While Pal Park celebrates Wrobo, Bogota wins

Sophomore Ashanti Cavines was one of three double-digit scorers for Bogota, which opened the season with a 75-49 win on the same night that Palisades Park renamed its gymnasium to honor longtime athletic director John Wroblewski.

PALISADES PARK – The Palisades Park community wanted to show its love for John Wroblewski, the longtime athletic director who retired in June after 41 years in the district. On opening night of the high school basketball season between games of a girls/boys double header, Wrobo as he is known, took to center court for a few words before pulling back the curtain on the new sign that signified the rebranding of the gymnasium, which will heretofore be known as John Wroblewski Gymnasium.

There is also new signage at the entrance, there was a brief reception in the cafeteria complete with family photos, handshakes and hugs. But all the while and true to his humble nature, Wrobo was trying to process what all of the fuss was about.

“I do not know what I did to deserve this. Palisades Park is just such a great, great place to be. I have made so many friendships that are going to last a lifetime,” said Wrobo. “As I said in the gym, God blessed me when he sent me here. I owe Palisades Park my eternal thanks more than this community owes me anything, especially an honor like this, but I am thankful. So thankful.”

It was a festive night, a least most of its was festive for the home teams. The Palisades Park girls opened their season with a lop-sided win over Bogota, the warm feelings for Wrobo lasted straight through the intermission and beyond and then the Pal Park boys team took the floor and built a six-point halftime lead against a Bogota side that is one of the favorites to win a league title, earn and Jamboree bid and make a legitimate run in the North 1, Group 1 state sectional playoffs. With every basket by the Tigers in the opening 16 minutes, the newly christened John Wroblewski Gymnasium grew louder and louder.

Sophomore Derrick Bueno finished with a team-high 21 points for Pal Park.

And then Bogota opened the third quarter by scoring 14 straight points, they outscored the Tigers 49-17 in the second half overall and fought through all of the hoopla to secure a 75-49 opening night victory.

It was a positive outcome for a Bucs side that has had high expectations placed on it from the outside while still having to replace more than 2,200 points that walked out the door after the graduation ceremony last June.

“Aregenis Soriano is a four-year player. He is going to be fine. Ben Lukabu has started for two years, but he has been a role player. Ashanti Cavines is a sophomore who, last year, spent half the time on JV. Taj [Collins] is a sophomore who had never before played one second of varsity and Kenjiee Polanco came back to us from Paramus Catholic,” said Jay Mahoney, Bergen County’s all-time winningest boys basketball coach. “Where is the Jambo talk coming from? We graduated Deiker Padrino, 1,400 points. We graduated Tim Uzor, 860 points. Expectations are way too high. We are day by day and we could have lost tonight.”

The outcome certainly was in question as Bogota’s new faces got thrown right into the fire on opening night in front of a raucous crowd. Pal Park was running on adrenaline early and sophomore center Derrick Bueno led the charge.  A big guy who can score in the post, run the floor  and also step out and make threes, Bueno scored 14 of his team-high 21 in the first half. He scored two straight buckets in transition late in the second quarter to put Pal Park up 29-24 and Josh Yang’s triple from the win with just under a minute to go gave the Tigers the 32-26 advantage they took into halftime.

As Mahoney said, Soriano is a four-year varsity player and the senior point guard needed to step up in the second half. He knew it.

Senior Kenjiee Polanco finished with a team-high 21 points for Bogota.

“It’s just a lot different than last year. Last year I was like the third option, now I am the first or second with our other guard Kenjiee. I had two or three people on me rather than the mostly 1-on-1 stuff I saw last year,” said Soriano. “I just have to stay calm and composed and listen to whatever coach says. Whatever he tells me to do is going to lead me to success and we had to step it up in the second half.”

The Bucs did just that as Collins opened the third quarter with a three, his first points of the game, and Polanco scored seven in a row which took Bogota (1-0) from down two to up 37-32 with 2:29 into the period. Collins went coast-to-coast for a layup and Soriano made a free throw to cap the 14-0 spurt and put the Bucs up 40-32 before Bueno finally scored inside to snap the streak.

Play in the first half was allowed to be physical in the first half, but the referees tightened it up in the second half, which led to a parade to the foul line. Bogota (11-for-21 FTs) shot 16 of its 21 foul shots in the second half while Pal Park was 10 of 13 from the line in the game and 7 of 10 after the break.

Bueno and Chris McKnight (11 points) were Pal Park’s two double digit scorers while the Bucs had three, Polanco (21), Cavines (17) and Soriano (13). Collins scored all 8 of his points in the second half and freshman Evan Medberg scored his first varsity points on a second quarter three-pointer for Bogota, whose bench outscored the Tigers’ 15-6.

The loss did not dampen the mood in Pal Park, which got to celebrate a large part of its history with a host of alumni and fans and the win showed that Bogota that, while it has a lot of room to grow, it also has the foundation for another successful season.

“It was a great way to start the season. It was good to get out there after all of the hard practices, all the hard work and play in a loud gym and get the win,” said Cavines, who was also a standout for the Bogota football team this past fall. “It turned out well and it was fun.”