By John Torenli
Jets quarterback Joe Namath became a national icon and local legend with three simple words uttered prior to Super Bowl III in Miami more than 40 years ago: “I guarantee it!”
While the stakes won’t be nearly as high this weekend at St. John’s University for the three remaining Brooklyn AA teams vying for the Public School Athletic League championship, the pre-game chatter has been every bit as juicy as “Broadway” Joe’s historic proclamation.
Jefferson senior Thad Hall, who boasts regularly that he is the best player in the city, drove that point home last Sunday at Carnesecca Arena in Jamaica, N.Y.
Hall scored a team-high 25 points as the top-seeded Orange Wave continued their quest for their first city title since 1954 with an 80-61 rout of No. 8 Wadleigh.
Next up for the reigning Brooklyn AA and Borough Champions is Sunday’s semifinal encounter with fourth-seeded Wings Academy for the right to play in the PSAL Final at Madison Square Garden on March 17.
“I don’t feel like anyone can stop me right now,” Hall noted confidently after Jefferson’s 12th consecutive victory since an 86-84 setback to two-time defending PSAL champion Boys and Girls on Jan. 3.
In the two months following that defeat, the Wave has knocked off the Kangaroos twice, including the BBC Final, and defeated perennial PSAL powerhouse Lincoln on its home court.
Despite their impressive run, coach Lawrence Pollard’s team is still a virtual newcomer to the PSAL’s version of March Madness as Lincoln and B&G have combined to win nine of the last 10 city crowns.
One of those storied programs will be at the Garden in two weeks for sure as the Railsplitters and Kangaroos both won their respective quarterfinals at St. John’s on Sunday to earn a berth in the upcoming semis.
And both spoke as if they were confident they could return to the stage where they competed for last season’s title.
Senior Leroy Fludd scored 12 of his game-high 20 points to open the contest as B&G made quick work of Brooklyn rival South Shore with a 63-51 triumph Sunday.
The victory thrust the Kangaroos within one win of returning to MSG for the third consecutive year. Of course, to do so, they will have to defeat the Railsplitters, who snuck past Curtis, 60-57, in the weekend’s closest contest.
Fludd responded in the affirmative when asked if he would “guarantee” a victory over Lincoln in the last of four meetings between the Brooklyn rivals this weekend, noting that the opponent was inconsequential for the three-peat hungry champs.
Ironically, the normally boastful ’Splitters have been low-keying it throughout their playoff run, perhaps humbled by a late-season slide that saw them squander the division crown and suffer an early exit from the BBC.
Sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, plagued by injury during Lincoln’s last two losses to B&G, appeared to be all the way back from the ankle issues which plagued him over the past month, scoring a game-high 19 points.
Playing without suspended forward Tafari Whittington for the second straight game, the ‘Splitters trailed the Warriors 13-9 after the opening quarter before battling back to secure yet another coveted trip to the PSAL’s Final Four.
Though they haven’t talked the talk as well as their two Brooklyn AA counterparts heading into the weekend, the ‘Splitters, owners of seven city championships and three state titles over the past decade, know better than most that actions speak much louder than words at this time of year.
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On the girls’ side, top-seeded South Shore advanced to this weekend’s girls semifinals at St. John’s with last weekend’s 44-30 victory over Brooklyn rival Midwood at Hunter College.
Junior Aliyah Cooley scored 21 points for the Vikings, who will take on McKee/Staten Island Tech in Sunday’s semifinals. Perennial PSAL champion Murray Bergtraum will meet Francis Lewis in Sunday’s other semi.
Read next week’s Eagle for continuing coverage of the PSAL playoffs.