In the biggest game of the year thus far, the tenth-ranked Pirates faced the thirteenth-ranked Immaculate Conception Lions at West Orange High School on February 22. This was the finals of the Essex County Tournament, a tournament that the Pirates had won 17 times prior and that the Lions had never won before. The Prep had a fourteen game winning streak coming into the day, including a win over the Lions back on January 23. The Prep and Immaculate both survived close semifinal matchups, with the Pirates beating Irvington by two and the Lions beating East Orange by three. With a packed gym watching the action, the game certainly did not disappoint in intensity or emotion.
The Prep looked strong in the first few minutes of the first quarter, playing to their strengths that had catapulted them into this game. Their high-powered offense and tight defense allowed them to obtain a quick 8-3 lead. This lead, though, would not last long as the momentum quickly spun the other way. The Lions learned to break the Pirates’ defense and score in bunches, ending the quarter on an 11-0 run. As would be a theme for the rest of the day, the Pirates were unable to score when they needed to and were unable to rebound on the defensive end. The Lions were consistently able to shoot multiple shots per possession due to their ability to grab offensive rebounds. The quarter would end with Immaculate Conception leading 14-8.
The Prep were once again not able to find their offense in the second quarter. Players that normally energize the squad were unable to put the ball in the basket. Giye Jenkins ‘21, someone who consistently leads the team in points, scored just twelve, seven coming from the free throw line. Michael Curran ‘20 was the lead scorer for the team with fourteen, but he was only able to make one of his signature three point shots. Their defense also continued to struggle, allowing the Lions to get second-chance opportunities from behind the arc. The ball-handling for Immaculate was also exceptional, as the Pirates were only able to get three steals throughout the game. This allowed the Lions to not waste any possessions as well as not give up any easy baskets on the other end. With all this being said, though, the Pirates were able to keep the game close, as the first half would end with Immaculate leading 26-19.
The third quarter would be more of the same for the Pirates on the defensive end, while also being the best on the offensive end. Despite continued struggles to get shots beyond the three-point arc to go in, good ball movement led to easy shots within the paint as well as many free throw opportunities. Their difficulties on defense, a surprising contrast to the defense that catapulted them to this game, allowed the Lions to keep a sizable lead even with this rejuvenated Pirate offense. The lead remained double digits for most of the quarter, but a buzzer-beating layup by Cole McGonigal ‘21 kept The Prep within striking distance. The quarter would end with the Lions winning 43-36.
The momentum gained by the late bucket did not help the Pirates for most of the fourth quarter. The lead would remain the same till about the five minute mark where The Prep were facing a sizable deficit and the game looked to be over. The Pirates, however, persevered and chipped away at the lead. With two minutes remaining, The Prep was down by just four. Their inability to shoot the three, though, was their demise. Each time down the court, the Pirates would waste great opportunities to tie the game up or to gain the momentum. Each missed shot gave the Lions another chance to expand the lead, which they capitalized on. The game would end with a Pirates defeat, 63-51. This loss is a huge disappointment for the team as it ends their fourteen game winning streak that lasted over a month. The Pirates now must turn their focus to states; they will play Oratory Prep in the first round on March 4 inside Tracey Gymnasium.