As season winds down, playoffs implications arrive
After a slow start to the game, American High School’s varsity boys basketball team found their rhythm, and downed the Irvington Vikings, earning a chance at NCS, winning by a score of 75-63. In the process they leapfrogged Irvington and tied Logan for 3rd in the standings.
The game started slow, with both teams trying to get a general feel for the game and their opponent’s game plan. Despite the sluggish start, neither team could be accused for a lack of effort, as this was clearly an important game for both sides, with NCS complications hanging in the balance.
“I think our energy was there on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court,” senior guard Emilio Angeles said. “Sometimes it just takes awhile for the shots to fall.”
Early on, it seemed that Irvington’s main tactic was to have a player leak out on defense, have anyone who secured the defensive rebound lob the ball down the court to that player, and continuously shoot wide open threes. And to their credit, the odd strategy worked for a better part of the 1st quarter, earning them an early 18-14 lead. But American quickly made adjustments to negate Irvington’s advances.
“We had to make sure we had guys back in order to stop those three point shooters, and [we] also made sure we were communicating [as to who to guard] as we were getting back on [defense],” junior forward Anthony Silva said.
However, in the remaining three quarters of the game, American finally woke up and handled Irvington with relative ease, outscoring their opponent 61- 45 the rest of the way, mostly due to American’s highly efficient offensive game.
“We worked the ball inside-out on offense, meaning we got the ball in the high and low posts which opened [our] outside shots,” Angeles said. “We also pushed the ball on offense when we got the chance [which resulted in easy points].”
Still, American did not feel very threatened by Irvington at any point, even after trailing by double digits at one point in the 2nd quarter.
“We had to play more hungry, we were passive, and not playing with that fire,” Silva said. “Once we did, the score changed in a heart beat. In the 2nd half we played hungry, and there were no worries after that.”
With the Eagles 6-5 in league play heading into the game and a .500 league record needed to qualify for a chance at the playoffs, this game was crucial for American’s playoff hopes with three games remaining in the regular season.
“It was a big game because it was the qualifying game,” Angeles said. “ Knowing we have a tough schedule ahead against two great opponents (Moreau Catholic and Newark Memorial, both 1st and 2nd in the league respectively, with a combined record of 21-3 on the season), this game was vital to assure our qualification.”
American, and any other team cannot officially clinch a playoff berth no matter how many wins they get due to the fact that teams are selected to the playoffs by a committee after the season is over. But in order to have a chance to be selected, a team must finish at .500 or better in league play. Still, American relishes the fact that they have qualified for a chance at the playoffs, as it represents a tribute to all the hard work they put in to get to this point.
“It means a lot,” Silva said. “This school isn’t known for being good in basketball, so to put us on the map is a big deal. No doubt, it’s a big step forward.”
And despite the season winding down, and the seniors on the team accepting the fact that they may be playing the last few games of organized basketball in their entire lives, there is still no panic or anxiety in the locker room. Just appreciation.
“I wouldn’t say it’s urgency because I think that has a sense of more panic,” Angeles said. “I would say that there is more of a drive to play my best when I get the chance because of the limited time left in the season. But I’m not stressed out or worrying. Just trying to enjoy every moment of it.”