NA has nothing to be ashamed of in Jamboree loss

2-10_View_webTENAFLY – 

It had the makings of “Hoosiers,” the truest tale of David and Golaith, the littlest of Group I schools taking on the big parochial powerhouse, the upstart newcomer against the defending champion.

The North Arlington boys’ basketball team took on Bergen Catholic in the second round of the Bergen County Jamboree Sunday morning at Tenafly High School.

That’s no misprint. North Arlington, the school with the smallest Group I enrollment in New Jersey, was facing Bergen Catholic, the defending champion of the long-standing tournament, started 60 years ago by a man named Mickey Corcoran, who went on to become Bill Parcells’ biggest mentor and confidant, a man who died just a few months ago at the age of 96.

North Arlington earned an invitation to the Bergen County Jamboree by having such a fine record this season. And last week, for the first time in 31 years, the Vikings earned a victory in the Jamboree, having defeated neighboring rival Queen of Peace in the opening round. So here they were, the 21st-seeded Vikings, the highest seed left standing in the tournament, was actually taking on the Crusaders, who won the whole ball of wax last year.

On paper, it was a total mismatch.

But there was some hope, some thought, that just perhaps the Vikings could pull off a “Hoosiers” moment and actually play the Crusaders close to the vest.

After all, Bergen Catholic really hadn’t been playing well of late, having lost its Parochial showdown with Don Bosco Prep last Tuesday night. And the Vikings were red hot, having won six of their previous seven games.

“I thought we had a chance,” North Arlington head coach Rich Corsetto said.

He should know, considering Corsetto has been in his share of sweaty gymnasiums for the past 40-plus years as a coach.

“I scouted them a few times,” Corsetto said. “I knew they were good. But I thought we were ready.”

And maybe for a few minutes, the thought remained. The Vikings got a 3-pointer from senior workhorse Steven Velez, who sacrifices his body every game by throwing himself all over the floor. The score remained tied at 3-3 for the first four minutes of the game.

“Early on, when it was 3-3, I thought if we could have just made a couple of shots,” Corsetto said. “Maybe there might have been a little different outcome.”

“I thought maybe we could play with them,” sophomore forward Isaac Aguiar said. “But we came out slow.”

It actually looked as if the Vikings had some big-game jitters, a sense of nervousness that they were the little guys – literally – facing the mighty Jamboree giant.

“We definitely had the jitters,” Velez said. “But we tried to deal with it and put it behind us and just kept playing.”

Except one thing. The Crusaders didn’t have any jitters and started to play like defending champs. They drove to the basket with reckless abandon. They hit the shortrange jumper as well as the 3-point bomb. They got the offensive rebound put-backs for baskets.

They went on an 11-0 run to end the first quarter to take a 14-3 lead after one period.

“We were a little hesitant at that point,” Velez said.

It actually got worse before it got better. After scoring the first three points of the second quarter on a conventional 3-point play from point guard Edgar Carranza, the floodgates blew wide open with a 20-0 run that blew the doors off the thing.

Just like that, the score was 34-6 and now the only thing left to play for is pride.

During the run, one Viking player turned to one of his teammates and was heard saying, “What do you want me to do? They’re all like eight feet tall.”

The Crusaders certainly had a height advantage. Junior Rhona Eseyade is listed at 6-foot-8, but Eseyade looked more like a combination of Manute Bol and Chewbacca the Wookie, blocking shots left and right. Thomas Binelli is listed at 6-foot-8. Mason Foreman is 6-7, Jack Hartigan 6-4 and so is Taj Benning, the point guard.

In comparison, the Vikings’ guard contingency consists of 5-9 Carranza, 5-10 Timmy Ford and 5-11 Kevin Cerqueira. When they need a rest, Corsetto goes with 5-foot-8 Michael Manzo-Lewis, the quarterback on the football team.

“Look at their lineup, they have one after another, 6-7, 6-5, 6-4, 6-4,” Velez said. “What do we have? ‘”

The final score read Bergen Catholic 76, North Arlington 25. Thanks for coming, please arrive home safely, no need to purchase the home version of our game, because there’s no way you’re going to play it to remember a day like this.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Aguiar, who definitely had a day to forget. “No way could I ever think this could happen.”

“We didn’t expect this,” Velez said. “We tried the hardest we could. But there’s an unfair advantage when we’re playing a school that recruits players from all over. They’re able to get kids like this. We gave it all we had. We really wanted to make a name for ourselves and make some noise here.”

Corsetto even acknowledged that trait after the game.

“Give our kids credit,” Corsetto said. “They played hard. They just played against a superior team. We have a lot of season left. We’re walking out of here with our heads held high. We have a hard-working group of kids. We lost to a better basketball team. I’m not embarrassed by this. No way. I’m proud of my kids. We have a lot of season left. We have a chance to win 20 games here.”

Turn the page, nice try, get on with the rest.

“We have to keep our heads high and remained focused on the games we have left,” Velez said. “We tried our hardest here. It might not look that way, but we did. We tried.”

That’s all you can ask for. Cinderella doesn’t always find Prince Charming with the slipper. The little teams generally lose. That’s why they’re called underdogs. The Vikings will have another chance, another turn at being a champion. It just wasn’t Sunday.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”