. 13 to investigate concluded that the man’s injury was a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

According to Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari, an examination by the county medical examiner’s office revealed that a single round of a “larger caliber” bullet had been fired into the victim’s head and that a weapon he described as “a home-made gun, made from a section of pipe” was recovered from the scene.

“We’re still investigating where [the weapon] came from,” Montanari said. The bullet has been sent for ballistics testing, he added.

Asked if the victim was alone at the time of the incident, Montanari said that, “There were other occupants – two family members and one friend – all adults.” It is believed one of them made the 911 call, he said. As of press time, police were withholding the identity of the victim.


In another incident, police have charged a Florida man for allegedly performing a lewd act in front of students leaving the John H. Walker Middle School on Franklin Ave. last Thursday, Jan. 22.

Police said officers responded to a call from a concerned parent at 2:50 p.m. reporting that as the school was dismissing students for the day, several students had observed a man sitting in a parked SUV performing a sexual act on himself.

After getting a description of the man, police said detectives were able to come up with a likely identity of the suspect as Jack Faria, 64, and managed to locate him in Nutley.

Faria was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct and he was released, pending a court date, after posting bail.

Police Chief Thomas Strumolo commended all those involved in the investigation with their quick apprehension in a case involving potential risk to children.

Mayor/Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco reiterated that, “There is no greater concern than the safety of the residents in this town, particularly our children. I want every parent who allows their child to walk to and from school to be assured that anyone looking to exploit our children will be identified, arrested and prosecuted.”


In other matters logged by Nutley PD between Jan. 17 and 23, police responded to 48 medical calls, 30 motor vehicle accidents and these incidents:

Jan. 17 

Police responded to a Gless Ave. location on a report of the theft of a $250 extension ladder from a homeowner’s rear yard and the chain securing it to a pole. The homeowner told officers that the rubber weather stripping around their vehicle’s rear window had been disturbed but that nothing was apparently taken from inside the house.

Jan. 18 

A Barringer Drive resident reported that during the night, someone entered their unlocked vehicle and removed a $40 phone charger, a set of keys and an unknown amount of loose change.


A Hartford Drive resident reported their car stolen.


Police pulled over a driver known to have a suspended license traveling on Myrtle Ave. and arrested Nicole Bosco, 36, of Nutley. Police said a search of Bosco revealed drugs, paraphernalia and a bag with suspected cocaine residue inside. Bosco also had two active warrants from Nutley and Clifton. She was charged with possession of CDS and three counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and ticketed for driving while suspended and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle. Bosco was released after posting bail, pending court dates.

Jan. 20 

A Myrtle Ave. homeowner reported an attempted burglary. Police said the owner told them that upon returning home, they found the molding on their door bent and police said they observed pry marks on the door. Nothing was reported missing. Detectives are investigating.

Jan. 21 

Responding to calls about “suspicious activity” at Nicola Place and Hagert St., police said they observed three individuals walking quickly away from the area. Police said they chased them to an abandoned property at Hancox and Washington Aves. where they grabbed two juveniles. The third person got away but dropped his wallet, police said. The juveniles were turned over to their parents. Police said Jesse Elsmore, 18, of Nutley, came to HQ to retrieve his wallet and was charged with obstruction.

Jan. 22 

After getting calls about individuals riding All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) on Radcliffe School property and the adjacent pipeline property, police went to the location where they observed two men riding ATVs on school grounds. Police impounded both vehicles and charged Matthew Apito, 18, and Christopher Juliano, 19, both of Nutley, with criminal mischief. Both received summonses for driving an ATV on private property without consent and failure to produce valid registration and insurance. Both were released pending court appearances.


After observing a driver allegedly go through a stop sign on Kingsland Ave. and then pull into a parking lot and behind a building on Franklin Ave., police said they approached the vehicle and saw the driver crouching down to hide. After talking with him, police issued Michael Seibel, 25, of Garfield, summonses for disregard of stop sign and DWI and released him pending a court date.

– Ron Leir 

around town


Belleville Public Library and Information Center’s Children’s Room, 221 Washington Ave., announces the following activities:

  • A Hibernation Party kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. Children are invited to create a wintry craft and enjoy hot chocolate and other treats. Children should come in their pajamas and bring your favorite stuffed friend.
  • Pajama Storytime is set for Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m.

For more information, call 973-450-3434.


Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., hosts a Book Club meeting Feb. 2, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m., in the conference room to discuss “The Shack” by William P. Young. For more information or for help in locating a copy of the book, call the reference desk at 973-566- 6200, ext. 219 or 220. Admission is free.

East Newark 

West Hudson Brave Women Fighting Breast Cancer meets the last Friday of every month, 7 to 9 p.m., at the East Newark Senior Center, 37 President St. For more information, call Emma at 201-998-6828, Rosa at 201-246-7750, Fatima at 973- 485-4236 or email emidura2@ yahoo.com.


The Salvation Army, 443 Chestnut St., offers computer classes Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to noon. The fee is $30 for 12 hours of instruction. The course includes instruction in basic computer skills plus Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. For more information, call the office at 201-991-1115 or Pete at 201-889- 1352.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., announces free programs for children in February:

  • Preschool Play and Story Time, for ages up to 5 with adult participation, take place Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to noon. Classes repeat Thursdays, 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. There will be no 11:45 a.m. classes on Feb. 12 and 26.
  • At the Branch library, 759 Kearny Ave., Preschool Play and Story Time will be held Thursdays, 10:15 to 11 a.m. There is no class on Feb. 12.

The Presbyterian Boys-Girls Club, 663 Kearny Ave., hosts the East Coast Professional Wrestlers on Friday, Jan. 30, at 7:30 p.m. The show’s main event features hometown hero Jason Cage in a street fight against Draven West. A battle royal will also be held, with wrestlers Colossus, Rocky Jones, Sunny Kiss and Mike Capp.

Advance tickets are available for $12 at the PBGC; Sunset Deli, 680 Kearny Ave.; and Big Nick’s Pizza, 72 Davis Ave. Or call Tom Fraser at 201-991- 6734.


The Humane Society of Bergen County, 221-223 Stuyvesant Ave., is offering a supply of dog food, both canned and dry, to those unable to feed their dog, due to unemployment, disability or any other financial difficulty. Just stop by or call 201-896-9300 for more information. Hours are: Mondays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Knights of Columbus Council 2396 has rescheduled a Tricky Tray, originally set for Friday, Jan. 16, to Friday, Feb. 20, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $10 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657-0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446-7244.

Lyndhurst Police Emergency Squad holds its annual Tricky Tray fundraiser Feb. 19 at The Fiesta, 255 Rt. 17 S, Wood- Ridge. Doors open at 7 p.m. Drawing starts at 8 p.m. A variety of ticket packages are available at different prices. For more information, call 201- 804-2469, email trickytray@ emergencysquad.com or visit lyndhurstnj.org.

Lyndhurst Department of Parks and Recreation sponsors a trip to Caesar’s Casino, Atlantic City, Friday, Jan. 30. Tickets are $22. To purchase tickets, visit the Parks Department or call 201-804- 2482 to reserve a seat.

New Jersey Meadowlands Commission announces its sixth annual Free Super Bird Sunday walk Sunday, Feb. 1, 10 a.m. to noon, at the Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst. The walk is held in conjunction with the Bergen County Audubon Society. Prizes will be awarded to any participant who is the first to spot a bird that has the same name as an NFL team – raven, falcon, eagle, cardinal, (wood)packer and seahawk (osprey).

To register, call Don Torino of the BCAS at 201-230- 4983 or go to www.njmeadowlands.gov and click on “Events.”

For more information, call 201-777-2431.

Lyndhurst Public Library’s Winter/Spring Storytime, for ages 3 to 4 1/2, is available for two sessions at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will be offered every Thursday from Feb. 19 to May 14 in the children’s room at the library, 355 Valley Brook Ave. Registration deadline is Feb. 13.

To register, call the library at 201-804-2478.

North Arlington 

North Arlington Seniors Inc. (Tuesday Club) sponsors a trip to Sands Casino in Pennsylvania Feb. 5. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. Non-members are welcome. Call Rose Florio at 201-991-2423.

The American Legion Alexander Stover Post 37, 222 River Road, meets Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. All veterans are invited to attend. For more information, call 201- 214-8253.

Sought in fatal accident, she fled to Brazil, cops say

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


A Harrison woman has been indicted on two counts of vehicular homicide in connection with an accident last year on the N.J. Turnpike, but don’t expect news of a trial anytime soon.

She is a fugitive.

Authorities said she fled to Brazil, where she is a citizen.

The wanted woman is identified as Rafaella Maranhao, 29, who until last spring had been residing in Harrison.

Last week, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced that an Essex grand jury had returned a three-count indictment against Maranhao, including the two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of assault by auto.

The indictment alleges that, during the early morning hours of May 11, 2014, Maranhao killed one man and fatally injured another while driving recklessly and under the influence of alcohol on the Turnpike.

According to the N.J. State Police, Maranhao, behind the wheel of a 2005 Nissan Maxima, was traveling north in the left center lane of the highway near Exit 14 in Newark when she apparently lost control of the vehicle.

Police said the car spun around, crossed two lanes of traffic, hit a guard rail, rebounded onto the highway and then overturned on the right shoulder.

Maranhao’s front-seat passenger, Peter Figueroa, 32, of Newark, was pronounced dead at the scene at approximately 2 a.m.

Two other passengers were transported to University Hospital in Newark.

One of the victims, 35-year-old Prince Stoney of Elizabeth, died of his injuries on June 7. The second, identified by authorities only as Taleisha Charles, sustained injuries but survived.

According to Murray’s office, Maranhao fled the country not long after the fatal crash and has not been apprehended.

Four Nutley wrestlers earn Essex tourney titles


Bellevillle’s Greene also earns county gold

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Nutley High School wrestling coach Frank DiPiano didn’t know what to expect of his Maroon Raiders at Saturday’s Essex County championships.

“We finished seventh last year,” said DiPiano, who is in his eighth year at Nutley and recently collected the 100th dual match victory of his coaching career. “As a coach, you always want more from your team.”

That’s why DiPiano was fairly pleased with the Maroon Raiders’ second place finish in the county tournament, trailing only champion West Essex.

“To come back and finish second this year is pretty impressive,” DiPiano said. “Not only am I happy with the performances of some individuals, but the entire team.”

The Maroon Raiders had four wrestlers earn Essex County gold medals. They are senior Kenny Pena (120 pounds), senior Joe Ferinde (126 pounds), junior Robert Duxbury (132 pounds) and senior Darwin Pena (145 pounds).

Also, John Zarro was a runner-up at 138 pounds, falling in a tough decision in his championship bout. DiPiano was particularly pleased with the performances of the Pena cousins, both of whom have improved tremendously over the past year.

“Kenny Pena was a .500 wrestler last year,” DiPiano said. “He’s 22-2 now. He has put in his time to get better and to see his rise in improvement is tremendous.”

Pena defeated Isiah Adams of West Orange, 4-3, in the 120-pound finale. DiPiano believes that Adams is a contender for a championship at Region 2 in a few weeks.

Ferinde won his second straight Essex County crown. His record now stands at 25-1.

“He is just zoned in right now and very focused,” DiPiano said of Ferinde, who defeated John Cadela of Glen Ridge via technical fall in the 126-pound finals. “I believe he’s ready to make another run to get on the podium in Atlantic City.”

Ferinde finished eighth in the state last year. He’s definitely looking to improve on that performance this year.

“I believe he can do it,” DiPiano said.

Duxbury is in the midst of an almost unprecedented leap in weight classes, going from 106 pounds last year to the 132-pound class this season as county champion.

“It is a big jump,” DiPiano said. “I don’t know if I have ever seen it done before. But he’s a physical kid and he’s settled in where he is now. I think it helps that they all battle each other every day in practice. He has incredible work ethic. He puts in a lot of work into getting better.”

Duxbury now owns a 21-2 record for the season after defeating Chris Palmieri of Bloomfield, 6-0, in the 132-pound finale.

Photos by Jim Hague A trio of Nutley wrestlers, namely Robert Duxbury (l.), and cousins Kenny (c.) and Darwin Pena (r.), all won their respective weight classes at the Essex County Championships Saturday.

Photos by Jim Hague
A trio of Nutley wrestlers, namely Robert Duxbury (l.), and cousins Kenny (c.) and Darwin Pena (r.), all won their respective weight classes at the Essex County Championships Saturday.


The final Maroon Raider champion is senior Darwin Pena, who won the 145-pound title by a 2-1 decision over Brendon Seyfried of Newark Academy.

“Darwin is slowly getting from under everyone’s radar,” DiPiano said. “His improvement is unbelievable. I think we all have to keep an eye on him. He was 20-13 last year and he’s 22-2 this year. It’s tremendous. Darwin just loves everything about wrestling. He’s the real deal now.”

DiPiano said that Darwin Pena went to a youth tournament Sunday morning with DiPiano to assist with the Darwin is slowly getting from under everyone’s radar,” DiPiano said. “His improvement is unbelievable. I think we all have to keep an eye on him. He was 20-13 last year and he’s 22-2 this year. It’s tremendous. Darwin just loves everything about wrestling. He’s the real deal now.”

DiPiano said that Darwin Pena went to a youth tournament Sunday morning with DiPiano to assist with the younger wrestlers.

“That’s just the way he is,” DiPiano said.

Zarro had a tough draw in the tournament, so DiPiano was pleased with his runnerup status.

“John has wrestled well of late,” DiPiano said. “I think he’s turned the corner.”

DiPiano said that the best thing for the team’s improvement is the practice room.

“When you have five or six guys right around the same weight battling each other and looking to improve every day, it has to pay off,” DiPiano said. “I feel good for all of them. They wrestled well.”

Belleville had one of its wrestlers earn Essex County gold, namely 160-pound senior Jordan Greene, who defeated Michael Dugan of Cedar Grove, 7-0, in the title bout. Greene has the potential to be a contender for district and region honors in a few weeks.

DiPiano now has to get his team ready for the upcoming NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs. The Maroon Raiders currently are second in the section and appear headed for a home match in the opening round.

“I think it’s a wide open section,” DiPiano said. “Hopefully, we will be home for a couple of matches. I think you just have to be in it to have a chance to win it.”

Buccaneers hope ECT win is a solid start

Antonio Tyler_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The boys’ high school basketball season was not going according to plan for the Buccaneers of Belleville High School and their second-year head coach Jim Stoeckel.

The Bucs lost 12 of their first 14 games this season, causing Stoeckel to alter his coaching approach.

“If we’re going to change the culture here, we just had to forget about wins and losses,” Stoeckel said. “We just had to play hard for 32 minutes and see what happened. That’s been our motto. We’re asking them to play hard and feed off that. We’re not worried about wins and losses. We’re just changing the culture of Belleville basketball.”

It’s a good approach for any coach who has a 2-12 team. Some of the losses were tough to swallow, like a four-overtime setback to Caldwell and a disappointing setback against neighboring rival Nutley.

“It’s incredible,” Stoeckel said. “We had a great game against Caldwell and lost in four overtimes, then came back and laid an egg against Nutley.”

So the Buccaneers really couldn’t have high hopes as they entered the Essex County Tournament, facing a Technology team in the preliminary round of the ECT that defeated the Bucs just a few days prior.

It was actually a lot to ask for, considering the way the Bucs dropped the game against Technology, falling in the final few seconds, then finding themselves down again by 10 points after three periods in the rematch last Friday night.

“I didn’t yell or scream,” Stoeckel said. “I just told them that if they played the way they’re capable of, that they were capable of coming back. We just started chipping away at the lead.”

That happened thanks to the heroics of junior guard Andre Velez, who scored 11 of his career-high 33 points in the final quarter, spearheading a huge turnaround that led to an 18-4 fourth quarter, and the Bucs live to see another day in the tourney.

Belleville had the improbable 55-53 victory over a team that the Bucs had just lost to five days prior.

“I’m so proud of them,” Stoeckel said. “We were up three at half, then in the matter of two minutes in the second half, we were down five. The heads were down, between the knees. I was saying to myself, ‘Here we go again.’ Then we were down 10 at the end of three (quarters).”

But this was not going to be like any of the 12 prior losses. Remember, the culture is being changed. The Buccaneers just had to play hard.

“We kept chipping away at the lead and cut it to one,” Stoeckel said. “Andre got the ball with a minute left and was fouled. He made the two free throws and that put us ahead. We then got another free throw. With 10 seconds left, we kept three guys in the paint and they shot a 3-pointer instead. They bricked the shot, we got the rebound and the game was over.”

Stoeckel said that his team kept the faith.

“I told them that after all the other times we lost, we couldn’t let it happen again,” Stoeckel said. “We couldn’t give up. We knew we could do it.”

Stoeckel is hopeful that the win over Technology can lead to bigger and better things.

“Maybe this is the start of something,” Stoeckel said. “Winning is contagious. Maybe we’ve turned the corner.”

Velez has been a mainstay all season, averaging close to 17 points per game, but struggled recently in losses to Nutley and Technology. Stoeckel said that it was good to see his point guard rebound in a huge way.

“It was absolutely an amazing turnaround,” Stoeckel said. “Andre just let the game come to him. He was focused on getting us the win.”

The Buccaneers moved on to face No. 11 seed Barringer in the second round of the ECT, a game that had to be rescheduled after the Tuesday blizzard.

Senior Quayrze Smith also played a big role in the Bucs’ win.

“He played great defense for 32 minutes,” Stoeckel said of Smith, who is averaging close to eight points per game.

Sophomore Alcides “Tchi- Tchi” Dos Reis was also big in the victory, scoring a season-high 14 points.

“He has really been stepping up over the last three weeks,” Stoeckel said. “He’s been solid.”

Senior forward Antonio Tyler is another key contributor. He had 13 points in the loss to Technology Tuesday and added four in the avenging win Friday.

Senior Will Smith is the team’s 5-foot-9 center. That’s no misprint.

“He’s constantly taking on guys that are 6-foot-5,” Stoeckel said. “He’s been holding his own in the paint. He’s as tough as nails.”

Senior Joseph Al-Masri is a solid forward.

“He rebounds the ball,” Stoeckel said. “We need him to get rebounds.”

Needless to say, Stoeckel is a happy camper these days.

“I never thought I would be happy being 3-12,” Stoeckel said. “They are making me proud. I grew up in Essex County and grew up on Essex County basketball. There’s nothing like a win in the Essex County Tournament. I don’t care if we were the No. 45 seed. We got a win.”

And it was an improbable win at that, but the Bucs survived where other teams have been eliminated.

Kearny’s Fernandes emerges as dominant inside force

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Emilia Fernandes was in eighth grade, still in the fledgling stages of learning about the game of basketball, she made a bold prediction.

“She said that she would love to play college basketball some day,” said Kearny High School head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill.

It was that year that Janitza Aquino was a senior at Kearny and she was selected to play in the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Basketball Association’s North-South All-Star game, so a busload of people – Fernandes included – made the journey south to Toms River to cheer Aquino on before she headed off to a fine career at Montclair State.

“I watched Janitza play and that really inspired me,” Fernandes said. “Seeing her play at a higher level really intrigued me and motivated me. I got a chance to see her shine.”

But Fernandes was admittedly not a good basketball player.

“I only started playing in eighth grade, but I wasn’t very good,” Fernandes said.

“I was always impressed with her size,” Hill said. “She’s a great kid, but she was just a little raw.”

When the time came for the 6-foot-1 Fernandes to join the varsity at Kearny as a sophomore, she was prepared to become a full-fledged basketball standout.

“I knew then that I had to work hard to become a good player,” Fernandes said. “That’s when I started taking it seriously.”

So Fernandes went to camps and clinics to learn more about the game. She enrolled in a training facility in Lyndhurst to work on her speed and agility. She signed up to play for an AAU program, also based out of Lyndhurst called the North Jersey Celtics, to play more basketball at a higher competitive level.

“As long as you’re playing more against better athletes, it’s definitely going to help,” Hill said. “She did everything you would want her to do to get better. She worked on her mobility and agility. She played with us in the summer league and came to open gyms. She really wanted to get better. She was a work in progress as a sophomore.”

But toward the end of her junior year, Fernandes started to see some rewards for her hard work and diligence.

“I think a lot of it had to do with her confidence,” Hill said. “I think she realized that she could perform at a high level.”

Fernandes also did some summer workouts with Aquino, the former Observer Female Athlete of the Year who is enjoying a sensational senior year as the point guard for nationally ranked Montclair State.

“She helped me out tremendously,” Fernandes said. “She’s become a friend.” Between Hill and Aquino, the pair convinced Fernandes to become more of an inside presence.

“I am taller than most, so I had to use my size to my advantage,” Fernandes said. “I had to become more dominant inside, in the paint. The most successful place for me is in the paint. I’m most comfortable there and I definitely feel more confident.”

Fernandes credited her time with the North Jersey Celtics as a source for her confidence.

“When you play against the better competition all the time, it helped me tremendously,” Fernandes said. “I knew that was going to make me more confident come time for the high school season.”

Fernandes’ confidence has been quite evident of late, especially the last week, leading the Kardinals to three straight victories.

Fernandes started the week off with a dominating performance against St. Dominic Academy, scoring 28 points and hauling down 17 rebounds. In that game, Fernandes had 22 of her points in the second half, leading the Kards to victory.

“Something just clicked in her,” Hill said. “She just took over. She had that look in her eyes.”

In the next outing, Fernandes scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a win over Lyndhurst. She completed her three-game run with another solid outing, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a win over Snyder of Jersey City, a game where Fernandes only played in the first half.

The three wins enabled the Kards to improve to 8-4 on the season.

For her efforts, Fernandes has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“She’s playing her best basketball right now,” Hill said. “I’m excited about the way she’s been playing. She just had to believe in herself. In the past she used to think too much if she missed a shot or make a mistake and worry about it for a while. She’s now mentally stronger. She now realizes she’s just as good as anyone else and she’s playing with that confidence. She’s really become dominant.”

Fernandes has noticed the change in her play, which has seen her collect double figures in all but one game this season, seen her grab 10 or more rebounds in seven games and earn a double-double in points and rebounds seven times. She’s averaging 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest this year.

“I really am impressed,” Fernandes said. “I’m also surprised. I don’t pay attention to the numbers, but when the coaches say something, it surprises me. I’m just glad I can make my coaches and my teammates happy.”

Fernandes has yet to declare her intentions for college. Montclair State and Felician are two schools that have shown interest. Fernandes hopes to major in physical education or athletic training in college.

“Someday, I want to be a high school basketball coach,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes’ first goal of wanting to become a college basketball player like Aquino is about to become reality, so there really should be no denying her ultimate goal of being a coach. For now, Fernandes is playing like one of the best players in Hudson County – and that’s truly a blessing for Kearny.