ELIZABETH, NJ – The No. 2 Linden Tigers have been giving nearly every team on their schedule a tough time this season, but the Bloomfield Bengals were not one of those teams Thursday night.
After being crowned sectional champions for the first time in 40 years earlier this week, the Bengals arrived at Elizabeth High School prepared for a messy brawl with the team that has defeated top Jersey contenders like Roselle Catholic and the Patrick School.
But after getting as close as two points behind the Linden boys in the Group 4 Semifinal, the Bengals fell 50-56 and ended their season (24-6, 9-3 SEC).
“We didn’t come her to lose,” Bengals Head Coach Pat Brunner said in a post-game interview. “We’re disappointed, but I’m happy that Linden will represent North Jersey. They deserve it.”
The Tigers have improved to (25-4, 6-1 UCIAC) and advanced to the Group 4 Final, where they will take on the (29-2, 8-0 OC) Shawnee Renegades.
After closing out the first quarter with a 19-14 trail and lagging behind by nine points at halftime, a field goal and three pointer by Bengals senior Francis Lorenzo brought his team just two points behind the Tigers in the third quarter’s final two minutes. At the end of the quarter, the Tigers led 41-38.
“I was really proud of how they played tonight,” Brunner told TAPinto Bloomfield. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Tigers gave the Bengals a difficult time in the final quarter, but the Bloomfield boys never gave up. After falling a bit behind, sophomore Mike Ramos – who led the team in scoring this season – brought the team just four points behind with 5:22 remaining in the game.
After the Tigers put some more points on the board, two free throws by Bengals junior Kyle Barrow put his team three points behind the opponent with just 55 seconds remaining. The team’s last opportunity to catch up was in the last 24 seconds when a field goal by senior Myles Toppin gave his team a three-point trail once again.
But in the next 24 seconds, the Tigers added three points, while the Bengals failed to fit in another shot.
After finishing the previous season (9-17, 2-8 SEC), Brunner is proud of his team’s comeback season and feels confident about the future of the team.
“We had a great year,” Brunner said. “We have a good foundation of kids coming back and I expect to be back at the Group Tournament next year.”
In the last game of their high school career, the team’s two strongest seniors led the Bengals in scoring. Toppin scored 13 points, while Lorenzo dished out another 12.
Tigers junior Tavon Jones accumulated a game-high 21 points and surpassed 1,000 career points. His senior teammate Khalief Crawford – who is less than 50 points away from scoring his 1,000th point – dropped another 15 on Thursday.
The Tigers and Renegades will play at Rutgers University on Sunday. The two teams will tip of at 12 PM.