Passaic Valley first-year assistant coach Jim Holsworth read an early season column in ‘From Margate to Cleveland’ about the lack of support for the boys’ basketball team at his new high school. Admittedly, I called PV’s massive home gymnasium The Library, because of the deafening silence, and low fan support, in some of the games
It didn’t take long for the ambitious coach to challenge his students to pick up the school spirit for a program that has consistently won for the past seven years.
Slowly but surely, the students in Holsworth’s social studies classes began showing up to home games, and then, some road games. And then tonight, ‘Holsworth’s Heroes’ showed up in droves, filling the now former Library with energy for a first-round NJSIAA tournament game between their seventh seeded Hornets and Tenafly, which gained the 10th seed.
The line was out the door for tickets 20 minutes before game time, and while the gym, which holds about 1,800, full capacity, wasn’t sold out, it certainly was at least 70% capacity. (The biggest crowd I ever saw at home was in the 2010 state tournament, when PV played Wayne Valley in the quarterfinals).
Even head coach Rob Carcich couldn’t help but look at over me just before tip off and say ‘I guess it’s not a Library tonight.’
The PV players loved the momentum from the crowd, most of whom wore white shirts, and when Stef Minic drained a 3-point basket to start the game, it was clear that this evening belonged to the Hornets. One fan even had a championship belt, which he held proudly over his head for most of the game.
On the court, the Hornets were paced by Minic’s 22 points while Mike Cirrincione had his best game on the varsity level, scoring 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for his first double-double. Passaic Valley won, 51-30, to advance to North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 quarterfinals on Thursday at second seeded Sparta, which downed Wayne Hills.
Passaic Valley won this game because of defense. Playing its patented 2-3 zone to near perfection, it held Tenafly to 26 points, including just five in the first 7:30 of the fourth quarter before the Bergen school added a pair of layups in the closing seconds of the game.
Freshman point guard Jihad Wright had nine assists and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Shawn Ulrich had four points, but it was a play he made early in the second quarter which turned the game squarely in PV’s favor. With the Hornets up, 13-7, an errant shot appeared to be heading out-of-bounds. But Ulrich made a great save of the ball, passing it to Dan Cirrincione, who was fouled on a layup attempt. A Tenafly player was assessed a technical foul on the play, giving the Hornets an additional two foul shots, and then possession of the ball, where Mike Cirrincione converted a layup to give the Hornets a 17-7 lead.
PV lead 23-9 at the half, thanks to a beautiful layup by Wright before the buzzer. Tenafly did make things a little interesting in the third, cutting PV’s lead to 31-21 after three, but the Hornets went back to work on defense in the fourth and pulled away to a big win.
Zach Damiano had another good game, scoring seven points and playing tenacious defense.
Success in the state tournament is nothing new to Carcich’s team. The Hornets have been to the last two state sectional finals and were a semifinalist in 2010. Back in 2007, the program won the sectional championship and went to the Group 3 final.
Following the game, most of Holsworth’s students reported to their teacher that they were indeed at the game.
“I saw at least 35 of my students, and there were probably more than that,” Holsworth said. “It was nice to see.”
And the Hornets live for another day in the craziness of the state tournament. Next up, a long trip to Sparta, where a huge assignment waits.
Let’s see if Holsworth’s Heroes travel well.