By Mark Kitchin
There are no weak sisters in this sister school rivalry. When Mendham and West Morris Central get together, the intensity is generally about as high as it gets for a boys basketball team in Morris County.
The players attend the same school district and know each other very well. They don’t necessarily like each other that much either. This year’s contest should be no different and will be competitive because of the stakes.
Tenth-seeded West Morris will face third-seeded and defending-champion Mendham on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the County College of Morris to determine which one will ascend to next Saturday’s title game. The other semifinal pits Delbarton and Roxbury which will start 20 minutes or so after the first game finishes.
On January 4, Mendham defeated West Morris 48-40 at West Morris. Tore Vicarisi scored 22 points and Andrew Jacobs had 16 for the Minutemen. Tom Cabarle and James D’Angelo scored 11 points apiece for the Highlanders.
Things change in a month and a half. West Morris embarked on a 10-game winning streak while Mendham has struggled at times with a home loss to Morris Knolls among its most shocking defeats.
Mendham (15-5) is the defending champion and even though the team has changed quite a bit, the Minutemen deserve the benefit of the doubt. They have had little trouble in the MCT, handling 14th-seeded Jefferson and 11th seeded Mountain Lakes. There are three main cogs in their offensive wheel. Tore Vicarisi provides much of the offense through hard work in the paint. He gets layups inside and is good at getting to the free throw line. Senior guard Colin O’Donnell has emerged as an important perimeter player. When the three is guarded, he has done well getting open for backdoor cuts and baseline drives. Point guard Andrew Jacobs runs the precise offense and is usually good for at least one perimeter three a game. He is aggressive and does have an offensive mentality.
Starters Alex Vicarisi and Kyle Dennis also contribute to the offense, Vicarisi with the occasional three and Dennis on drives to the hoop. However, their contributions are felt more on the defense, especially Dennis who is their lock down defender who has great quickness against smaller players but has responded against playing some of the bigs, too.
The Minutemen don’t score a lot but just enough. Defensively, they will play man-to-man and occasionally slip in a 1-3-1 zone to take advantage of the Vicarisis size through the middle. Their bench is thin but they have utilized it a little more in recent weeks. Will Gibbs is usually the first off the bench, spelling Kyle Dennis when he is in foul trouble. Jesse Oringer and Casey Dennis also see floor time when situations permit but the Minutemen stick to their starters for as long as possible.
Mendham coach Jim Baglin fires up the Minutemen. The defending champions face West Morris on Saturday.
West Morris has something to prove. Even though they advanced to the finals of the J.P. Flynn Tournament during the Christmas Holidays, they were chosen the 10th-seed behind both Mendham and Delbarton which didn’t advance to the big game. After beating Dover in the prelims, they vanquished seventh-seeded Morris Hills by double-digits. Then the Highlanders had a strong fourth-quarter to overcome second-seeded Morristown-Beard brief comeback attempt.
West Morris (16-6) has several strong senior leaders that the Highlanders like to keep in the game as much as possible. James D’Angelo, Tom Cabarle and Zach Nolan all play important roles and often pick up each other’s games. D’Angelo is a feisty and aggressive point guard. Not the tallest player at 5-foot-8, he’s like the dog that doesn’t realize he’s battling with bigger dogs. He’s a smart, crafty player who finds ways to get his shots off. Cabarle is an athletic leaper. The West Morris football quarterback also has savvy and game smarts. He’s tough to keep off the boards. Nolan has good size and fights for inside scores but also can score from mid-range. All three have been playing quite a bit for the last three seasons and are battle tested.
He’s not often needed on the offense but Chris Gaudio chips in a bucket or two and is valued for his defense. When the Highlanders want to go big, Max Gerardi gets the call. Junior forward Charles Savite and sophomore Pat Barron are also summoned to spell the starters on occasion and help when someone gets into foul trouble. Defensively, West Morris likes to fall into a 2-3 zone defense but will go man-to-man if the Highlanders feel the match up benefits them.
The experience and big game factor is tough to gauge. Despite having many returning players from last season, this is not the same Mendham team that topped Delbarton in double overtime last year. Matt Crimmins and Caleb DeMoss added an extra element of toughness that can’t be overlooked. However, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Minutemen to prove themselves. The Vicarisis, Dennis and Jacobs played quite a bit in last year’s county tournament. Jacobs, as a sophomore, made some huge plays in key games.
West Morris doesn’t have as much tournament experience, but D’Angelo, Cabarle and Nolan are pressure tested on the varsity level and excel in other sports, too. There’s a certain satisfaction in advancing to a final as a double-digit seed and being able to do it against the sister school rival would be so sweet.