PATERSON, NJ - As the time melted away, and Paterson Eastside's speed and stranglehold on the game became apparent, there was only one thing left for Randolph to accomplish.
Paterson Eastside defeated Randolph, 57-35, in the sectional Group 4 semifinal girls basketball game. In the victory, Taylor Brown finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Ghosts.
Randolph's do-it-all senior Aliyah Huland El was two points shy of tying the all-time scoring record in Morris County history late in the game. She had been hounded all day, fighting through double and triple-teams for 16 hard fought points. Numerous passes intended for her went awry, and as the game progressed many of their plays ended up getting turned around the other way.
But with a minute left, Huland El and her teammates, feeling the record looming, swung the ball around the perimiter as she directed from the post, until they could find her inside. With 59 seconds left a drive and a long lay-in went in and out. But with 53 on the clock, she got the ball and spun in the low post, finding just enough daylight to put one up for 2, tying former Jefferson star Diana Poulsen's record of 2,285 points.
A possession later, after two tough plays inside and almost a full quarter of bewildered teammates struggling to get her the ball, a foul brought her to the line. After missing the first, she put the second home, and wrote her name into the record books on the last shot of her high school career. She immediately made a beeline for the bench to share the moment with her coaches.
“With 47 seconds left I broke down,” said Huland El through a whirlwind of emotions after the game. “The game wasn't over, obviously. But in my head, I'm like, you know what, we're down 17, we're down 19, we're down 21, maybe we can't come back. And I guess at that point that's when the epiphany hit, you know what, this season is over, my career is over.”
But she didn't break down completely until she was on the sidelines, hugging mentors and teammates as her name and newest accolade were being announced over the applause. Randolph head coach Kristin Torres, in her sixth season as head coach, and her husband, assistant coach Peter Torres, have been there for her and the Lady Rams from the beginning.
“Our coaches gave everything, they always do. I couldn't have asked for better coaches, the team couldn't. They're so supportive,” said Huland El. “Coming in here we had a great plan, we just didn't execute well at all.”
Randolph kept it close at the start, matching Eastside for the first quarter on the scoreboard, but on the court, just scrambling to hold on. Their open looks turned to contested shots in the second half and they lost their range. And for the seniors involved on either side, the potential last game of their high school careers brought plenty of added pressure.
“Its the climax of my entire high school career,” said Huland El. “I couldn't have asked for a better chance to win. We gave it our all, they're just a better team. They out-hustled us, and were more aggressive than us. You know what, they deserved to win. But this game represented so many things, it was so emotional.”
Paterson Eastside (24-3) finished off Randolph, 57-35, and move on to the sectional final against Montclair. For Randolph its been another successful campaign and proof of the strength of the staff and the program as they finished 21-8, for their third straight 20-win season.
When asked how emotional a game it was, Torres said it had to be the most emotional game she has coached, “for many reasons.” A twist to the tale is that the previous record holder was a teammate of hers at Jefferson High. “You know its kind of ironic, here's Aliyah breaking the record and it has to be somebody who I played with. We joke about things like that all the time. I'm just so happy for her that she was able to do it.”
It was a somber affair for the Lady Rams as it signaled an end, but they never gave in. The tense moments even after the game was out of reach were dissolved when Aliyah nailed her last free throw. As for her supporting cast this season, Keira Cesario had six points, Cynthia Merringer added eight and Kelly McGinniss two, all of whom will return next season.
But for the Rams other captain Sabrina Viscomi, senior Amanda Capitelli, and Aliyah Huland El, their time is up. For Aliyah, Randolph's coveted 6-foot-2 athlete, she will be off on an adventure to the ACC and the University of Virginia on a scholarship. And in a way, she will be taking some of coaches Kristin and Peter Torres with her, and they will be keeping some things she left with them.
“She's taught me a lot,” said Coach Kristin Torres. “Not just being her coach but also as a person. Its tough because I'm very close to her.”
Huland El capped off her season with 19 points on the night and 2,286 for her career.