March 7, 2012

NJSIAA Tournament can end suddenly

Sports Columnist

You can be sure there were many Ocean City High School basketball fans who were pretty excited last Thursday and Friday. Their basketball teams had swept two doubleheaders earlier in the week and if they both won on Friday night in the South Jersey semifinals, the Dixie Howell Memorial Gymnasium could have hosted South Jersey championship games on consecutive nights this week.

Then, boom! The roof fell in.

The Ocean City girls let a lead get away in the second half and lost to a very good Seneca team at OCHS. And the Raider boys, after two exciting comeback wins in the first two rounds, could not get control of their tight contest with Lacey Township and lost in Lanoka Harbor.

Lacey went on to lose to Camden by two points in the South Jersey final. Seneca went on to defeat Delsea and won the South Jersey championship.

That is the way of the NJSIAA Tournament. It is what makes it so exciting, much like the NCAA Tournament. The top seeds do not always win and a season can end on one play or one shot.

Sports fans love that. That is why you see fans at state tournament games that rarely come out all season. It is a little like Thanksgiving football. It is something that ties together different generations. If you played high school basketball in the 1940s, you played in the NJSIAA Tournament. So, when the current team starts playing in that tournament, you can relate to how they feel. You remember the excitement.

You also know there is a decent chance you might see something special. Ryan Reich might hit a 35-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. J.D. Asselta and Reggie Welsh might lock up in a great scoring battle. Phil Schaffer might toss in an impossible offensive rebound to win it. Nancy White might make free throw after free throw in the clutch. Or Tom Ballezzi might hit a three to change a loss into an overtime win.

When elimination is at stake, special things tend to happen.

By the way, here is a suggested schedule change for the NJSIAA. In the second week of the tournament, groups are staggered. In other words, Group 3 boys play on Monday and Wednesday while Group 3 girls play on Tuesday and Thursday. It allows fans from all schools to see both their boys and girls teams play.

It is time to start the tournament that way.

Instead of having both Group 3 boys and girls play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of week one, have the boys play Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the girls on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It would allow fans to see both teams play every game, if they desire. You could also give schools whose teams both earn home court advantage the option of scheduling a girl-boy doubleheader in the first round.

Though Ocean Cityís teams were eliminated (along with every other CAL team except the Middle Township girls, Atlantic City boys and Cedar Creek girls) there is still a lot of great basketball remaining.

Atlantic City won the South Jersey Boys Group 4 title on Tuesday and the Vikings play in the state semifinal on Thursday night at Egg Harbor Township. The Middle girls, who won their first South Jersey title since 1995 on Monday and sixth overall, will face a tough Point Pleasant Boro team on Wednesday night at Deptford. And the Cedar Creek girls will play at Williamstown on Thursday night.

The Non-Public state finals are on Saturday in the Pine Belt Arena at Toms River North. The girls public state finals are in Toms River on Sunday and the boys public state finals are Sunday at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

You donít have to drive too far to see some excellent basketball. And, you never know what might happen. After all, itís the NJSIAA Tournament.

Read more of Tom Williams' columns