Park Ridge, with so much to play for, plays for something bigger

Sam Fasola scored a game-high 33 points for Park Ridge, which topped Hasbrouck Heights, 60-48, on Saturday at the Brian Long Classic.

RIDGEFIELD PARK – Park Ridge has it all to play for this week. A four-game stretch that started on Friday will be pivotal to where the Owls go from here. A clean sweep would mean automatic entry in the Bergen County Jamboree and true front-runner status in the race for a league championship, which does not happen all that often in Park Ridge boys basketball; six times since 1954 to be exact,

Even with all of that on the line, the Owls realized that they were playing for something bigger when they took to the floor for the second time in less than 24 hours on Saturday at the Brian Long Classic in Ridgefield Park. Brian Long grew up in Bergenfield, was a decorated police officer in New Milford and was raising his family in Park Ridge before succumbing to cancer eight years ago.

“Brian Long’s son Ryan Long played for me here. My first year, Ryan was a junior and I learned what this event is all about. It is a real honor to play here,” said Park Ridge head coach Brian Koch. “This morning we brought Ryan in to our walk through to talk to the kids. As time as has gone on, maybe some of the younger players don’t realize why we are here and that is for a higher purpose: Local sports for a great cause and Ryan spoke very eloquently.”

The message was heeded as the Owls, despite what had to be some tired legs after Friday night’s win over Midland Park, scored 10 of the game’s first 11 points and led wire-to-wire in a 60-48 victory that runs Park Ridge’s record to 8-5 on the season.

It was Deron McLaughlin’s bucker inside that put the Owls in front for good 2:45 into the game and Same Fasola’s 3-pointer 48 seconds later that got Park Ridge rolling. Fasola, a sophomore with a good feel for the game and the confidence to match, made five first half 3s on his way to a game-high 33 points and McLaughlin scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half to thwart and chances of a Hasbrouck Heights comeback.

Damen Rivera scored a team-high 17 points for Hasbrouck Heights, which is now 6-6 on the season.

“I just did what I usually do. I usually take five or six threes in the first half, today I hit most of them. I felt confident today as soon as I stepped on the court,” said Fasola, who made six 3s in the game. “We played yesterday, but I had this adrenalin when I woke up and I was ready to go.”

Fasola hit a 3 and a runner to cap off the 10-1 spurt that Park Ridge opened the game with and it held a 12-5 advantage after the first quarter and every time that Heights tried to sneak back into the game, Fasola and his teammates had an answer.

After Evan Werner scored four points in a 6-0 Heights run to draw the Aviators to within 12-9, Fasola scored in transition. When Werner flipped one in from the seat of his pants to make it a three-point game again, Fasola buried a 3 from the corner. And when Damen Rivera hit a 3 to make it a three-point game for the final time, Jayden Ingala, Fasola and Brendan Burns combined for a 6-0 Park Ridge run that made it 24-14 before the Owls settled for a 33-25 halftime lead with Fasola responsible for 23 of those points.

“Sam is a coach on the coach and he is a leader even though he is only a sophomore,” said Koch. “He’s a young pup, but we go as he goes. That is for sure.”

McLaughlin, a double-double machine averaging 11 rebounds per game, got going early in the second half. He scored inside 38 seconds into the third quarter to put the Owls up 10 and the closes that Heights could get was to within 38-31 after a Francisco Corona 3 with 6:01 to go in the third. Park Ridge led by as many as 15 in the period, was up 49-40 heading into the fourth quarter and never let Heights get back to within single digits the rest of the way.

McLaughlin, who will play football at the University of Connecticut next season, dominated the glass in the second half and made seven field goals in the final two periods, all of them with two feet inside the paint.

Park Ridge senior Deron McLaughlin scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half.

“We couldn’t take our foot off the gas pedal in the second half. We needed to finish strong,” said McLaughlin, who sees the importance of playing multiple high school sports instead of specializing. “Basketball gets me ready. It keeps me doing athletic things, it keeps me in shape and it helps keep me competitive. It’s also a lot of fun.”

Rivera, who made five 3s, led the way for Hasbrouck Heights with 17 points and Werner added 14. Noah Robles (7 points), Corona (5), Darien Baez (3) and Joey Farmisano (2) rounded out the scoring for the Aviators, who fell to 6-6 on the season.

Park Ridge’s pivotal week continues on Monday at home against Emerson and then will host Cresskill in a game that could decide the league championship on Friday.

“If we can go 2-0 that should qualify us [for the Jambo} and we are fighting for a potential division title,” said Koch, whose team has a one-game lead over Cresskill entering the week. “We are just trying to do our best every time we take the court. This was one of our most complete performances even after just playing last night. Now we want to continue to build on it.”