Basketball season wraps up with Roselle Catholic finishing No. 1

UNION COUNTY, NJ — It was quite a week for Union County basketball, as three programs went all the way to capture season-ending state championships and another a hotly contested sectional state crown.

For the third straight season and for the seventh time in the past 11 seasons, the Roselle Catholic High School Lions boys basketball team, undefeated against New Jersey opposition and who will finish No. 1 again in the state’s final poll, captured the Non-Public B state championship with the 68-59 win against St. Rose High School at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway on Friday, March 3.

For the first time since 1987, the Union Catholic High School Vikings claimed the Non-Public A state championship with a convincing 38-35 triumph against St. Peter’s Preparatory School, the third-ranked team in New Jersey, on Friday, March 3. Union Catholic entered with a high — for the Vikings — state ranking of No. 20.

For the first time ever, Union County has both non-public boys basketball state champions in the same season. Roselle Catholic and Union Catholic clashed once this year at Kean University in the Union County Tournament semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 14, with eventual repeat-champion Roselle Catholic coming out on top by the score of 72-56.

Then, for the first time in program history, the New Providence High School girls basketball team won Group 2. The Pioneers produced perhaps its best season ever by capping it with a 55-32 win against Secaucus at Toms River North on Saturday, March 4.

For the first time, New Providence is a division, county, sectional and state champion in the same season. The Pioneers won their last 20 games to close at 28-3. The team lost only once in its division, once to a public school team and once at home — all in the final loss of the season, which was a 61-48 setback to Westfield High School at home on Thursday, Jan. 12. New Providence won at Westfield 48-44 in Watchung Division play on Saturday, Dec. 17; the Pioneers won the Watchung Division by one game against the Blue Devils; and then beat Westfield again 46-34 in the Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University on Sunday, Feb. 19.

It’s rare that a Union County girls basketball team wins a state championship. Now it’s happened two years in a row, after Westfield won Group 4 for the first time last year.

New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera has now led the Pioneers to three state championships and two UCT crowns. He also guided New Providence to Group 1 state championships against Haddon Township in 2011 and 2015 and, last year, guided the Pioneers to its first UCT championship since 1990 and only the program’s second. New Providence defeated defending champion Westfield in last year’s UCT title contest at Kean.

Before those three Union County squads performed this magic, the Linden High School Tigers came back in the final 10 seconds to edge visiting East Side High School from Newark 63-62 in the North 2, Group 4 boys basketball sectional state championship game on Tuesday, Feb. 28. It was the second straight year that Linden was in the final — the Tigers lost at home to Elizabeth in last year’s title contest by just two points — and it was the first time since 2017 that Linden captured the crown.

Linden’s season came to a close on Thursday, March 2, at the Thomas Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, when the Tigers were defeated by North 1, Group 4 champ Eastside High School from Paterson 71-40 in a Group 4 semifinal.

Also finishing second in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division standings to Elizabeth High School and second in the UCT to defending champion Roselle Catholic, Linden finished first in North 2, Group 4 as the No. 2 seed.

Union County basketball state champions for 2022-2023
Non-Public A Boys: Union Catholic Vikings (21-9), for second time and first time since 1987.

Non-Public B Boys: Roselle Catholic Lions (22-5), for the third year in a row and for the seventh time in the past 11 seasons.
Group 2 Girls: New Providence Pioneers (28-3), for the first time ever in Group 2. New Providence won Group 1 in 2011 and 2015.

Sectional state champions

North 2, Group 4 Boys: Linden Tigers (24-7), for the first time since 2017.

Roselle Catholic received a game-high 23 points from Akil Watson, nine rebounds from Mackenzie Mgbako and three steals from Simeon Wilcher in its state championship triumph over St. Rose.

The Lions were down by two points going into the fourth quarter before outscoring St. Rose 25-15 in the decisive final eight minutes.

Dave Boff has guided Roselle Catholic to all of its seven state championships, in addition to all four of its UCT crowns. Boff has also led the Lions to four Tournament of Champions championships. There is no more TOC, with this year being the first year since 1988 that state champions were crowned and then they didn’t have to play again.

Union Catholic, which improved dramatically from a 4-21 season a year ago and is guided by solid veteran head coach Jim Reagan Jr., outscored St. Peter’s Prep 17-12 in the second half, including 6-5 in the fourth quarter.

Chimeziri Okeoma led the Vikings and all scorers with 13 points. Teammate FK Muntari had eight rebounds and Okeoma two steals.
New Providence led Secaucus High School, which had a record of 29-3, by the score of 25-22 at the break before pulling away in the second half. The Pioneers won the third quarter 15-6 and the fourth 15-4.

Senior standout Meghan Lamanna paced the Pioneers with 14 points and three steals, while teammate Jasmine Miller grabbed 12 rebounds.

Linden freshman Jekhi Burnam made the game-tying and game-winning free throws with less than 10 seconds left to lift the Tigers past East Side for the program’s first sectional state championship in six years and first for fifth-year head coach Anthony Drejaj. When Linden last won in 2017, Drejaj was an assistant coach for head coach Phil Colicchio.

Linden outscored East Side 21-19 in the fourth quarter after East Side had the better of the play in the third, winning those eight minutes by a margin of 24-18.

Elijah Butler paced Linden with 18 points and eight boards, while teammate Elijah Motley came up with two steals. Motley finished with 14 points and Burnam with eight.