By Mark Kitchin
MONTVALE — Ethan Lubowitz had the blank stare of someone who couldn’t believe his season had come to end. The Lakers senior might have finished his varsity career but the legacy left by him and his teammates might mean the beginning of something special for the Mountain Lakes program.
Cole Dorfman scored 23 points and Jared Shill added 22 to lift Pascack Hills to a 74-54 triumph over Mountain Lakes in the North 1, Group II final on Tuesday. It is the second consecutive year the Cowboys have captured the sectional title. They defeated Pequannock in the title game last year. Dorfman also scored his 1,000th varsity point in the fourth quarter for the Cowboys.
Lubowitz scored 19 points and Alex St. Lifer came off the bench for 17 points including five 3-pointers for the Lakers. It is the first time since the Mountain Lakes boys program has played in a sectional final in nearly two decades.The Lakers were the last Morris County boys basketball team alive in tournament play this season.
A Chris Herring 3-point shot allowed Mountain Lakes to tie the game at 19-all midway through the second quarter, but Pascack Hills went on a 15-0 run to end the quarter and take a 34-19 advantage at the half. The Lakers never got the game back to single digits. The Cowboys forced turnovers and worked at driving to the rim much of the second half.
Mountain Lakes Ethan Lubowitz knifes through two Pascack Hills defenders during Tuesday’s state sectional final.
The Lakers took the state sectional loss hard but none harder than Lubowitz. The senior standout does much more than provide offense for his team. His contributions this year were paramount in all phases of the game. Consequently, when things don’t go quite right for him, much of what Mountain Lakes does becomes a struggle.
“The shots just weren’t falling today,’’ Lubowitz said. “I worked hard every day to help the team whether it was on or off the court. They rely on me to do a lot. I tried but I just missed all the shots.’’
In order to play in the title game, third-seeded Mountain Lakes earned victories over Hawthorne (59-29) and River Dell (51-48) at home and Lodi (74-48) on the road and they couldn’t have done it without the 6-foot-3, 205-pound athlete’s hard work.
“I just can’t say enough about what he has done for us in three years,’’ Mountain Lakes coach John ByDook said. “He’s a 1,000-point scorer but that doesn’t tell his story. Assists, rebounds (he had 14 including six offensive boards on Tuesday). He has just been a player that has been a go-to guy. When you have a guy like that it makes a difference.’’
Mountain Lakes’ Paul Tarnowski (35) pushes the ball to the basket with Pascack Hills’ Bret Pontillo (21) in pursuit.
Pascack Hills went to great pains to make sure Lubowitz didn’t have a good game. Like most teams that play the Lakers, he was the central target in a defensive game play to stifle the Mountain Lakes offense.
“We knew he was a good player,’’ Pascack Hills coach Chris Kirkby said. “He could play inside and outside. He has a good left hand. We just tried to force him to go right and make his shots as tough as possible. We tried not to allow him to get to the offensive glass. He wound up with his points but we made him earn it.’’
ByDook blamed poor shooting and defensive lapses for allowing the Cowboys build a double-digit lead just before the half. He praised their opponent’s ability to push the ball to the basket.
“We didn’t do a very good job of containing the drivers,’’ ByDook said. “Most of their scores were on drives to the basket.
“Here’s what happened. They came down to score, we fumbled the ball and they got it. We took rushed shots, there was impatience. All of a sudden we stopped running (our offense) and they were just firing stuff up. It happens. We miss, the three-ball shot, they come down and get a layup.”
Mountain Lakes’ Chris Herring (33) and Pascack Hills’ Steve Thorworth (35) fight for rebounding position on Tuesday.
Mountain Lakes fell behind 34-19 but the Lakers still believed they could turn it around in the second half.
“At halftime we just talked about keeping our heads up,’’ Lubowitz said. “We’ve come back from 15 points before. We tried to do what we usually can do. We just didn’t do it today.’’
Mountain Lakes cut its deficit to 12 at one point and might have been within a play or two of making a run. One Pascack Hills play that seemed like a back breaker occurred with about 2:30 left in the third quarter when a short Lubowitz jumper bounced off the rim. Cowboys’ Shill wrestled the rebound away from three Lakers, raced two of them downcourt and beat them to the basket for a righty layup to make it 45-29 and send the home crowd in an already loud gym into a frenzy. Pascack Hills would increase the lead to 18 at the end of the quarter and into the twenties for the rest of the game
Despite the tough loss, the Lakers state run signals a resurgence in the basketball program that has had modest success in recent years. The last time Mountain Lakes had competed in a sectional final was 20 years ago when Tom Fritz and Jon Lopez among others helped Bruce Dugan coached teams reach the North 2, Group I sectional finals twice in the early 90’s. The Lakers lost to Newark Tech in 1992 and (Newark) University in 1993.
Mountain Lakes Ethan Lubowitz dribbles past a sliding Andy Kovner in the first half of Tuesday’s sectional final.
“Next year we don’t have Ethan but we’ve got some guys coming up,’’ ByDook said. “We have some players — starting with last year’s seniors – that are committing themselves to being basketball players.
“This is a place where there is a lot of lacrosse and football going on and that’s fine. I tell the kids in our program that you have to work at this game. This is a skill game and some guys have worked at it. … We had guys last year (and this year) that have committed to it. Basketball has become a very important sport to them.’’
And even amongst the sadness following his final game, Lubowitz has learned to appreciate it.
“We have a great amount of kids with a lot of heart and desire,’’ Lubowitz said. “I can’t thank my teammates and my coaches enough for this season. Hopefully the underclassmen can pick it up and win it all next year.’’