Sister-school rivalry is still going strong

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

West Morris’ Dom Grauso had all of his teeth and as far as he could tell most of his hair after their game with Mendham was completed. When the sister-school rivals get together, taking full account of body parts afterwards is usually par for the course.

“There’s a lot of hitting, bumping, scratching but that’s classic Mendham vs. West Morris,” Grauso said.” It’s always a huge deal. Home, away, at a neutral place, it is always a big win. They are our sister school and it is fun to beat them.”

West Morris had its fun but it sure wasn’t easy in a grinder of a 43-33 victory in the second round of the J. P. Flynn Tournament on Sunday. Grauso scored 18 points and teammate Justin Oh chipped in with 12. The win lifts the Wolfpack to a 3-1 start. Mendham dropped to 4-1 despite a 15-point performance by Jake Stagman. West Morris will play in the Flynn final on Tuesday in Morristown at the Delbarton School.

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West Morris’ Dom Grauso drives to the basket during first half action on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

West Morris built a 19-7 lead at the half. Mendham full-court pressure turned the second half into a scrap-and-scramble type of game. The Wolfpack was prepared for such an eventuality but that didn’t make it any easier.

“We’ve seen each other a bunch,” West Morris coach Mark Schartner said. “Everyone knows each other. I think they were comfortable with what Mendham was going to come out and run. Our defense leads to our offense. That is where all our momentum comes from. When we make stops we feel good offensively. That is how we are going to have to win games.”

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West Morris coach Mark Schartner discusses strategy with his team during a time out. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

One key was in how West Morris was going to handle Mendham’s Stagman. The Mendham center is long, strong and a difficult matchup for most teams. West Morris switched four different players on him but Chase Wanic was covering most of the time.

“We tried to be physical with (Stagman),” Schartner said. “Stay straight up and make him finish through contact without fouling. … He’s a tough kid. I remember watching him on the freshman or jayvee level and he was always a hand full.”

It helped that the Wolfpack knocked down some shots early and grabbed a double-digit lead most of the first half. It forced Mendham to go to man-to-man jump trapping. It was at those times where Grauso’s value as a ball handler made a difference.

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Rebounds were heavily contested during the Mendham – West Morris game on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Dom did a great job handling it,” Schartner said. “I would have liked a couple less turnovers. Overall, we got some easy baskets out of it which was key to getting that win.”

It helped that West Morris had an earlier game with Mount Olive which also loves to use full court pressure to ratchet up the tempo of the game.

“I felt like we were ready,” Grauso said. “It was just ball handling. Everybody can handle the ball on our team.”

However, Mendham kept chipping away at the lead. They got to within 25-22 late in the third quarter before a 3-pointer and a steal and layup by Oh made it a 30-22 game.

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Mendham’s Nick Pellechia has his eyes on the rim during first half action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Minutemen stayed in striking distance. With two minutes left in regulation the Wolfpack had a 31-26 advantage. Then Grauso dribbled the ball to his left and was fouled while putting up a wild, off-balance shot that banked high off the backboard and dropped in the net.

“I couldn’t tell you how that went in but sometimes they fall and sometimes they don’t,” Grauso said. “I found a lane and tried to attack it.”

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West Morris’ Jeff Millet brings the ball up but Mendham’s Anthony Signorelli is on his hip. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

He hit his free throw to make it an 8-point game and Mendham only hit one of their last nine shots. The win gave a huge confidence boost to the Wolfpack who have not played in the Flynn final in several years.

“They understood what was needed to win,” Schartner said of his players. “We are very senior heavy right now. A lot of those kids played a lot of minutes last year. They have been on the floor in tough games and they did a good job controlling this one.”

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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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