Caden Flwoer finished with 19 points and 6 steals for Wayne Valley, which advanced to the Passaic County Tournament semfinals with a 62-37 win over Manchester.
WAYNE – There is something to be said for a team that is both experienced and hungry for championship glory. Wayne Valley has both attributes with five senior starters that are hoping for a shot at a Passaic County title. The first step in that direction came against an unfamiliar opponent that represented the opposite in terms of big game experience.
Manchester Regional does not have a senior on its roster and was once sitting at 5-8 on the season. The Falcons have hit their stride, coming in on a 10-game winning streak that included road upsets over Pompton Lakes in the preliminary round and then Passaic Valley in the first round of the Passaic County Tournament last week.
Despite the disparity in seeds, Wayne Valley was not about to take its opponent lightly. With a balanced attack led by the three-headed backcourt of Anthony Apicella, Caden Flower, and Hudson Devine the Indians played like a team that was not going to become the Falcons’ next upset victim.
Flower made plays all over the court on both ends. He finished with game-highs of 19 points and six steals with Apicella tossing in 18 points as second-seeded Wayne Valley pulled away after halftime for a 62-37 win over No. 15 seed Manchester Regional in the Passaic County quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at Wayne Valley High School.
“When we work together, we know we’re going to get a good shot,” said Apicella. “We’ve bought into what Coach [Joe\ Leicht wants us to do and we moved the ball much better in the second half. It was 51 weeks ago that we set a goal to win a county title, now we’re two games away from reaching it.”
Ashawn Johnson had led Manchester to bac-to-back tournament upsets before running in Wayne Valley.
Flower hit a pair of pull-up jumpers in the midst of an 11-2 run to open the game, but from there the Indians had their only cold stretch and allowed the Falcons to climb back in it. Tyree Gunthrope scored on a drive to beat the first-quarter buzzer and Ashawn Johnson (18 points) scored inside on the first possession of the second quarter to cut the lead to one, 12-11.
Wayne Valley answered back with a late push capped by a corner three from Flower in the waning seconds to bump the lead back up to double digits by halftime, 26-16.
Flower was tasked with the difficult assignment of covering Johnson, a 6-foot-3 point guard that can also be a handful in the paint. By making him work every single possession and then denying him the ball in the second half, it allowed the Indians to steal some extra possessions.
“(Johnson) was a lot bigger than me and everything ran through him,” said Flower. “I wanted to be physical with him and make it as tough as I could for him to get the ball. We’re not a team that has a huge size advantage really against anyone. But we make up for that by hustling and working together.”
Apicella heated up in the third quarter to help the Indians put to rest any hopes of another Falcons’ upset bid. Devine scored the first five points of the third quarter and Apicella hit on four of five shots, scoring eight points in the period that doubled the lead to 20.
Anthony Apicella and Wayne Valley will face Paterson Charter in the semifinals.
Wayne Valley (17-5) not only snapped the 10-game win streak, but also extended its own win streak, which is now at nine games.
The road towards a Passaic County Tournament crown will get much tougher on Thursday night when they face off against third-seeded Paterson Charter, who just won the NJIC Tournament title last week. While the Indians have finally settled into a style of play that suits them best, it will come down to the little things if they want to advance to the county final.
“Boxing out will be key for us, the defensive rebound and then the outlet pass is really the first pass in our offense,” added Leicht. “When we go, we’re pretty good. With a senior backcourt, we should feel comfortable in terms of making decisions with the ball and controlling the tempo of the game.”