Whippany Park steps up to the challenge

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Kyle Cahill stood one step behind the 3-point arc as the clock ticked away. He always dreamed of winning a game with a last second shot. Achieving it for real was a much better feeling than he ever could have imagined.

Cahill knocked down his shot from the right side of the arc and was smothered by his Whippany Park teammates in a 47-44 victory over Mendham on Tuesday night.

The win was monumental for the Wildcats who had not beaten the Minutemen in the last 25 years if ever. The victory was a surprising result from an 8-8 team which received an early exit in the Morris County Tournament. Can such a win be a turning point in the Whippany Park program which is in a state of transition with first year coach Brady Mahar?  Only future games will decide that, but there was sure plenty of excitement on Tuesday once the ball left Cahill’s fingertips and hit net.

“My senior season is coming to an end. I wanted to make a good run and finish the season strong and I wanted to do it against Mendham,” Cahill said. “They were a tough opponent and one of the top teams in the county and we just went out and played hard and got the win.”

22 bb wpmend

Whippany Park’s Kyle Cahill lived the dream on Tuesday when he hit the winning shot against Mendham in an upset. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It was a broken play and Cahill, just wanted to get open and break the tie. He got the ball with some space halfway up the arc in a spot coaches call the elbow. His coach and teammates were not surprised at his ability to make the shot, or the calmness in which Cahill fired the ball.

“Kyle’s been making threes all year in practice,” teammate Ryan Gaynor said. “He shoots lights out. He’s one of the best 3-point shooter on our team and there isn’t a better person to shoot the shot that won the game.”

Mahar was happy to see his senior shooter enjoy a moment that not all players get to have during their varsity careers.

“I always tell Kyle – ‘shooters shoot’,” Mahar said. “When he gets in a rhythm it is tough to knock him off it. It’s just fun to get in the gym and watch him shoot. It is just so effortless. He is just a cool customer.”

Creating an opportunity to get that shot is part of Whippany Park’s transition this year. The Wildcats scuttled much of the offense former coach Jeff Kleinbaum has taught them for nearly a decade. The changes have allowed players like Cahill an opportunity to score on the perimeter after screening.

34 bb wpmend

Mark Basista and other Whippany Park defenders made it tough for Mendham to hit inside shots. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We have good ball movement and great shooters and guys who can get to the basket and that is what we are good at,” Cahill said. “That’s our strong point.”

The triumph also proved that the team can stay in games when Gaynor, the team’s junior standout and usually their top scorer, is having an off night or is too heavily guarded to help. Tuesday’s game within a game was the one-on-one battle Gaynor had against Mendham’s talented Brian Kenez.

“He was a good defender and it was a good matchup,” Gaynor said. “The most important thing was that we got the win.”

Gaynor, who was in early foul trouble and sat much of the second quarter, showed some composure and a little maturity in what turned out to be a key moment in the game. Whippany Park trailed by three when Gaynor was fouled behind the arc in an attempt to make a 3-point shot. With 42 seconds left, Gaynor went to the line and sank all three free throws to tie the game at 44-all.

“We had an out of bounds play that worked in practice so we tried it,” Gaynor said. “I went around the corner and got an open look. I felt some contact, I got the foul called and knocked them down.”

Mahar is not surprised at all with the progress that Gaynor has made.

“In the second half, he just did all the little things,” Mahar said. “Hedging, rebounding and doing things that didn’t show up in the scorebook but we know they make a difference. … Seeing what he’s come from — and his improvement from a sophomore to a junior — it’s exciting to watch him grow up.”

Whippany Park has a healthy respect for Mendham, which is always a fundamentally sound team but seems to lack the perimeter firepower of past squads.

12 bb wpmendNick Werther and his Whippany Park teammates have only lost one home game so far this season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Mendham had a distinct height advantage but Whippany Park used its aggressiveness on offense and a sagging defense that limited the Minutemen in their play in the paint. Whippany Park built a 39-32 advantage with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Mendham went on a 12-2 run and with a minute left held a 44-41 edge. After two Whippany Park misses, Stephen Tucker dove on a loose ball and the Wildcats called timeout. The inbounds play that was drawn up resulted in Gaynor’s three consecutive free throws that tied the game and eventually helped them win it.

“I put up on the board keys for the game for both offense and defense,” Mahar said. “The last key – I just wrote challenge. I told the kids that a lot of people walk through life not really knowing how good they are because they aren’t willing to put their neck out. Not willing to play somebody that is better or more established. This is a challenge that we have to build on going into states and it’s a test of where are we right now. Where are we as a team? Where are we as a program?  What better challenge than going up against Mendham.”

Whippany Park met Mendham’s challenge. What they learned about themselves and what they take from the result is up to the Wildcats.

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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