By Mark Kitchin
DENVILLE – Morris Knolls defeated rival Morris Hills 40-35 to capture its first Morris Knolls Summer League title on Thursday night.
It was the first time the Golden Eagles captured their own summer league title. Last year, the Scarlet Knights outlasted Delbarton in the title game of the two-year old summer league conducted in the Morris Knolls gym. This year the Golden Eagles advanced to the championship game with a physical 46-42 win over Hanover Park. The Scarlet Knights overpowered Parsippany 40-20 in the other semifinal. Both games were completed minutes before the championship game began.
The title game was a battle of attrition with Morris Knolls having a slight edge by having more players (9-6). However, Morris Hills players showed plenty of determination including Ranell Bell, who battled through leg cramps for much of the contest. The contest was at its best when Bell was matched up against Morris Knolls’s Esaun Mobley. Both players will be key performers when varsity competition starts in the winter.
Morris Hills had the upper hand for much of the first half. Morris Knolls may have been drained because of its tough semifinal contest against Hanover Park in the hot gym. That contest was close throughout and tied 40-40 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation before the Golden Eagles hit their free throws late and advanced to the title game.
Both teams were missing key players from their league rosters due to other commitments. Those that made it to the title game and played in the grueling doubleheader games included:Morris Hills’ Bell, Daniel Escobar, Brian Walls, Brian Kelly, Matt Walls and Doug Olson. Morris Knolls competitors included Mobley, Connor Flaherty, Mike Boller, Carroll Rich, Aaron Arizmendi, Brian O’Neill, Mike Signer, Josh Boylan and Mike Zvolensky.
In the summer league’s final contest for the year, Morris Hills made fewer mistakes early and got some great play underneath by Brian Walls to build a 17-7 lead at the seven-minute mark of the first half. Morris Knolls rebounded with some timely perimeter shooting and a couple of opportunistic layups to cut the deficit to 23-22 at the half.
The game was close throughout the second half with neither team gaining more than a four-point edge until the final seconds. The Scarlet Knights rallied around Bell who played through his cramping problems. It was his layup that kept Morris Hills within 37-35 with 50 seconds remaining.
However, his shot was the last field goal Morris Hills would sink. The Scarlet Knights were forced to foul and Mobley knocked down 3 of 4 from the free throw line in the final seconds to help the Golden Eagles earn their first title in their own summer league which also included Morris County teams from Delbarton, Butler, Pequannock and Parsippany Hills and out of county competitors High Point, Wayne Valley and West Milford.