Late Surge Not Enough for Sparta Against Rivals
Pope John wins season's first meeting against crosstown foes in front of capacity crowd.
In a rivalry that goes back about 50 years, Sparta High School hosted Pope John XXIII Tuesday night for the latest chapter. The near capacity crowd was treated to an exceptional contest between the two schools separated by only 3.5 miles.
|Pope John (4-3)||11||16||12||9||48|
The game had all the hype it should have: an age old rivalry, an undefeated Sparta team and the NJ.com No. 13 ranked Pope John coming together for their first of two annual contests. And it did not disappoint.
The first quarter was a tight match with neither team taking an advantage, but the second quarter saw Pope John take an advantage on the ten points (two 3's and a pair of baskets) scored by Bryce Aiken. The third quarter saw Sparta fall another point and would put them down 39-32.
But on the backs of Frick, Jake Melville and Mitch Cohen, Sparta would claw their way back to tie the game at 41 with 3:08 remaining and go ahead 43-41 at the 2:38 mark. But Pope John would come back to score two baskets of their own to go ahead 45-43 with under a minute to play. Coming out of a Sparta time out taken at the 9.9 second mark, Sparta played for a last shot and had the ball where they wanted it, in the hands of Zach Frick. With 4 seconds remaining, Frick attacked the lane putting up a floater that was sure to go in and tie the game. But 6'10" Moustapha Diagne was in position to the left of the lane and swatted the ball away.
The game ended with chants of "This is our town" from the Pope John fans who stormed the floor when the buzzer sounded.
Both teams depended heavily on their point guards and both teams got excellent play from their floor leaders. Sparta was led by senior point guard Zach Frick whose acrobatics around the basket were astonding. Pope John on the other hand was led by freshman guard Bryce Aiken who score a game high 16 points including a 10 point run in the second quarter.
The big men from both teams did their part as well. Mitch Cohen scored 13 points to lead Sparta and played a strong inside game against Diagne. Moustapha Diagne scored 14 points, had the game saving block and sank two free throws with less than two seconds on the clock to put the game out of reach for Sparta.
THEY SAID IT
"It has been the same thing in our three losses: that oppenant's senior are taking over games and that is what happened tonight. Zach Frick and Jake Meville took over the game in the second half. We have very good talent, but we are young. In these pressure situations, you are going to see that they are young. That is why we play Hudson Catholic, Roselle Catholic, to get us ready for this. And being this young, I knew the rivalry was going to be tough if we hadn't had those experiences previously. I have a freshman, two sophomores that start and all underclassmen played the second half." - Pope John head coach Jason Hasson
"It was a crazy game. We prepared for just about everything in practice all week, all the situations that could happen in a game. When we came out, we are all brothers and we trust each other. We were all just ready for what came to us." - Ryan Izzo
"I knew that he (Frick) was going to shoot a layup, I put myself in position to help. I was seeing the whole court the whole time." - Moustapha Diagne
"We couldn't make the shots. Zach (Frick) makes those shots every night. You hold a team like that to 48 points, you get that many open looks. You expect to do a little bit better. You can't complain about anything our kids did tonight. It was a tough one. We have to wake up quick and get ready for Thursday." - Sparta head coach Brian Brennen
Pope John will face James Hillhouse (New Haven) as part of the 1st Annual Living Hope Festival Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Pope John. The proceeds of the festival will go to the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.
Sparta will play High Point at Sparta on Thursday at 7 p.m. Sparta will also play Saturday as part of the Living Hope Festival at Pope John playing Columbia at 2 p.m.