Kardinal boys, girls earn impressive wins over Bayonne; head to county tournament

It was a historic weekend for both the Kearny High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.

For the first time in the school’s history, both teams managed to defeat perennial power Bayonne last Thursday, giving both programs an added shot in the arm as they head to the Hudson County Tournament this week.

The Kearny boys’ team defeated Bayonne, 68-60, while the Kardinal girls knocked off the Bees, 44-41, in impressive fashion.

The Kardinal boys’ team improved to 14-8 on the season, while the girls are a little better at 14-6 overall.

“I feel now like we can play with anybody,” said senior guard Gralen Vereen, who had seven points and six assists in the win. “We really can be unstoppable if we put our minds to it. Sometimes, our heads aren’t in the game. We just have to come ready to play. This win is good solid proof.”

Vereen said the win last week and an early season win over then-state ranked St. Peter’s Prep have gone a long way in helping the Kardinals believe in themselves.

“It has given us a lot of confidence,” Vereen said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing this year. A lot of people were telling me that we weren’t going to win any games this year. Well, I think we’ve put a lot of smiles on people’s faces this year with the way we’re playing. I feel like we’re all doing what we have to do to help the team win.”

Senior Samuel Myers knew that it was going to be tough trying to stop Patrick Strzala, Bayonne’s sharpshooter who came into the game leading Hudson County in scoring, averaging almost 24 points per game.

“I said before the game that we can’t let him (Strzala) get 15 points,” Myers said. “If he gets more than 15, we’re in trouble. We had to keep him under 15 and take him out of the game, throw him off his game. He’s a lot of their offense.”

The Kardinals did an amazing job in shutting down Strzala, holding him to just 11 points.

“I think this game is proof that we’re ready to play with anybody,” said Myers, who had 14 points and five rebounds. “We’re ready to shock the county with our great team defense.”

Myers said that the atmosphere inside the Kearny gymnasium was “wonderful.”

“It’s the first time we’ve beaten Prep and Bayonne,” Myers said. “We’re looking to break records this year. We’re trying to do what no Kearny team has ever done.”

Javon Jackson scored a game-high 22 points for the Kardinals.

“It was a crazy gym,” Jackson said. “We knew we had to stop that guy (Strzala), because he basically can shoot it from half court. We had to guard him everywhere and we did.”

Kearny head coach Bob McDonnell was pleased with his team’s performance.

“I believe this gives us confidence, but I don’t think Kearny has been given the credit it is due for some good wins,” McDonnell said. “The main thing is that we’ve shown we can be competitive and play with the big boys, the perennial powers. If we have the focus necessary and play team defense, we can play with anyone. We showed what we needed to have done.”

McDonnell credited Jackson for playing tough defense on Strzala.

“We saw some things on film that we were able to take advantage of,” McDonnell said. “The times we did double and triple team him, we forced him to play with his back to the basket and he doesn’t like doing that. The two Myers brothers, Robert and Sammy, did their job on the boards. Javon did his job scoring. They all had a great all-around game.”

The Kardinals will now face Hoboken in the county quarterfinals Thursday night. The Kardinals defeated Hoboken earlier this season by one point. The Redwings feature high scorers Justin Davis and Tyshon Hanberry, both of whom are 1,000-point scorers for their career and both are averaging close to 20 points per game this season.

“It should be a tough game,” said McDonnell of Hoboken. “If our kids come and play tough, they can come away with a win.”

That game will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Kearny gym.

But before the Kearny boys face Hoboken, the Kearny girls will take on St. Anthony in the county tourney, also in Kearny.

The Kards defeated defending Hudson County tourney champ Bayonne to get ready for the playoffs.

“It’s the first time in school’s history,” said Kearny girls’ head coach Jody Hill. “We came close a couple of times, but never won. It was a great win for our players and our program. We felt confident that we could play with anyone. We beat a powerhouse.”

Hill is confident that the win will make the Kardinals tougher down the stretch.

“I think this will make us stronger in the long run,” Hill said. “If we’re going to get a big win, well, this was the time to get it. In years past, we might have panicked and collapsed in the fourth quarter, but these girls came together and stayed strong.”

The Observer Athlete of the Week Meagan McClelland played a big role. So did up-and-coming Estefanie Dilone, who scored eight crucial points in the fourth quarter.

“We showed we can play,” Hill said. “We showed we’re really balanced and can compete with the best. We’re clicking at the right time. We’ve been trying to jell and find the right combination.”

The Kards have won eight of their last nine games, so Hill has to be doing something right.

Sydney Pace had 21 points in a win over Lodi Saturday to get the Kards ready for the county and state playoffs.

“This win gives us momentum and confidence we needed,” Hill said.

Needless to say, it’s exciting times for both Kearny basketball teams heading toward the postseason.

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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.”