Kardinals rebound from 0-8 to finish strong; team wins last 7 games of season after dreadful start

After the Kearny High School boys’ basketball team suffered a 42-point blowout loss, a 75-33 drubbing at the hands of Hudson Catholic Feb. 15, the Kardinals owned an 0-8 record.

No coach or player wants to lay claim to such a dismal mark.

But to a man, the Kardinals did not feel like they were a doormat.

“Even though we lost that game, we actually played well,” said Kearny veteran head coach Bill Mullins.

Wait a second. You lost by 42 and you think you played well? It might have been time for the famous line from “When Harry Met Sally,” when the woman in the Carnegie Deli (played by director Rob Reiner’s mother Estelle) said, “I’ll have what she’s having,” after Meg Ryan faked an orgasm.

But Mullins was insistent upon the Kards playing well in a 42-point loss.

“We just weren’t able to put the ball in the basket,” Mullins said. “It’s not always about winning and losing. I liked the way we played. We played the way I wanted us to play. I think the kids all thought that they had a good team. We practiced like we were 8-0, not 0-8.”

How true was that line? Well, three Kardinal senior players all said the same thing when interviewed.

“When a team is down, no one likes to stay practicing,” senior guard Kender Santos said. “We were practicing like we were 8-0 and not 0-8.”

“We had to keep fighting,” senior Keuris Matos said. “We just had a bad start to the season. We were practicing like we were undefeated. We just had to stay positive.”

“Coming into the season, I think we were a little selfish,” senior guard Chris Serrano said. “We weren’t as bad as our record.”

A day after the loss to Hudson Catholic, the Kards faced Ferris. It was a case of feeling sorry for themselves and believing they were indeed a bad team or lace up the sneakers and get after trying to break the losing streak.

“It’s tough, because when you’re 0-8, it starts to get to you,” Mullins said. “But we played Ferris and got a 14-point lead and kept going.”

That’s what happened. The Kards earned a 78-44 victory.

“We took a breath after we got one,” Matos said. “Then we said, ‘Let’s keep it going.’”

“After that game, we were happy to get the first one,” Serrano said. “Once we won, we knew we could keep it going.”

But no one could have ever imagined just how much the Kards could keep it going.

Kearny managed to roll off an astounding seven straight games to close out the season, including a thrilling 56-49 win over Memorial in overtime last Friday night – the same Memorial team that defeated the Kardinals 70-44 on Feb. 13.

The Kardinals also managed to avenge a defeat against McNair Academic, a team that defeated the Kards, 62-59, in the season opener Jan. 28. The Kards took care of the Cougars in their second meeting of the campaign 83-45 last Tuesday.

It’s hard to find a team that started a season with eight losses and finished that same season with seven straight wins – a turnaround for the ages.

“I kept my faith, my belief in this team,” Mullins said. “We had our chances to give up. We could have found excuses, but we hung in there and believed in each other.”

“I know we’ve had stretches of four or five in a row,” Serrano said. “But not eight straight losses and then seven straight wins.”

“It was crazy wild, man,” Matos said. “Like crazy wild. We just went quarter by quarter and game by game. I think people thought it was going to be easy playing us, but we fought to the end.”

So what was the difference?
Well, for one, the Kardinals got a huge boost when transfer Ayden Lockett became eligible after moving to Kearny from California. Lockett, a junior guard, only played in seven games – all of which were victories. Lockett had 18 in the win over Memorial Friday night and averaged 15 points per game over those seven wins.

“I didn’t even know who he was,” Mullins said of Lockett. “He came to practice and I knew he could play. He made us so much better because we had three point guards. They were all very good and could hit the outside shot. Ayden really helped us. He’s a solid player.”

“If we would have had Ayden all season long, things would have been different,” Matos said. “He was a big addition to the team.”

But it was the team chemistry that carried them home.

“We wanted to win so badly,” Santos said. “We were all so unselfish.”

“We started to share the ball,” Serrano said. “I think having four guys to share the scoring took some of the weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to do too much.”

Needless to say, the complete transformation midseason is something the Kardinals will remember for years to come.

“It’s something I’m always going to remember,” Serrano said. “More than any of the other seasons.”

“I’m going to remember this until I can’t remember anymore,” Matos said. “The way we came back is something I’ll never forget.”

“It was a special year, a season to remember,” said Santos, who had 17 in the win over Memorial Friday night.

Mullins has about 35 years of coaching under his belt. No win was bigger than Friday night in West New York.

“I didn’t like the way we practiced Thursday,” Mullins said. “I told them that this was the biggest game of their lives. They had a chance to get some recognition for Kearny, a chance to make their mark. We treated it like it was our tournament game. For me, that one victory was one of the best ones ever. It was really rewarding to be with these kids and watching them develop. It was really rewarding for me.”



The Kearny boys’ basketball team enjoyed a great turnaround to their season, thanks to the play of senior point guard Chris Serrano.

Kearny rebounded from an 0-8 start to win their last seven games, thanks in part to senior Keuris Matos, who had 17 points in an overtime win over Memorial Friday night to finish 7-8. Photos by Jim Hague







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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.”