David Forzani made five free throws in the final minute to help Elmwood Park secure its 6th straight win, a 49-45 victory in front of a racous crowd on Tuesday afternoon.
ELMWOOD PARK – Being on a winning team playing in front of raucous home crowds are what every high school player dreams of during their varsity years and cherishes when their playing days are in the rear-view mirror. This is what makes playing afternoon games in the middle of the week so tricky. Often there are parents, some school staff members, and a handful of students making up a sparce crowd.
However, with winning comes a buzz around a school’s student body that they are onto something special. When that happens, sometimes a team catches lightning in a bottle. That is exactly what has happened with Elmwood Park. Facing a Cresskill team hungry for a win, the crowd off the court was transformed into a sixth man on the court. It was a feeling that was unfamiliar to the current roster but one that head coach Steve Herget knew well from his playing days at Elmwood Park.
After a slow start, Elmwood Park came alive to grab the lead in the second quarter. Although it was never relinquished, the game had plenty of drama and a state tournament-like atmosphere reminiscent of when Herget, a first-team all-Bergen County selection in 2006, used to regularly play in front of a packed house for home games.
With the Crusaders’ Crazy Crew going crazy from the opening tap to the final buzzer, the energy in the Elmwood Park gymnasium was electric. Essem Assaf produced numerous big plays throughout, and fellow backcourt mate David Forzani delivered the knockout blow. He scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, including five free-throws in the final minute, as Elmwood Park held off Cresskill, 49-45, to win its sixth straight game on Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re coming together, we have the pieces to make a run in the states,” said Forzani. “Coach’s main emphasis is protecting the ball and getting good shots. I knew at the end that I had to knock down those free-throws for my team. After working so hard and having the lead the whole way we couldn’t let this game slip away.”
DJackson Reichard hit a pair of fourth quarter 3s to help keep Cresskill in the game.
Having lost seven of its last eight games coming into this contest, Cresskill looked to snap the slide and gain a quality road win in one fell swoop. The Cougars got off to a hot start when Cody Song’s three-pointer from the top of the key gave them a quick 7-2 lead.
The Crusaders responded by turning up their defensive pressure on the ball. Forzani created havoc all game and got some help off the bench from guards Dalwin Rivera and Jahvel Watson. Assaf was the beneficiary on the other end of the floor, hitting four of five shots in the period as Elmwood Park used a big second quarter to take a 24-17 halftime lead.
Elmwood Park got layups from Assaf and Alex Picinich on the first two possessions of the third quarter to grab the only double-digit lead of the game by either team. Cresskill clawed its way back in the game from behind the three-point line. In fact, 12 of the Cougars’ 14 points in the quarter came from the behind the arc. Sophomore Marko Radovich’s deep three-pointer whittled the lead down to two, 33-31.
Picinich and Rivera answered with driving layups to seemingly halt the run and give the Crusaders some cushion heading into the fourth quarter. Jackson Reicharz hit a pair of threes in the fourth quarter to keep the Cougars within range of a comeback. The Crusaders needed a little extra boost and got that from their home crowd.
Essem Assaf produced numerous big plays throughout for Elmwood Park.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and our crowd lifted us up today,” said Assaf. “I didn’t have a great game personally but (Forzani) picked me up and we had a lot of guys contributing at big points in the game. We’re so thankful for the coaches, the administration, the staff who helped set the gym up for the game, and the student section for stepping up when we needed it. Everyone had a hand in this win.”
Radovich provided a huge second-half spark for the Cougars with two more long-range bombs in the fourth quarter, including one in the final minute that once again trimmed the lead down to two. Forzani answered by hitting both ends of a one-and-one, then hit another free-throw in the waning seconds to close out the Crusaders’ sixth consecutive victory.
“This is the type of game earlier in the season we might not pull out, but now we’ve learned how to stick together and we’re finding ways to win because of it,” said Herget. “Every time we feel like we have a chance to pull away we have a missed free-throw or a live-ball turnover that turns into points. We still have a couple of those, but we’ve learned to minimize those over the past few weeks and figure out how to close out games. The crowd here was awesome, They definitely played a part in the outcome. This was a fun game to be a part of, it feels like old times in here again.”