There was an understandable feeling of disappointment for the Lyndhurst girls basketball team last Monday when seeds for the Bergen County Tournament were released and the Golden Bears were excluded from the 24-team field despite an 11-4 record.
What Lyndhurst was invited to however, was the Bergen County Invitational and thus far it is making the most of the opportunity.
On Thursday, Lyndhurst defeated Fort Lee, 53-41, in the Invitational’s preliminary round. Then, two days later, the Golden Bears went to Dumont and defeated the home Huskies, 40-37 to advance to the quarterfinals, which will be held this coming Saturday.
“Yeah, we were all disappointed, and collectively as a team, I think we’re trying to use it as motivation moving forward for the rest of the season,” head coach Chris Boyce said. “It is just fuel to the fire a little bit by not making it into the main county (tournament). We’re trying to use that as a little motivation and trying to play with a little chip on our shoulder.”
Asya Akar, who earlier this season was named The Observer Athlete of the Week for her play while dealing with an ankle injury, is now at 100-percent and playing the basketball of her career with 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the two tournament wins. She also added 14 steals and four blocks over the two games.
“I’m starting to see the jump back in her step now that wasn’t there (earlier) and she’s not thinking about the ankle as much anymore,” said Boyce. She had a couple of monster games for us in the tournament, that’s for sure.”
Guard Sam Mayer, who Boyce called “the most important person on our team,” also has had a big tournament run, scoring 12 points against Fort Lee and 13 against Dumont. Sophomore Booke Harper added a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in the Fort Lee game.
Lyndhurst had a home division game against Rutherford on Jan. 29 and a crossover against Hasbrouck Heights before its quarterfinal matchup against Leonia on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Northern Valley Demarest.
While it may not have been the tournament they wanted to be in, the Golden Bears have made the most out of it and they know it will be helpful for their next tournament – the state tournament in less than a month.
“This is a great experience, especially with our team having one senior,” Boyce said. “This is an awesome thing.”
North Arlington was also selected for the Bergen County Invitational, but was knocked off in the preliminary round when it lost a 51-46 overtime heartbreaker to Paramus. In defeat, Skyla Acosta had 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Vikings.
On the boys side, Lyndhurst earned a second consecutive spot in the Bergen County Jamboree and, as a 13 seed, was awarded its highest seed in a long time. The Golden Bears run however came to an end with a 79-76 overtime loss to Tenafly in the preliminary round on Thursday despite 18 points from Anthony Pizzuti, 15 from CJ Baillie and a Matt Slaby double-double.
While Tenafly went on to deliver the upset of the Jamboree on Saturday defeating Ridgewood, Lyndhurst, which as a result of the preliminary round shifts over to the Bergen Invitational Tournament. Lyndhurst met a similar fate as it did two days later, dropping a 62-61 decision to Pascack Hills. Baillie scored 22 points and Pizzuti added 20 as he closes in on the program’s career scoring record.
North Arlington’s BIT run was short-lived when, on Thursday, it lost 61-53 to Waldwick despite 18 points by Ibrahim Gabr.
Thursday also saw the end of Bloomfield’s Essex County Tournament run as the Bengals, seeded 17, lost 42-38 decision to Irvington in the third preliminary round. Three nights earlier, Bloomfield defeated West Orange, 64-55, with both Sean Perrotta and Shariff Brown scoring 19 points apiece.
Belleville, seeded 20th in the 41-team field, was knocked out by Glen Ridge in the second preliminary round, 52-50, this past Monday. Nutley, the 28th seed, was bounced in the first preliminary round by Eagle Academy of Newark.
On the girls side, both Nutley and Bloomfield made it to the round of 16 before each falling on the road on Saturday. Nutley, seeded 10th, was knocked off by seventh-seeded Caldwell, 56-36, despite 15 points from Anna Green. Bloomfield, seeded 11th, lost 59-43 to sixth-seeded Newark Central, which was carried by Monmouth-bound forward Faith Fedd-Robinson’s 32 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists.
In the third preliminary round, the Maroon Raiders defeated Livingston behind a season-high 15 points from Grace Christie and the Bengals got 17 from Aniya Brown in a victory over Millburn. Belleville, seeded 25th, lost 37-25 to Science Park in the second preliminary round.
Hudson County will seed its tournament next week. The Kearny girls, who recently completed an incomprehensible nine-game road trip, is likely looking at a top five seed in the tournament.
The Kearny boys have potentially played themselves into a preliminary round home game after winning four of its last five to improve to 8-6 on the season. Harrison looks to head into the tournament after defeating local rival Secaucus on Saturday.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)