Both Linden and Roselle Catholic – first RC and then Linden on consecutive Saturday nights – had their hearts broken in Union County Tournament play, losing games on shots in the lane right before the final buzzer.
The Tigers and Lions have made up for those excruciating defeats by excelling in state tournament play.
Since Linden lost to the Patrick School of Elizabeth 44-42 on a last second basket by senior guard Chris Regus in the UCT final Feb. 23 at Kean, the Tigers (22-7) have reeled off five straight wins.
Included in that streak was the program’s second North 2, Group 4 title in three seasons and its first Group 4 semifinal win since 2007.
In the Group 4 semifinal played Wednesday night at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, Linden came back late in the fourth quarter to tie the game and then went on to post an 83-78 overtime triumph over North 1 champion Hackensack.
As a result, Linden will face South Jersey champ Atlantic City in Sunday’s Group 4 state championship game at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway. Linden defeated Atlantic City in the 2006 final for its second of three state championships.
Linden’s other two state crowns also came in Group 4. The Tigers first beat Bridgewater-Raritan in 2000 and last defeated South Brunswick in 2007 to repeat as champions.
The Tigers are now one win away from playing in their first Tournament of Champions in six years.
Since Roselle Catholic, the top seed and still seeking its first county championship, lost to eighth-seeded Union on a last second shot by senior guard Erick Lofton-Harris in a UCT quarterfinal Feb. 16 at Johnson – the Lions previously swept the Farmers in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play en route to winning the Watchung Division title – the parochial school has also won five straight.
Roselle Catholic (22-5) defeated the Patrick School for the third time in three tries Wednesday night, beating the top-seeded Celtics by a more-than-convincing score of 77-61 in the Non-Public, South B championship game at Rahway.
Roselle Catholic will next face St. Anthony Saturday at Toms River North’s Pine Belt Arena in the Non-Public, B state championship game.
The Patrick School had a 12-game winning streak snapped and finished 24-4. Its only other loss was a division setback at Elizabeth 59-48 back on Jan. 22. The Patrick School split with Elizabeth in Watchung Division play.
Dayton, with a record of 21-5 that includes a four-game winning streak – all state tournament wins – will face North 1 champion Waldwick Thursday at 5 p.m. at East Orange Campus in a Group 1 semifinal.
The Bulldogs captured North 2, Group 1 for the second time in three years by beating Newark University in the final again, this time 63-58 Tuesday night at home.
Dayton will be seeking to get back to Rutgers on Sunday to have another chance at winning a Group 1 state championship. The Bulldogs fell to Asbury Park in the 2011 Group 1 final at Rutgers.
– JR PARACHINI