By Mark Kitchin
Maybe Mendham should be nicknamed the 32-Minute-men or maybe the Ironmen. The Minutemen’s starting five had little rest on the court but still prevailed in a 78-69 triumph over Scotch Plains-Fanwood in a hot, noisy, jam-packed Mendham gym on Saturday.
Senior forward Tore Vicarisi scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Colin O’Donnell chipped in with 17 to help the Minutemen advance to the North 2, Group III sectional final for the second consecutive year. Mendham will host state ranked Plainfield on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Plainfield defeated Rahway 66-48 on Saturday.
Charles Oliver scored 29 points for Scotch Plains. The Raiders’ exceptional guard scored 18 of his points in the first half and looked unstoppable at times but the Minutemen were indefatigable while Oliver may have run out of steam by the third quarter.
“I just think he was tired (after halftime),’’ Mendham forward Kyle Dennis said. “If you looked at his jersey, it was a different color than anyone else on his team. He was drenched. When they let other guys bring the ball up it helped us. When Oliver had the ball in his hands, we had the most trouble.’’
Mendham’s Tore Vicarisi drives to the basket in Saturday’s state tournament win over Scotch Plains.
“We were obviously keyed in on Oliver,’’ Tore Vicarisi added. “He had a terrific game and not many kids can play like him. We worked hard at focusing on him but at the same time the three other guys in the help positions would scramble and we worked hard on that so he wouldn’t get wide open shots.’’
It was Dennis, the Mendham defensive specialist, who spent much of his time hounding Oliver. The Raiders guard took and knocked down some long distance threes. He was also tough on the drive but Dennis kept after him and got some help from his teammates.
“We did a good job of running a guy at him to get the ball out of his hands,’’ Mendham coach Jim Baglin said. “We wanted to have a guy not guarding (Scotch Plains’ Patrick) Dougher do it. I also thought Colin O’Donnell did a great job on Dougher, he only had six points. … We did a good job on their other players. Everyone just did a good job.’’
Baglin had confidence that Mendham’s starting five could last the entire game without getting too tired to compete. The Minutemen never looked sloppy and rarely showed signs of fatigue. Even in the second half while they maintained double-digit lead, the Mendham players were usually on their toes.
“I just felt it was the way we had to play,’’ Baglin said. “I felt we couldn’t get other guys in. I needed Kyle in there defensively. Usually I try to give him a rest. … I just felt we had enough offense going where we could win. I didn’t think about their stamina. It never entered my mind. You’ve got to suck it up to play.’’
Mendham had played their starters all game just once before this season – in the Morris County Tournament final. The Vicarisi brothers, Dennis, O’Connell and Andrew Jacobs don’t seem to get tired while the game is on the line. They definitely step it up when an excited home crowd is watching.
Mendham’s Kyle Dennis scores two of his season-high 13 points in Saturday’s sectional semifinal.
“I think the game kind of takes over,’’ Tore Vicarisi said. “Our bodies are tired but in a game like this – where our season could possibly end – it was mind over matter. I’m going to go home now and be exhausted but during the game you can’t focus on it. You have to focus on winning.’’
“I don’t even think its adrenaline,’’ added Dennis, who also scored 13 points. “It’s just the willpower of the seniors and Drew (Jacobs). We just want to win. It’s just our character. This is what we play for – winning these games. We don’t even think about stamina, we just want to win. If it’s going to take just five of us, we’re going to do it.’’
Mendham got off to a good start and built a 22-16 first quarter lead with the help of Alex Vicarisi’s 3-point buzzer beater to end the period. The Minutemen preserved the lead most of the second quarter and had a 34-30 edge at halftime, surviving Oliver’s early onslaught.
A 9-2 run to start the third quarter gave Mendham a huge burst of confidence and kept the Minutemen crowd enthusiastic. Alex Vicarisi and Jacobs, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, knocked down threes to spark Mendham to a 43-32 lead with six minutes left in the quarter. While the Minutemen built an advantage, Oliver was limited in his scoring opportunities. He hit only two layups including one at the buzzer. Mendham led 52-40 going into the fourth quarter.
Colin O’Donnell scored 17 points for the triumphant Minutemen in Saturday’s sectional semifinal.
Several times the Raiders got the game back to single digits but never seriously threatened the lead.
The closest the Raiders came was a 7-point deficit with a Dougher jumper at the 5-minute mark to make it 57-50 but O’Donnell answered quickly with a driving layup. Mendham soon got its advantage back up to double-digits and the final three minutes became a parade to the Minutemen foul line. The Minutemen hit 15 of 22 which was good enough to maintain their advantage. Tore Vicarisi hit 4 of 4 and Dennis hit 6 of 10 but nailed the last two with 13.8 seconds left which completed the scoring.
Although the fourth quarter seemed to take an eternity, the players were thrilled with the crowd and the atmosphere and pleased that they could give their fans another game to enjoy. They will need more of that type of support in the sectional final against state-ranked Plainfield on Tuesday.
“All we have to do is believe in each other,’’ Tore Vicarisi said. “Coach always says that it’s only us in these uniforms. We rely heavily on each other and that seems to be getting the job done. We couldn’t be prouder of our team and our program. Once again the town is starting to support us more. We couldn’t be any more appreciative.’’