Belleville's record setting boys basketball team saw its season come to an end on Monday night at home, losing in the opening round of the North II Group 3 state sectional playoffs to Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 65-53.
Untimely turnovers coupled with red-hot three-point shooting by the Blue Raiders ultimately led to the loss for the Buccaneers, who were within striking distance multiple times throughout the game.
"I just think we went through a couple of stretches during this game where we turned the ball over, we didn't take care of the ball when we should have," said fifth year Belleville head coach, Ted Socharski. "That's been our Achilles heel all year with certain losses this year."
With just under six minutes left to play, Julian Rodriguez drove to the basket and knocked in a lay-up in traffic to bring the Bucs within seven points, capping a 13-3 run, which began in the third quarter. But that was as close as Belleville came in this one, with Scotch Plains nailing 11-of-12 free throws down the stretch, including nine-of-10 by Dom Gionzales, to hold off Belleville.
It also did not help that the Bucs turned the ball over six times during the final five minutes, making it very difficult for them to get any momentum going.
The Blue Raiders came out on fire in the contest, nailing six first-half three pointers to help build a 38-21 halftime lead. Belleville initially fell behind 8-0 and ended the first quarter trailing 16-12. Scotch Plains really got rolling in the second quarter, where they outscored the home team 22-9, including a 12-2 run to start the quarter.
"I was kind of taken aback by a couple of the guys that made the three pointers for Scotch Plains," Socharski said. "We had a game plan around a couple of the other players and a couple of their guys I think just stepped up tonight. It's a state game so they came to play and you have to give credit where credit is due."
Despite the score, Belleville was dominant in the paint behind the play of Rodriguez and Tommy Rosario. Rodriguez had a game high seven blocks (most of which were emphatic) to go along with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Rosario was a machine underneath, pouring in a game-high 26 points and 14 rebounds.
"Without the two of them this whole season, I don't think we would've been where we were," Socharski said of Rosario and Rodriguez. "They really carried the team this whole year. They both played tonight, the best that they could."
Scotch Plains, which improved to 14-13 with the win, had four players score in double figures. Gionzales was the high scorer for the Blue Raiders with 20 points, while Ian Johnston added 15, Tom Bonacum had 12 and Xavier Noel Brooks chipped in 11. The Raiders move on to play top seeded Rahway in the next round.
It shouldn't be forgotten that this has been the most successful boys basketball season in Belleville, maybe ever, but certainly in over 50 years, with Monday's game being the first home playoff boys basketball game in school history. The 16 wins set a new school mark for the most in a single season. They finished up 16-8.
"This game doesn't take from what we accomplished all year," Socharski said.