Three Union County high schools capture basketball state championships

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — This has been a banner season for Union County basketball, with three schools capturing state championships last weekend and advancing to the final Tournament of Champions competition that is going on this week.

The Roselle Catholic High School boys, Elizabeth High School boys and Westfield High School girls all won state championships. Union County is represented well in this week’s final Tournament of Champions.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has decided to eliminate the Tournament of Champions, which began in 1989, after this year. Of the first 32 boys TOCs played, parochial schools won 28 of them. The only times public schools won the TOC were Elizabeth in 1990, Shawnee High School in 1992, Orange High School in 1994 and Camden High School in 2000.
Camden, ranked No. 1 in the state, is the favorite to win the final boys TOC this week.

The Roselle Catholic boys team captured its fifth Non-Public B state championship and first since 2018, all guided by head coach Dave Boff, when the Lions defeated Trenton Catholic High School 74-66, in the game played on Saturday, March 12, at Jersey Mike’s Arena, commonly known as the Rutgers Athletic Center, in Piscataway.

Roselle Catholic was sparked by senior Jamarques Lawrence, who poured in a game-high 21 points. Lawrence will next play at the University of Nebraska.

Fellow senior Braxton Jones added 18 points, while junior Simeon Wilcher contributed 16 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Wilcher is committed to playing in college at the University of North Carolina.

Roselle Catholic improved to 27-2 with its 10th straight win. Roselle Catholic’s only two losses came at Camden, 67-64, in its season opener back on Friday, Dec. 17, and to out-of-state school Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, 61-54, in the Metro Classic on Saturday, Feb. 5.

Camden won the Group 2 state championship at 30-2 and is the top seed in the TOC. Barring upsets, Roselle Catholic and Camden will clash in the TOC final on Sunday, March 20, at Rutgers, which will be three months after the teams faced each other on Friday, Dec. 17, to start the season.

The Elizabeth boys team captured its sixth Group 4 state championship and first since 1991 when it came back in the second half to top Marlboro High School, 70-63, in the game at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Sunday, March 13.

Elizabeth was led by junior forward Sebastian Robinson, who netted a game-high 22 points and also dished out six assists and grabbed five rebounds.

Robinson also led all scorers in Elizabeth’s nail-biting 49-47 win at Linden High School on Monday, March 7, in the North 2, Group 4, final. There he scored 23 points.

“We just play our game and stick to the game plan the coaches draw up for us,” Robinson said. “We trust our system and our teammates.”

Elizabeth head coach Phil Colicchio is now 7-1 in Group 4 state championship games played at Rutgers. He was 6-1 while the head coach at Linden, with the only loss coming in overtime. This is his fourth year as the head coach at Elizabeth.

After winning in the Group 4 semifinals two years ago but not being able to play in the Group 4 final at Rutgers because it was canceled due to the onset of the coronavirus, Elizabeth was declared the North 4 Regional Champion for 2020.

There were no state tournaments in 2021.

Colicchio is a 1984 Elizabeth graduate who played for Elizabeth head coach Ben Candelino. It was Candelino who guided Elizabeth to its first five state championships in Group 4, in 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.

“Sebastian is one of the greatest kids I’ve coached. I put him right up there with many others, including the ones I coached here,” Colicchio said. “You feel good when you have the best player on the court.”

Also starring for Elizabeth in the Group 4 state championship win against Marlboro on Sunday, March 13, at Rutgers were senior Etienne Richelieu and sophomore London Carson. Richelieu scored 17 points, with 11 coming in the second half, after Elizabeth trailed 28-27 at the break. Carson scored all 21 of his points in the second half, eight in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth.
Elizabeth won for the sixth straight time. The Minutemen finished second to Roselle Catholic in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division and in the Union County Tournament, which Roselle Catholic won for the third time, and the first time since repeating as champs in 2019. Roselle Catholic won the Watchung Division undefeated at 9-0.

The Westfield girls team didn’t win the UCC’s Watchung Division title or the UCT championship. New Providence High School won both of those against the Blue Devils, but Westfield made up for it by winning North 2, Group 4, for the first time and then Group 4 for the first time, on Sunday, March 13, at Toms River North High School, with the gym there now known as RWJBarnabas Health Arena.

Westfield took a 28-5 record into this week’s TOC, with the only losses coming at Saddle River Day School, 78-37, on opening night on Saturday, Dec. 18; Sparta High School, 52-46, on Saturday, Jan. 8; and three times to New Providence — twice in Watchung Division play and again in the UCT final.

New Providence High School finished 26-3, after capturing the Watchung Division title and only its second UCT crown, and first since 1990. The Pioneers team then did well to reach the Central Jersey, Group 2, final, where it fell to eventual overall Group 2 state champion Manasquan High School.

New Providence went undefeated against Union County competition and also at home. Its only other two losses were at Ramapo High School and, in the same manner as Westfield, at Sparta.

Sparta ended up winning the Group 3 state championship and was to face Westfield on Wednesday, March 16, after press time, in a rematch when the TOC got underway at Toms River North.

In the 43-37 win against Cherokee High School in the Group 4 final at Toms River North on Sunday, March 13, junior Annie Ryan scored 16 points, junior Paige Gorczyca added 14, and senior Grace Klag contributed 4 points and six rebounds.

In the team’s 69-42 home triumph against Hillsborough High School in the North 2, Group 4, state sectional championship game on Tuesday, March 8, senior Chloe Kreusser paced all scorers with 27 points.

“Chloe just said that she didn’t want the season to be done,” Westfield head coach Liz McKeon said. “Our girls just play with more intensity each game.”

Westfield won its first five state tournament games by double-digit margins.

“This is a special group,” McKeon said. “They all love each other and respect each other’s roles. They also have fun out there.”

Boys Non-Public B state championship game
Saturday, March 12, at Jersey Mike’s Arena
Roselle Catholic 74, Trenton Catholic 66
Roselle Catholic wins Non-Public B for the first time since 2018 and for the fifth time overall. The Lions also won state championships, all in Non-Public B, in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.

Boys Group 4 state championship game
Sunday, March 13, at Jersey Mike’s Arena
Elizabeth 70, Marlboro 63
Elizabeth wins Group 4 for the first time since 1991 and for the sixth time overall. The Minutemen also won state championships, all in Group 4, in 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.

Girls Group 4 state championship game
Sunday, March 13, at RWJBarnabas Health Arena
Westfield 43, Cherokee 37
Westfield wins Group 4 for the first time — the program’s first-ever state championship. The Blue Devils are Union County’s first state champions since New Providence won Group 1 in 2015 and the county’s first Group 4 state champion since Elizabeth in 1996.

Boys’ final Tournament of Champions
No. 1: Camden (30-2) — Group 2 state champion
No. 2: Roselle Catholic (27-2) — Non-Public B state champion
No. 3: Bergen Catholic (22-8) — Non-Public A state champion
No. 4: Elizabeth (19-6) —Group 4 state champion
No. 5: Paterson Charter (31-1) — Group 1 state champion
No. 6: Woodrow Wilson (22-6) — Group 3 state champion

Tuesday, March 15, after press time, at RWJBarnabas Health Arena at Toms River North High School:
• Paterson Charter vs. Elizabeth.
• Woodrow Wilson vs. Bergen Catholic.

Thursday, March 17, at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway:
• Winner of Paterson Charter/Elizabeth vs. Camden, 5 p.m.
• Winner of Woodrow Wilson/Bergen Catholic vs. Roselle Catholic, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 20, at Jersey Mike’s Arena:
• Championship game, 2 p.m.

Girls final Tournament of Champions
No. 1: St. John Vianney (30-1) — Non-Public A state champion
No. 2: Manasquan (30-4) — Group 2 state champion
No. 3: Rutgers Prep (27-2) — Non-Public B state champion
No. 4: Sparta (26-3) — Group 3 state champion
No. 5: Westfield (28-5) — Group 4 state champion
No. 6: University (19-7) — Group 1 state champion

Wednesday, March 16, after press time, at RWJBarnabas Health Arena:
• Westfield vs. Sparta.
• University vs. Rutgers Prep.

Friday, March 18, at RWJBarnabas Health Arena:
• Winner of Westfield/Sparta vs. St. John Vianney, 5 p.m.
• Winner of University/Rutgers Prep vs. Manasquan, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 20, at Jersey Mike’s Arena:
• Championship game, 4 p.m.

Photos Courtesy of Union County Conference website, JR Parachini and Gene Nann.