SUMMIT, NJ - In a little over a month's time, the roundball smorgasbord that is "March Madness" will begin, and while basketball fans will enjoy the feast of college games that occur during the month of hoops, there are high school games that precede it that are also tasty, but for the student-athletes playing them they are no picnic.
Call it 'Midterm Madness'.
Sandwiched in between midterm school exams, the Summit High School Boys and Girls basketball teams each took to the hardwood, with the good news being that -- unlike their classroom tests -- these contests offer a simple 'Pass / Fail' grade.
The even better news for Hilltopper faithful is that the test results were immediate, and both Maroon & White squads finished on the thumbs-up side of that equation.
Summit Boys Varsity 63, Oratory Prep 57
In a game that was tight for nearly its entirety, the Summit High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team pulled away to grind out a narrow win.
Senior captain Will Schaffer scored a game-high 23 points, fellow captain and classmate Chip Roriston added 16, and sophomore Malcolm Sidebottom -- despite getting into foul trouble and seeing his minutes limited -- drained four threes and contributed 14 points to pace Summit.
AJ Kopacz led Oratory with 14, leading a balanced Rams scoring attack that featured five players scoring eight points or more.
After a wooly first quarter that saw the teams combined for 37 points -- and likely, courtesy of the lack of defense by either team, sent both of the head coaches reaching for their TUMS -- the game took on a back-and-forth dynamic both on the floor and on the scoreboard.
The game was tied at 29 into the last five seconds of the second quarter when the Hilltoppers got 'Bopped' -- thanks to Oratory's Matthew Bopp. Collecting the ball at his own free throw line with virtually no time left on the clock, Bopp took two dribbles and chucked an overhand toss that sailed 50-plus feet on a line and rattled through the hoop at the other end.
It was a stunning shot, and it gave the Rams a 32-29 lead at the break.
While they never truly took the game by the scruff of the neck until it was almost completely over, The Maroon & White did assume a leadership position in the latter stages of the third quarter, a run punctuated by a woop-dee-do, double-clutch reverse layup by Schaffer.
The 18-10 third-quarter 'win' gave Summit a five-point lead -- at 47-42 -- heading to the final frame, an advantage they would never relinquish.
The fourth was an even affair with the Hilltopper lead hovering around the four-to-six point level, but Oratory hung tough and trimmed the lead to 59-57 with 1:40 to go. Roriston knocked down four key free throws down the stretch, and Summit was able to close things out.
Summit Head Coach Dan Healy acknowledged that the dog days of the season and their scholastic responsibilities make life challenging for his players when he said, "There's a lot on their shoulders this time of year."
Nonetheless, Healy was proud of the effort and the result saying, "We proved we could grind a game out and get a win. Credit to Oratory, as they took advantage of every defensive breakdown we committed and played us tough until the very end."
Summit, back over .500 at 7-6 on the season, will return to their home floor January 21, taking on Rahway at the Main Gym. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m.
Summit Girls Varsity 54, Scotch Plains-Fanwood 31
Overcoming the offensive struggles that have cost them in recent games, the Hilltopper Girls Varsity Basketball Team got untracked and delivered a strong start and a convincing victory over the Raiders.
Mya Thompson led a three-pronged Summit offensive attack, scoring a Summit-career high 14 points, with junior captain Christina Richson adding a baker's dozen, and Grace Keegan notching 12 points. Human rebound machine, Eliza Rustum, snared 16 of Summits 42 team boards.
Now 4-9 on the season, Summit took control of the game from the get-go, grabbing a 10-1 lead after the first quarter.
After a fairly even second stanza left the Hilltoppers ahead 20-11 at the half, Summit settled matters with a 20-8 third quarter. Ahead by 21 heading to the final eight minutes, the Hilltoppers were able to cruise the rest of the way.
Summit will now take on Ridge January 21 at 7 p.m., which will be the second game of a special hoops double-dip at the Main Gym celebrating the life -- and benefiting the family education fund -- of former Summit Lacrosse and Hanover Park basketball coach Kyle Kirst. The first game will begin at 5 p.m. and see Hanover Park taking on Bernards.