By Mark Kitchin
If you ask Eddie Franz, the success of this year’s basketball team has nothing to do with his illness. If you ask his Morristown-Beard players, it has everything to do it.
If emotion plays a role in this year’s Morris County Tournament final, it is squarely in the Crimson’s corner. Morristown-Beard will play for its first MCT title when it faces Chatham on Saturday in a 7 p.m. game at County College of Morris in Randolph.
Morristown-Beard, the top-seeded team with a 23-3 record, advanced with a dramatic 52-51 victory over Morristown last Saturday. Ralphael Castillo hit a jump shot at the buzzer to thrill the Crimson crowd.
“It’s amazing,” senior guard Brian Monaghan said. “We have all these guys that put in so much work. With some of these guys, basketball is not their main sport but they bought in and put a lot of time in. And obviously Coach Franz, 30 years of doing everything for everybody he is in contact with. He doesn’t let us say the season is for him but the season is for him.”
Brian Monaghan, left, is a threat on the perimeter as well as in the paint. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Franz was diagnosed with lung cancer in the last few weeks and has missed several practices and a few games. Last week, he felt well enough to coach the semifinals.
“It doesn’t matter what is going on with me at this point,” Franz said. “We’ve hit these buzzer shots this year and it is phenomenal. Part of it is these guys can shoot. The second part is that all five guys can shoot. We work on situations like this all the time in practice – down two with four seconds, three seconds over and over and over. Even from mid-court – we do it over and over. I don’t think they think much about it. I don’t think they worry about it.”
Morristown-Beard, which defeated Chatham 69-62 in a regular season game on January 13, is talented enough that it can adjust its game to the tempo of play. The Crimson likes to push the ball up quickly but they can adjust to a slower paced half-court game. Morristown High slowed the ball down and made it a close contest.
Ralphael Castillo’s clutch jumper put Morristown-Beard in the MCT title game for the first time in school history. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
“We are usually the team that is able to drag them out and take them to the rim whenever we want,” Monaghan said. “We weren’t ready for them to take that to us the first time we played them. This time it was good. We were prepared for it.”
Monaghan and Justin Rodriguez are talented scorers and quality ballhandlers but the Morristown High defense was focused on shutting them down. Someone else had to step up because of it. Other Morristown-Beard players like Castillo are gaining the mental discipline to take advantage of situations when their leaders are being tightly covered.
Castillo had missed a shot in a previous possession but a driving layup by Monaghan and a missed free throw by the Colonials gave Morristown-Beard the ball back with a little over four seconds left in regulation. It set the scene for Castillo’s dramatic shot.
“He had trouble being resilient until this year.,” Franz said of Castillo. “He had that ball pop out and he got one more coming. He has a pretty little 12-footer. Sometimes he tries to step out too far. He was right in that 12-foot range and that’s a money ball for him.”
Justin Rodriguez is another player to watch for the Crimson. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Although Castillo wasn’t the primary option on the inbounds, he ended up being the best one. The Crimson are unselfish and had no problem trusting him to take the last shot.
“We all trust each other,” Castillo said. “It was a big shot. I have not (had the experience before). When I took the dribble I knew I was fading so I moved my arms to the side a little bit. I shot it. It was a really good shot.”