Sometimes, headlines write themselves. Like that softball story posted earlier, I try to spice up game stories as much as possible.
Interning with the Bucks County Courier Times early in my college career, I was fortunate enough to shadow Sixers beat reporter Tom Moore, Flyers beat reporter Wayne Fish and (now) Phillies beat reporter Kevin Cooney. The main takeaway I got from these guys: game stories have to bring something fresh that the fans in the stands or in front of their televisions do not get to experience. This makes interviews crucial, but also picking up game and season trends.
I believe covering high school sports is slightly different. The vast majority of people reading articles didn’t attend the game. So, a detailed, fun recap is necessary. Toss in some interviews and game trends, and I feel these stories aren’t crazy different in comparison to professional sports pieces.
Yet, I still want to bring in something fresh that other writers do not since I’m not with a major daily paper.
Here, I put two game stories in one piece and allowed my headline to write the lede:
3.2.2015 — It was the high school of the victors. It was the high school of the defeated. It was the beginning of the playoffs for the Southern Regional boys basketball team. It was the end of the playoffs for the Southern Regional girls basketball team.
March 2 marked the opening round of the 2015 NJSIAA basketball tournament. The early game put the girls against Washington Township. Southern lost this game, 45–38. The late game, the guys against Shawnee, was a 61–52 win for the Rams.
Let’s begin with the most electric moment of the evening.
Shawnee turned the ball over. Forward Peyton Wejnert had an open floor to get the basket.
Wejnert threw down a two-handed slam. The Herd, Southern Regional’s student section, erupted along with the rest of the Southern faithful.
“The moment was surreal. You don’t know what was going through your head: excitement, adrenaline,” Wejnert said. “After that dunk, I knew we were going to win.”
The dunk came late in the third quarter as the Rams pushed their lead to eight points in what would be an eventual 61–52 win for the Rams.
“This is what you work for: an atmosphere like this, the community, the parents, the students, opposing fans and our fans,” coach Eric Fierro said. “You lay it on the court for 32 minutes and see who’s the better team.”
Fierro said Shawnee had beat up on his team back in December during a scrimmage. He went as far as saying, “They ripped us good.” The difference this time? Preparation. Before the game, Fierro handed a SandPaper reporter a 12-page scouting report that featured everything from player evaluations to news articles of the Renegades.
The Rams knew that the Renegades thrived by having a good perimeter game. Forced inside, the Renegades had to go up against the Rams’ shot blocking and size. However, for much of the first half, Shawnee was strong from deep.
Fierro said the Rams’ defensive effort keep them in the game. The score at the half was 22–20, Southern. In the second half, Fierro said he switched to man-on-man defense while an offensive storm was approaching.
Then, Peyton Wejnert happened. Fierro said the junior forward was pressing too much to start the game. Wejnert agreed. However, he began to turn things around as the opening quarter came to a close. He tallied four points in the first quarter and hit two free throws in the second quarter.
“He’s going to miss some,” Fierro said. “We had to believe in him.”
“I knew I was going to have a great third quarter,” Wejnert said.
Wejnert justified this by saying he saw what Shawnee was doing to him defensively in the first half — leaving him in single coverage in the paint. He knew this would be easy to exploit.
As predicted, Wejnert began his offensive dominance in the second half. He dropped 11 points in the third quarter. This section of the game was highlighted by a monster dunk off a turnover, putting the Rams up by eight points late in the quarter.
“Peyton was getting whatever he wanted in the paint. He took it over in the third,” guard Ethan Dubois said. “There was no looking back from there.”
Wejnert said that when he started scoring, everyone else did, too. Dubois said, “The seas parted.”
The Rams’ second-half push was aided by Dubois and fellow guards Jake Logue and Mark Valeriani. Valeriani was Southern’s guy from deep, scoring all 12 of his points from beyond the arch. He helped Southern hold early leads along with forward Eric Ray. The pair accounted for more than half of Southern’s first-half offensive output. Dubois said getting the ball to the pair really helped make the second-half scoring possible, opening up the paint.
While the score got close during parts of the fourth quarter, Shawnee began the fouling game with 1:30 left on the clock and losing by six. The Rams shot over 60 percent from the line to seal the victory.
A few hours before, the girls had just completed a gritty matchup against Washington Township in the gym just up the hall.
The mood was somber in the girls locker room on Monday around 5:30 p.m., according to guard Bianca Nicolini. Moments prior, the girls had just lost to Washington Township.
Nicolini was particularly nostalgic following the game because she explained that the starting five had been playing together since the third grade. She was also disheartened because her team was ousted so early in the playoffs. She added she believed it had more potential — to make it to the second round, at least.
That was the point where the girls made it last season.
“Everyone hopes to win it,” forward Gabby Davis said.
The girls were outscored in the first quarter of their game, 17–8.
“We never really recovered from the first,” coach Tom Bucci said. “They punched us early in the first quarter.”
Bucci attributed the Minutemaids’ first-quarter push to their play in the post, adding his squad did not box out. This forced him to go to his bench early. Upon his team’s first timeout, Bucci told his players to “get back to the fundamentals.” He elaborated: The Rams were told to position themselves better in the post, put more pressure on the ball defensively, get ahead of cuts. Nicolini agreed with Bucci’s issues.
“I feel like, sometimes, we underestimate teams,” Bucci said. “They put us on the mat, and we had to fight back the whole way.
“You can’t play three quarters of a game.”
Davis said the Rams just ran out of time.
Note that this game was not a blowout by any means, though its gritty nature may imply that. The Rams did get on track in the second quarter. Davis and other forwards Colleen Brady and Shauna McHale all contributed strong defense as the half approached. This allowed the Rams to get within five points of the Minutemaids heading into the third quarter.
Washington Township distanced itself from Southern a bit in the third by draining a couple of three-pointers. However, the Rams made a fourth-quarter push.
With 49 seconds left, Washington Township was inbounding the ball at half court. Davis and Nicolini double-teamed the ball handler, creating a turnover. The Rams had a shot to tie it up, down three. However, the ball was turned over. The Minutemaids proceeded to put the game away.
The Rams also suffered from a lack of made free throws and open shots.
“You want to remember these things,” Bucci said.
The girls went 20–6 this season.
“We didn’t really connect,” Nicolini admitted.
The next big day for Southern Basketball: Wednesday. The boys, the seven-seed, will face off against Atlantic City High School, the two-seed. This has become a familiar postseason opponent for Southern. Logue hit a buzzer-beater against A.C. last year — a team that was two-time defending state champs. In 2013, the eighth-seeded Rams lost to the top-seeded Vikings.
“It’s going to be a great playoffs,” Wejnert said. “I can’t wait to take on A.C.”
“If you like basketball, A.C. is the time of your life,” Dubois said. “We’re going to be ready to go down there and beat them again.”