On February 19, Seton Hall Prep Basketball was crowned champions of the Essex County Tournament after defeating Newark Central 60-55. Heading into the tournament as the one seed expectations were high for Prep Basketball. However, in one of the most competitive counties in the Garden State each game is a battle.
Seton Hall Prep defeated Belleville in the first round of the tournament 68-40. Size advantage and terrific guard play contributed to the win. Gavin Krietz ’22 and Jackson Bleecker ’23 were instrumental in facilitating the offense, combining for 25 points. The quarterfinal round was Seton Hall’s first real test in the tournament outscoring Arts 56-43. A fantastic defensive showing and guard play were imperative in the victory. Bleecker led the team again with 16 points, but he was not alone. Nick Dunneman ’22 contributed 13 points, Myles Thomason ’22 finished with seven points and five assists, and Shawn Lyght ’23, back from injury, had nine points and nine assists. SHP marched into the semi-final with a chip on the shoulder knowing a win solidifies a spot in the Essex County Tournament final. Seton Hall Prep destroyed Caldwell 54-36 and clinched their spot in the tournament final, against three-seed Newark Central. Newark Central was 0-2 in the regular season against SHP, but the Pirates knew this was going to be a back-and-forth game. Kreitz stated,
“It’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season so we knew Central was going to show up ready to play. We prepared in practice simulating what Central plays like leading up to the championship game.” Central started out hot with a 10-2 lead and a suffocating press that the Pirates could not break. However, Seton Hall cut the lead down to four to end this first quarter. The Pirates woke up in the second quarter, allowing 6 total points and finishing behind the arc. SHP led by 5 heading into the half. In the second half, the game had numerous lead changes with both teams feeding off the crowd. With two minutes left and Newark Central up by two, Thomason found Bleecker in the corner and Bleecker gave the Pirates the lead. This corner three gained Bleecker his confidence back, “I was having a bad shooting night and Sterling Gibbs ’12 was helping me get refocused and telling me I was going to hit a big shot and not to worry. So, when I saw that ball in the air, I knew that this would be the shot he told me I would have all I had to do was connect.” Lock-down defense and unbelievable playing by Lyght, SHP increased the lead by five and stopped Central from coming back, resulting in a Seton Hall Prep Basketball eighteenth Essex County Tournament win and their first since 2016.
“As a team, we knew what we had to do to win and did exactly that. I never been able to win a championship in my high school career, so it was a special feeling” voiced Krietz.
For leading scorer Jackson Bleecker, he grew up waiting for this opportunity: “being from Essex I grew up watching players I look up to and to establish my name as a county champion means a lot. It was one thing I always really wanted to do in high school and given the I knew there was no way I would let it pass.”
Bleecker and Dunneman were unstoppable again on the offensive side and were in contention for MVP, but Shawn Lyght with 18 points and seven rebounds was titled the Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Seton Hall Prep was awarded the three seed in the Non-Public A Tournament and plays Morristown-Beard first round. With a win, the Pirates would play Paramus Catholic or Dwight-Englewood in the quarterfinals and Don Bosco in the semis. However, the Pirates are not focused on their opponent rather the effort they display in practice and games.
“We just have to go out and play our hearts out and leave everything out there. We have nothing to lose” stated Krietz.
With a 35-point loss in the regular season to Don Bosco, some may look at the potential of playing them in the semifinals with fear, but Gavin Krietz and Jackson Bleecker think the opposite, Gavin voiced “We have nothing to lose, and they have everything to lose. We are a different team than we were eight weeks ago.” Bleecker informed me, “Bosco was a game that broke us down us, showed us our weaknesses, and showed us what we had to change as a team, so that game against them will show just how much we improved.”