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Madison Eighth-Graders Win Basketball Title

Junior School beats East Orange in the Garden State Basketball League championship.

Eighth-graders on Madison's travel basketball team won the 2012 Garden State Basketball League championship on March 28, defeating East Orange 55-47. The following recap of the game and season was provided by Ron Bangs.

The Madison eighth grade travel boys basketball team won the 2012 Garden State Basketball League Championship on March 28, defeating East Orange 55-47. The game was an intense affair between two athletic and talented teams in front of a large crowd at the .

The first quarter was a tight defensive struggle as both teams put significant pressure on the ball and challenged every shot. Madison got off to a quick 5-0 lead behind a three-point basket by Brett Rojas and a driving lay-up by Tim Azzolini.

The lead was short-lived, though, as East Orange used their significant height advantage to close the quarter leading by a count of 7-5.

The second quarter brought more of the same from East Orange as they continued to pound the ball inside the Madison zone. Hard-nosed defense and board work from the back line of Will Renz, Jeff Young, Michael Bangs and Justin Dalena kept the damage to a minimum, but foul trouble began to plague the Dodgers.

At this point, Josh Kurkewicz entered the game to provide several minutes of solid defense while also contributing an assist and smooth corner jumper on the offensive end.

The East Orange squad pulled ahead by a 20-15 count with a minute left before a Brett Rojas lay-in and a pull-up jumper from the baseline by Michael Bangs closed the gap to 20-19 at the half.

East Orange blitzed the Dodgers with two quick three-point baskets early in the second half pulling ahead 29-22 and it looked like momentum was clearly favoring the visiting side. The Dodgers answered this challenge with a stunning 13-0 run to take back the lead at 35-29. Keying the run was Brett Rojas who sandwiched three consecutive three-point shots around two tough inside baskets earned by Jeff Young and Will Renz. Not to be outdone, the East Orange squad answered with three long three-point shots of their own to take back the lead at 40-37 going into the fourth quarter.

Madison used a steal and breakaway layup by Brett Rojas to tie the score at 42 early in the fourth quarter. A tough inside conversion by Will Renz followed by a three-point basket by Michael Bangs created a five-point advantage for Madison at 47-42 with four minutes to go in the game.

Madison continued its strong work on the defensive end holding East Orange scoreless for the next two minutes while the Dodgers converted two more inside baskets from Justin Dalena and Will Renz to push the lead to nine points. An East Orange three-point basket closed the gap to six points, but strong ball-handling by Rojas and Azzolini in conjunction with continued spectacular defense allowed Madison to run out the clock and secure the win.

Brett Rojas finished the game with a season-high 27 points, but equally as important was his flawless ball handling against the relentless ball pressure from East Orange.

The season

East Orange came into the game having steamrolled their previous play-off opponents by more than 20 points a game by leveraging their full-court pressure and unusually large size (four players more than 6 feet tall). The outstanding guard play of Rojas and Azzolini neutralized the East Orange ball pressure with Madison having only six turnovers for the entire game.

Equally important was the relentless defense and tough board work provided by the whole team. Spotting several inches across the entire back line, the Madison team played outstanding team defense, challenging entry passes, doubling down inside and competing for every loose ball and rebound. It was an outstanding effort by all.

Strong regular season performance achieved home court advantage for play-offs. The team finished its season with a total record of 14 wins and 2 losses. The regular season performance secured the home court advantage for the play-off run, which proved very valuable in the championship game.

Season highlights included a 15-point win at home over a previously undefeated Westfield team in which Madison lost their point guard to injury in the first quarter.

Another highlight was an 11-point overtime win on the road against a large and tough Middlesex team that sported a 9-0 record going into the game. Trailing by three points with 11 seconds left and Middlesex holding the ball, Madison was able to execute a steal from their press and converted a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.

In overtime, Madison outscored their stunned opponent 11-0 to deal Middlesex their first loss.

The players

The Madison team was an exceptionally balanced group led by consistent double digit scoring from the quartet of Brett Rojas, Tim Azzolini, Will Renz and Michael Bangs, each of whom averaged about 10 points per game.  Notable contributions were made by every member of the team.

Brett Rojas sparkled in the team’s play-off run, scoring more than 20 points per game in the three-game drive to the championship. Throughout the year, his strong ball-handling and passing skills were a vital part of the team’s success as was his skillful ball pressure on the defensive side.

Tim Azzolini paired with Rojas to provide the most athletic backcourt in the league. A large, physical guard, Tim was a premier defender and rebounder from the guard position. In addition, Tim was outstanding on the fast break executing countless spectacular finishes at the rim and skillful passes for assists.

Will Renz was an indomitable force as an undersized forward for the team. His rebounding, strong inside scoring moves and relentless will to win every minute of every game were invaluable to the team as was his defensive presence where he led the team in charges taken. Late in the season, Will added a smooth pull-up jumper to his expanding offensive arsenal.

Playing from the wing, Michael Bangs provided a consistent three-point shooting threat from the outside and a strong ability to drive to the rim. In addition, Michael provided ball handling support and was a solid distributor of the basketball, resulting in many assists.

Jeff Young was the tallest player on the team and really added a new dimension to the team this year. An exceptionally fast and agile player for someone his size, Jeff became an intimidating shot-blocker on the defensive side and a tenacious rebounder of the basketball. In addition, Jeff developed some impressive post moves leading to several games in which he was a double digit scorer.

J.P. Ralston was an accomplished scoring threat all year, possessing a strong three-point shot as well as a reliable baseline floater. J.P. scored 15 points to lead the team in the final regular season game that secured the team’s home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Justin Dalena provided critical depth to the team, both on the wing and inside.  Justin’s strong defense, rebounding and hustle were essential to many of the team’s victories. Justin tallied a season high eleven points in the win that clinched home court advantage for the playoffs.

Nick Coviello provided a spark at the guard position for the team. Nick provided instant energy with his defensive skills: on many occasions executing a number of steals that changed the momentum of the game in Madison’s favor.

Josh Kurkewicz was a first-year player with the team and developed into a key contributor. A very skilled athlete, Josh was able to provide depth on the inside with his shot-blocking, rebounding and scoring.

Chris Rabel was another first-year player that provided depth inside. Chris had a unique knack for scoring in nearly every game. Chris made a clutch put-back layup late in the fourth quarter to secure a tight win on the road against a strong Branchburg team.

The team was coached for the last two years by Zach Ellis and Curtis Sallie.  The coaches did an amazing job of getting  the group to play together as a team in a style that maximized their collective strengths. Over the two years, the team compiled a record of 26 wins against 5 losses. A missed three-point shot at the buzzer in the 2011 championship game is all the prevented back-to-back championships for the group.

Speaking after the game against East Orange, Coach Ellis commented: “The one thing that stands out about this group is their relentless competitive spirit. No matter the situation, each and every member of the team scrapped, clawed and competed well beyond the expectations of the coaches. They are a great mix of players and personalities.”

dave carver April 08, 2012 at 01:41 AM
congrats to Zach on leading the team to such a fine accomplishment. very nicely done!
TiredofMadisonPolitics April 08, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Congratulations to Zach AND Curtis. Wonderful job by the by all parties in leading the team to this great accomplishment!
KeepItReal April 12, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Point of clarification: this team is not the Madison Junior School team as implied in the sub-headline. It is the team from the Madison Recreation Dept. (http://madisonhoops.assn.la/)
Celebrate Success April 15, 2012 at 06:31 PM
CelebrateSuccess Congratulations to the Madison Basketball Association (MBA) for its sparkling success in its first year. Two division champions at the 8th grade and 4th grade levels and many other fine team achievements. Mission of the MBA is to build a sustainable feeder system for the High School Basketball Programs (boys and girls) Key accomplishments this year include: Attracting best athletes at all levels to play high level competition Getting high level coaching from unpaid volunteers supported by coaching tips and curriculum Providing opportunities for multiple teams at each age group keeping more kids involved and developing Providing a proper balance between games and practices with an emphasis on the team and individual development achieved from well-run practices Offered at a fraction of the cost of pay to play programs A great job by the MBA leadership of Mike Rosselli, Bull Mulcahey and Stacey Edwards! Great effort led to great success.

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