Nick Souza scored a game-high 27 points for Kearny, which advanced to the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals with a 56-47 win over Harrison.
KEARNY – High school basketball players live for playing in front of a big crowd with something on the line. Those types of games pop up this time of year, but generally not on a Tuesday afternoon between two teams who come into the game both having lost more games than they have won this season.
Something about neighboring rivals can bring out the best in each town and for each team. As Kearny and Harrison took the floor to warm-up for a first-round game in the Hudson County Tournament they knew it would not be like any of the other games they have played this season. With a sold-out crowd cheering every move the atmosphere was electric right from the opening tip.
The two teams gave the crowd what they wanted with a spirited effort and a game that was close well into the fourth quarter. Kearny, the No. 11 seed, bent numerous times during the contest but never broke. Nick Souza carried the Kardinals throughout before Chris Serrano provided some support in the final two minutes of a 56-47 win over 14th-seeded Harrison at Kearny High School.
“This is our court and the crowd was crazy, so we had to control the game and set the pace,” said Souza, a senior swingman. “Get a lead, hold onto the lead, then make our free throws, that was our plan for the game.”
Erik Feliz finsihed with 13 points and 7 rebounds for Harrison.
Nick Souza got the home crowd going early with an ankle-breaking crossover on the first possession of the game and eight first quarter points as Kearny took the lead. The Blue Tide had an answer for every run, taking their only lead on two free-throws from Erik Feliz, 19-18, midway through the second quarter.
An undersized Blue Tide squad struggled on the glass when it did not box out. That was apparent on the ensuing two Kearny possesions. Both times the Kardinals got fouled going to the basket and hit the first free-throw before missing the second. On identical plays, Kearny forward Ryan Gill grabbed the offensive rebound and laid it back in for a 6-0 run in a manner of seconds with the Kardinals regaining control with a 28-22 lead at halftime.
After a tough first half from the beyond the three-point arc the Blue Tide started to find their stroke. Rodriguez nailed pair of three-pointers around one from Feliz as Harrison made it a one-possession game going into the fourth quarter. They whittle Kearny's lead down to a single point and forced turnovers twice to have possession with the chance to take the lead. Both times though they immediately turned the ball back over to the Kardinals, who made them pay for it.
Souza scored to bump the lead up to three. Then with under two minutes to play the Blue Tide extended out their trapping defense to try and force a steal. Serrano was cool under pressure by splitting a pair of defenders and knifing his way through the lane for a layup and a 49-44 lead.
“I wanted to take care of the ball first but when I saw a chance to get to the basket I just went for it,” said Serrano.
Chris Serrano and Kearny will visit No. 6 Memorial in the HCT quarterfinals.
After a Harrison miss, Serrano was fouled and knocked down both ends of a one-and-one to ice the game and send the Kardinals into the Hudson County Tournament's Round of 16.
“You have to take care of the ball and those two turnovers ended up hurting us in the end,” said Harrison first-year head coach Jose Camano. “I thought if we could have pulled ahead in the fourth quarter that it would have given us the confidence to close the game out. We missed our first six-throws and shot under 50% at the line. Free-throws and turnovers were the difference today.”
Souza led all players with a game-high 27 points for Kearny (10-13). Rodriguez scored half of his team-high 20 points in the third quarter for Harrison (8-15). Feliz added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Kearny moves on to play No. 6 seed Memorial (West New York) for a berth in the Hudson County quarterfinals. The Kardinals have lost twice this year to the Tigers but look forward to see what they can do with another shot at them.
“We have to play our game and take care of the ball every time we have it,” added Serrano. “We'll practice hard leading up to the game, come ready to play and give it all we've got.”