SCOTCH PLAINS – Union Catholic senior guard Al Richardson made two shots.
The first one was significant since it was the only field goal the host Vikings produced in the second quarter.
The second one gave Union Catholic the lead back with just 1:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, some 22 seconds after the visiting Farmers took their only lead. Yeah, you could say this one was significant too.
The crowd roared in approval when Richardson sank a three-pointer with 1:18 left in the second quarter to extend his team’s lead to 28-21.
When the 5-foot-9, lefty-shooting backcourt threat connected on a second three-pointer with the game on the line, Union Catholic fans raised their level of boisterous a few octaves.
Richardson came off the bench to score six points, including the game-winning basket, to help lead Union Catholic to a thrilling 57-53 boys basketball triumph over Union in Thursday night’s Union County Conference-Mountain Division clash at Union Catholic’s gymnasium.
Union Catholic won for the sixth straight time to improve to 7-1 overall and 2-0 in the Mountain Division. Union slipped to 7-2 overall and 2-2 in the division. The Farmers began their season 7-0 before falling at division rival Westfield 56-53 Tuesday night.
Union Catholic is having a pretty good week, one that has included a 53-44 win over Hudson Catholic Sunday at Kean and a 61-60 division triumph at home over Plainfield Tuesday.
After Union junior Ronn Flood scored inside for his only points he gave Union its first lead at 53-52 with just 1:23 remaining. Union battled back from being down by 10 at 39-29 in the latter stages of the third quarter and was behind by as many as eight at 47-39 midway through the fourth.
Union Catholic called a timeout to establish a strategy for a possible last shot. However, an open man, this time Richardson, developed sooner than later.
Richardson took a pass from junior guard Bradley Young and from the top of the key sank a three-point field goal that appeared to have hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
“I felt that it was good right away,” Richardson said. “I noticed the defender at the three-point line, so I just let it go.”
Union Catholic head coach Dr. James Reagan Jr. was more than pleased with his team’s execution there.
“We got exactly what we wanted,” Reagan said. “We moved the ball around and got the three.
“Al hit a big shot for us in a game at Wayne Hills last year. We expect big things from him.”
Young opened the game’s scoring with his only three-pointer, drained from the left side. A three-pointer from the right side by senior forward Matt Tracey put the Vikings up 15-5 in the second half of the first quarter.
Union did well to close Union Catholic’s lead to 20-16 by quarter’s end. The Farmers pulled to within three at intermission, 28-25. Off the bench Gavin Barrett led Union with nine points at the half. Union Catholic had seven players score in the first 16 minutes, four of them with five points.
A 7-0 run gave the Vikings their second lead of 10 at 39-29, prompting a Union timeout. The Farmers then scored the final three baskets of the third quarter to get back to within four at 39-35 heading into the fourth.
After Union Catholic went back up by as much as eight at 47-39, Union immediately answered with a jumper by freshman Malachi Johnson and an inside basket by sophomore enter Emeka Iloh.
Two free throws by junior Jakin Edmond got Union to within two at 50-48 before Union Catholic senior guard Isaac Holmes followed with two free throws of his own to make it 52-48.
Union junior guard Stanley Joseph then produced his first points of the second half when he hit a three-pointer from the right side to make it 52-51 with 1:56 remaining.
Following a Union timeout Union Catholic came down and missed a three-pointer, with Iloh grabbing the rebound. After moving the ball around Flood was open inside and put up a shot for his first points that gave Union its first advantage at 53-52.
After Richardson made his shot that gave Union Catholic back the lead for good, Johnson took a three-pointer with 45 seconds left that went in and out. Union senior Andrew Sanborn, who was 0-for-4 from three-point range, saw a couple of his attempts rattle around the rim before they did not fall down.
Union then fouled, with Union Catholic missing the free throw, but keeping possession on ball out as the rebound just eluded Iloh. However, Union Catholic turned the ball over with 23.8 seconds to go.
Union dribbled past half court but then turned the ball over itself with 10.8 seconds remaining. Tracey was fouled and went to the free throw line and made both shots to put Union Catholic ahead now by four at 57-53. Union came down and missed a final three-point attempt.
Edmond led Union with 14 points, all of them coming in the second half. Iloh and Johnson finished with nine and Joseph with eight.
After winning their first seven games this year, Union last did that in the 1998-1999 season, the Farmers lost by three at Westfield Tuesday and now by four at Union Catholic to complete its first go-round against Mountain Division competition. Union has division wins over Plainfield and Scotch Plains.
“We were down by 10 at one point so it was good to see how resilient our kids were,” Union head coach Kevin Feeley said. “We’ve established that we play hard. The basketball part of it will come in time.”
Union will next face New Providence Sunday at noon at Kean.
“Our effort was outstanding,” Feeley said. “With that kind of effort we will be in games. We showed that we can battle back.”
Union Catholic will next face Seton Hall Prep Saturday at 5 p.m. which is the first game of three at the Minutemen Classic that will be held at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth. The second game features Patrick School vs. St. Benedict’s Prep at 6:30 p.m. and the third will have Newark West Side vs. Elizabeth at 7 p.m.
“I thought we did a nice job of maintaining the lead throughout,” Reagan said. “It was a great Union County battle. We’ll keep grinding and trying to improve.”
Tracey was Union Catholic’s leading scorer with 14 points, while Holmes and junior guard Elijah Barlow both finished with 10.
The keys to his team’s 7-1 start.: “sharing the basketball and playing tough defense,” Reagan said.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-MOUNTAIN DIVISION
BOYS BASKETBALL AT UNION CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL
Union (7-2, 2-2) 16 09 10 18 – 53
Union Catholic (7-1, 2-0) 20 08 12 17 – 57
UNION FARMERS (53):
13-Ronn Flood, junior, 1-0-0-2
0-Stanley Joseph, junior, 1-2-0-8
23-Jakin Edmond, junior, 4-0-6-14
2-Emekah Iloh, sophomore, 3-0-3-9
1-Markeith Hinnant, senior, 0-0-0-0
15-Malachi Johnson, freshman, 3-0-3-9
24-Nnaemeka Nkulme, senior, 1-0-0-2
4-Gavin Battett, junior, 3-1-0-9
5-Spencer Boakye, junior, 0-0-0-0
11-Andrew Sanborn, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Iloh, Edmond,
Johnson, Flood, HInnant.
UNION CATHOLIC VIKINGS (57):
15-Matt Tracey, senior, 1-2-6-14
13-Al Richardson, senior, 0-2-0-6
20-Isaac Holmes, senior, 2-1-3-10
4-Isaiah Hill, junior, 2-0-3-7
1-Elijah Barlow, junior, 1-2-2-10
25-Caleb Reed, senior, 1-0-1-3
5-Bradley Young, junior, 2-1-0-7
2-Al Sepulveda, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Barlow, Hill,
Young, Tracey, Holmes.