Sean Hansen's fourth quarter dunk with a key play in Ramsey's 49-43 win over Pascack Hills in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional final on Tuesday night.
RAMSEY – Thee hundred and 71 days. That is exactly how long the Ramsey players have had to stew in the feeling of anger and disappointment after losing the North 1, Group 2 state sectional final in overtime on their own home floor. It is also how long the team has put in the work every single day to grow both individually and as a unit.
As successful of a season as the Rams have had in 2019-2020 they took the floor on Tuesday night again with a section title at stake knowing full well the stakes. Any outcome other than the fans storming the court and the Rams hoisting the trophy after the final buzzer would be considered a failure.
The crowd was buzzing from well before the opening tip and a formidable opponent, Pascack Hills, which had already beaten the Rams during the regular season, was battling every step of the way. Winning a section title would not come easy.
Sean Hansen, Steven Turk, and Jaden Quinerly have been Ramsey's key triumvirate all season long. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, all three played huge roles in sealing the biggest win of their careers to date.
Hansen's fourth-quarter dunk was followed by a drive from Turk before Quinerly's free-throws iced the game as the trio combined for all but three of top-seeded Ramsey's points on the night. The Rams erased the pain of last season's ending by winning its second North 1, Group 2 title in the past three years with a 49-43 victory over No. 2 seed Pascack Hills on Tuesday night at Ramsey High School.
Jake Morales scored a team-high 14 points for Pascack Hills, which finished its season with a 24-4 record.
“We know each other so well that it comes down to making them work as hard as they can and executing as often as we can on both ends of the floor,” said Ramsey head coach Kevin McGuire. “Pascack Hills is really a quality team and we knew it would be a super challenge. We felt like we should have won last year and we've been carrying that with us from the time we walked off the floor against Mountain Lakes last year. It was our time.”
The adrenaline was flowing right from the start of the game. Both teams came out firing and trading leads right from the beginning of the game. Jake Morales (7) and Marcello Espinosa (6) combined for all 13 of Pascack Hills' first-quarter points. The Rams kept pace every step of the way with a three-pointer from the 6-foot-8 Hansen and a buzzer-beating floater by Quinerly giving the Rams a 16-13 lead after a first quarter in which both teams shot over 60-percent.
In the second quarter the pace slowed considerably and both teams clamped down defensively. The lead was two until Hansen's putback of his own miss at the buzzer bumped it up to four at halftime, 23-19.
Arguably the biggest shot of the game came from Quinerly midway through the third quarter. With the Rams clinging to a three-point lead and the zone sagging off, the senior guard canned a three-pointer from the top of the key to double the lead to six. On the next possession, Turk scored on a runner in the paint and Hansen scored inside with Ramsey closing the quarter on a 9-2 run to take its first double-digit lead of the game, 36-26, heading into the fourth quarter.
Jaden Quinerly finished with 11 points for Ramsey, which won its second section title in the last three years.
“I wasn't hitting my shots early but I had to knock down open looks when I had them,” said Quinerly. “Shooters shoot and I had to take that three-pointer with confidence. I wasn't hitting in the first half but eventually one of them was going to fall. Sean and Steven have both won section titles before, I've been here for the past two years so we had experience and the confidence that we'd get the job done. No matter what happened this was our last home game and we had to leave it all about on the floor.”
Pascack Hills fought hard the whole way and continued to do so right until the very end. The Rams led by as many as 12 before Jason Schulman scored a pair of buckets to keep the Cowboys afloat. Gabe Velez also provided a spark off the bench with a hustle play that led to a pair of free-throws followed by a strip of Hansen and a layup to trim the lead to five with three minutes to play.
Feeling the momentum shift and the long-awaited shot winning another section title slipping away Hansen quickly atoned for his mistake. He came down the middle of the lane and threw down a thunderous two-handed dunk to push the lead up to seven, 42-35.
Jake Morales got it back down to five on a tough baseline jumper but the Cowboys never got any closer. Turk answered with a drive to the basket on the other end and Quinerly's free-throws locked up the North 1 Group 2 section title as the Rams' 371-day journey towards both vengeance (which they received in the section semifinal win over Mountain Lakes) and the feeling of being champions once again was now complete.
“It was extremely important for us to keep our composure when the pressure was on,” said the Cornell-bound Hansen. “We came out with a lot of energy from the start of the game and maintained it right until the end.”
Hansen had a game-high 21 points for Ramsey (23-7). Turk added 12 and Quinerly 11. The only other points scored by the Rams came on a first-quarter three from Brooks Thompson.
Morales led Pascack Hills (24-4) with 14 points and Aidan Kehoe added 10.
Ramsey moves on to face another section champion, Hackettstown, in the Group 2 semifinals on Thursday at Bloomfield High School with tip-off at 5:00 P.M. While the Rams are certainly happy to complete their journey towards a section crown, a new, much-shorter journey to becoming a Group 2 state champion has now begun.
“We're really happy to be section champs but for this team there's no settling, we want more,” added Hansen. “Tonight we enjoy this win with each other, our families, and our fans. Tomorrow it's right back to gym and get ready for the next game.”