Don't look now but Pascack Valley is rolling

Junior Trevor Kirkby scored 12 points for Pascack Valley, which won its third straight game, 54-36, over Dwight-Englewood on Sunday at the Benefit Games to support the Zack Latteri Foundation.

HILLSDALE – By three points against Ramsey, by three points against Glen Rock, by five points against Bergenfield and by four points against Teaneck, Pascack Valley was almost buried beneath a bunch of close early season losses as it stumbled to a 2-7 start.

“We’ve been in eight one or two possession games with this group and not all of them have gone our way,” said PV head coach Al Coleman. “To quote the great Dr. Leo Marvin (See What About Bob?), ‘It’s baby steps with this group.”

Those baby steps, however, are starting to turn into legitimate strides. In support of the Zack Latteri Foundation in a day long festival of hoops that included nine games in two different locations, the Panthers were dominant in a wire-to-wire, 54-36 victory over Dwight-Englewood in Hillsdale.

With its third straight win, Pascack Valley has pulled itself back from the abyss. At 5-7 now with three games before the cutoff for the Bergen County Jamboree, the Panthers are becoming one of those teams that nobody wants to play in an early round matchup.

“I love being around these guys. They keep coming to the gym with great passion and enthusiasm,” said Coleman. “As our execution has been cleaning up and our turnovers have gone down our success has increased,”

Pascack Valley had success right from the tap against Dwight-Englewood as it opened the game with a 14-0 run with those points coming in a variety of ways. Junior Trevor Kirkby scored the first two points of the game with a post move and Devin Merker and Dan Ax followed with 3-pointers. Merker hit a fade-away jumper, Kirkby nailed one from the baseline and Liam Higgins added two free throws to make up what turned into an insurmountable lead.

“When we share the ball we are tough to beat. I feel like we have been playing as one right now and making the extra pass. We don’t care who gets the points,” said Kirkby. “As long as we get the ‘W’ that is all that matters.”

Addison Leak scored 11 of his team high 13 points in the third quarter for Dwight-Englewood.

The Panthers have a bit of a throwback approach to offense as they actually run plays for Kirkby in the post and double down when they bring on junior Ryan Shea and go with two frontcourt players that search out shots close to the basket and crash the boards. Coleman called them “Olajuwon and Sampson,” of 1980s Houston Rockets.

Shea can spell Kirkby or they can play together and they combined for 19 points and 14 rebounds.

“Me and Trevor have played together for a long time now and we know how to feed off each other. He always knows where I am and he hits me with good passes and I want to get him the ball as much as possible,” said Shea. “All I care about is if we win. As long as we win I don’t care if I score zero points or if I am the leading scorer. I just want to make sure that we stay together and that we keep winning. I wanted to play well today for the team today and also for a great cause, the Zack Latteri Foundation. Zack was a great person and it was a great today; a win and a chance to raise a lot of money.”

Merker is a multi-level scorer. A catch-and-shoot wing, he also has a strong pull-up game and will also try to get all the way to the hoop off the dribble. He scored 8 of his game-high 15 points in the first quarter as PV broke the game open. He 3-pointer from the corner game the Panthers a 17-9 lead after the first quarter and kicked off another 10-0 run that was capped by a Bennett Scalia 3 and made it 24-9 1:38 into the second period.

Most of Pascack Valley’s field goals come with the aid of an assist like its last bucket of the first half. Higgins made a wide open layup off an inbounds pass by Tyler Epstein to make it 32-13 at the intermission.

To its credit, Dwight-Englewood put together a solid third quarter as it pushed the pace, forced some turnovers and rode the hot hand of Addison Leak. The junior wing scored 9 of his team-high 11 points in the third period, including the first four points of the half and six in a 16-2 run that the Bulldogs used to draw back to within 34-29 before Kirkby spun one in from the baseline and PV held a 41-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Dwight-Englewood had spent a lot of energy and used up a lot of fouls to get back in the game and an 11-2 run to open the final period pushed the Panthers free and clear.

Junior Ryan Shea scored 7 points off the bench for Pascack Valley, which is now 5-7 on the season.

Leo Colosimo (9 points) played well off the bench for Dwight-Englewood, Jackson Burke scored all 6 of his points in the second half, Dusan Dobric and Christian Garrett each made a pair of field goals and River Smith’s second period basket rounded out the scoring for the Bulldogs, who fell to 8-5 on the season.

A testament to how well Pascack Valley shared the ball was in the final points total. Merker led the way with his 15 and Kirkby and Shea finished with 12 and 7 points respectively, but five other players also scored. Buoye, Higgins and Dante DaCosta all scored 4 points, Ax made the first quarter 3 pointer and Epstein was 2-for-2 from the free throw line.

With a three-game week against Old Tappan (4-9), Dwight-Morrow (7-3) and Passaic Tech (0-10), PV has a chance to get back to .500 and beyond heading into the meat of the season.

“We just have to keep it rolling. At one point we were 2-7 and we had lost five in a row, but we have stayed together,” said Kirkby. “There is more energy on the bench, there is more energy in the crowd when we play well and everybody picks each other up. We have three big ones this week and we have to keep it going on both sides of the ball.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a little more about the Zack Latteri Foundation…

Zack Latteri was a Pascack Valley High School student who fought a courageous battle against leukemia before succumbing to the disease in July of 2015. He was just 10 years old when he was diagnosed and 15 when he passed, but his legacy is alive and well.

The Foundation is more than just high school basketball, but the Benefit Games were an event in search of a cause and no two better partners could there be. Originally launched to support Autism Awareness, the Benefit Games are now all in on furthering Zack Latteri’s legacy.

“The whole high school, just about every sport, has taken us on as a cause and we, in turn, do as much as we can for the community. We help the fire department, the ambulance corps, the police department and we give out scholarships every year to students from Pascack Valley,” said Sharon Latteri, Zack’s mother who continues to be his strongest advocate. “I am surrounded by amazing people.”

With one hard to ask question, Sharon Latteri shared a story about why her son and high school sports are and should be forever linked.

“When he couldn’t be helped at Hackensack [Hospital] anymore they asked him if he just wanted to go home and pass away or if he wanted to be enrolled in a study for experimental medication. He thought that even if it might not help him it might help someone else. We enrolled and we had to go to Sloan Kettering every day for a year-and-a-half,” said Sharon. “Once a week would be a worst day. It was a lot and at the end of that day they would tell him to just go home and rest.”

No chance.

“On one of those days there was a football game going on here and he really wanted to go, so we came to the football game,” said Sharon. “And then at one point I turned around and he was the cheerleader. The girls were holding him up and he was doing a cheer. It was amazing. He loved it and he loved this school and community.”

And the school and the community have loved him back.

*Donatiions can be made via Venmo: @zacklatteri-foundation