By John Torenli
Who’s No. 1?
Entering this month’s Public School Athletic League playoffs, the answer indisputably and unequivocally is Jefferson.
Winners of 10 straight games, including Saturday’s Brooklyn Borough Championship triumph over defending two-time city title-holder Boys and Girls, the Orange Wave (12-2 Brooklyn AA) has overtaken perennial PSAL powerhouses Lincoln and B&G as the team to beat not just in Brooklyn but the entire city.
As the top overall seed, Jefferson enjoyed a bye during Wednesday’s PSAL playoff openers across the five boroughs.
But shortly after his team edged the Kangaroos, 68-62, in Saturday’s BBC final at York College, Orange Wave coach Lawrence Pollard was adamant about Jefferson’s newly inherited lofty standing.
“We proved who the best team in the city is today,” noted Pollard, who watched senior Thad Hall dominate from start to finish en route to 34 points and 12 rebounds in last weekend’s title-clinching victory.
“Now we have to win the city championship,” Pollard added boldly.
It’s been well over a half-century – 1954 to be exact – since Jefferson held the PSAL Championship trophy aloft. It’ll try to end that drought early next month at Madison Square Garden in the hopes of representing the Big Apple at the annual Federation State Championships in Glens Fall, N.Y.
It’s hard to blame Pollard’s enthusiasm after guiding the Wave to six straight trips to the BBC title game only to see them come up short before lucky number seven produced a winner.
Hall’s performance, highlighted by a 14-for-15 performance from the free-throw line, makes it hard to pick against Jefferson, which has won seemingly every type of game during its run to two of the most coveted crowns in local high school hoops.
But pulling off the trifecta – Brooklyn AA, BBC and PSAL titles – would put the Wave in rarified air, something rivals Lincoln and B&G have enjoyed over the past decade.
Hall, the self-proclaimed best player in the city, can secure that moniker with a strong showing in the next four games. He scored 21 points in Wednesday’s 71-60 non-league defeat to Jersey’s national powerhouse St. Anthony’s.
The third-seeded Railsplitters’ seemingly slid off course during the season’s final month following an 82-77 home loss to Jefferson on Jan. 17, prompting coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, the owner of seven city titles and three state championships, to question his team’s toughness.
Lincoln fell to B&G in the regular-season finale and was knocked off by the defending two-time city champion Kangaroos, 59-52, in last Thursday’s BBC semifinals.
Yet, it’s difficult to ever underestimate Morton’s team at playoff time, especially with the scheduled return of sophomore point guard Isaiah Whitehead (ankle injury) before the ‘Splitters’ postseason opener.
Lincoln fell to non-league rival St. Raymond’s, 55-51, in Coney Island on Wednesday.
As for coach Ruth Lovelace’s Kangaroos, the failure to bring home the division or borough crown hardly seemed to matter as they’re ultimate goal is a city title three-peat, something that hasn’t been done since Lance Stephenson led Lincoln to an unprecedented four consecutive city titles in the previous decade.
Lovelace believes her team is ready to run the table to the Garden this month, especially after feeling victimized by questionable officiating in Saturday’s defeat.
Jefferson was apparently awarded three points it didn’t score in the first half, and the B&G coach was adamant that the mix-up was “the difference in the game.”
Pollard shot some holes in that theory, citing how his team overcame a double-digit lead against the reigning champions for the second time in as many weeks, regardless of the phantom 3-pointer.
Either way, the next few weeks promise to provide as much playoff excitement as the PSAL has seen in recent memory, with not one, not two, but three strong contenders from Brooklyn poised to battle it out for the city title.
No. 7 South Shore also received a first-round bye. Thirteenth-seeded East New York Transit Tech was the first Brooklyn team eliminated, suffering a 55-53 loss to Eagle Academy on Wednesday.
On the local private school scene, Poly Prep saw its hopes for an Ivy League title end in heartbreaking fashion Monday, dropping a 55-54 decision to reigning Federation B state champion Collegiate in Bay Ridge.
Senior Anthony Reyes scored 13 points, but his buzzer-beating attempt at capturing the crown rimmed out, leaving the Blue Devils (13-8 overall) to wonder what could have been just three short days after they knocked off rival Dalton in the semifinals.
Coach Bill McNally was upbeat about his team’s efforts throughout the challenging season, telling the New York Post, “If we play the Los Angeles Lakers or a junior high school team, it’s gonna be a close game.”
Poly also lost, 51-40, to Fieldston on Wednesday.
A Downtown team to keep your eyes on next season is the girls’ varsity unit from Brooklyn Friends High School.
The Blue Pride completed their campaign with Monday’s 53-49 victory at the Garden School behind a season-high 30 points from super sophomore Janna Jossainte, who also put up 23 points in last week’s win over Bay Ridge Prep.
Finishing 8-9 overall with no seniors on the roster, coach David Gardella’s squad figures to challenge for league titles over the next two years.
“It was a great win for the team and a really nice way to finish the season,” noted Gardella.