NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The quarterfinal playoff game between the New Providence Pioneers and the Whippany Park Wildcats was a tale of two halves. While both teams looked sloppy in the first half, it was the underdog 12-13 Pioneers who dominated the second half and defeated the Wildcats 50-42 to advance in the playoffs.
Having not played each other all year, this could have been an easy victory for the 18-6 Wildcats, but the Pioneers were up for the challenge. The two teams battled back and forth throughout the first half committing a total of 18 turnovers, but Whippany was able to gain a slim 23-21 lead at halftime. Although the Pioneers looked sluggish and out of sync, Head Coach Arty Cattano said he was not concerned.
“We’ve been playing pretty good lately,” Cattano said. “We’ve been practicing a lot on shooting, shooting and shooting.”
The second half was a different story for New Providence. They looked rejuvenated, grabbed the lead and never looked back. The Pioneers offense looked smooth and in control behind the guard play of Robbie Fay, Mike Marchesano and Mike Herrigal. By clamoring up on defense and Barletta controlling the paint, New Providence dominated the game. But, most importantly, they held onto the ball and committed only seven turnovers.
Barletta, who finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, was a beast down below that could not be contained. The Wildcats tried to double team him and box him out, but every ball seemed to end up in his hands. Barletta said he credits his toughness from his days on the gridiron. But, Barletta said he knew in order for his team to win, he had to step it up in the second half.
“We came into halftime we knew we we’re not playing good at all,” Barletta said. “I like to think I’m a strong force down below and my teammates like to tell me that and give me the ball, so it gives me more confidence.”
Fay, who led the comeback in the second half, had 7 points and 7 assists, but said he didn’t know why they looked lethargic in the first half. There were too many turnovers and missed shots and that was not the game plan, Fay said. But, he acknowledged going into the second half it could have been the last game for him and the seniors, so they had to put it all on the floor. The plan was to move the ball around and get the ball to the big man, he said.
“Dave played a great game,” Fay said. “We just tried to take care of the ball and play smart basketball.”
With a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter, Cattano knew his team needed to continue their dominance and put the pedal to the metal, so he asked his team what this lead meant. They unanimously responded “It’s over.” With rebounds by Barletta and timely hoops from the guards, New Providence held on to their lead and will now play one more game in the playoffs.
“It feels great,” Barletta said. “There’s no better feeling right now.”