WESTFIELD, NJ — After battling in a back-and-forth all game, the Westfield Blue Devils boys varsity basketball team propelled themselves over the Watchung Hills Warriors, 64-53, in their NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 first round game. The Westfield charge was fueled by numerous turnovers and fast breaks, which Blue Devil head coach Daryl Palmieri said was the big difference from the first half.

“We did a much better job being active defensively. That’s one thing I said at halftime — we have to get deflections. We have to move our hands on defense and bother the ball, bother the passers. We started seeing that and then we started seeing some turnovers which lead to some easy baskets for us,” Palmieri said.

Westfield’s balanced attack was led by Parker Hess with 15 points, Danny Mitchell with 13 and Owen Murray with 10. Matt LaCorte also chipped in with nine points on three huge three pointers. Chris Boutsikaris had nine as well, and Sean Elliott scored eight of his own.

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After a scoring drought for both teams early in the fourth, Westfield exploded on a series of quick stops and transition plays to go on an 11-0 run. Mitchell’s performance was especially huge in the fourth quarter, when he scored 10 of his points.

“That was huge for us. I know Danny’s capable of shooting the ball that way and he’s had some ups and downs all year, so it was nice to see him do that in a state game on our home court. It was huge for us and it really put the game out of reach,” Palmieri said.

Anthony Rocchietti scored a game high 25 points for the Warriors. Mark Ball picked up 12 and David Weidlich helped out with eight.

The Blue Devils first felt the momentum shift in the first quarter when, after being down 16-12, they hit two quick threes to make it 18-16 with 0.75 seconds left. Murray stole the ensuing inbound pass and quickly scored as the buzzer sounded to make it 20-16 at the end of the first quarter. The game was tied 32-32 at the half.

Murray also had a highlight reel-worthy play in the third quarter on a no-look behind-the-back pass to Boutsikaris in transition after a quick steal. Boutsikaris made the wide-open basket to make the score 38-34.

Westfield will move on to play an away game at Linden on Wednesday in the next round of the tournament. Palmieri knows his team will have to be ready.

“We have to play really, really well,” he said. “I know Linden as well as anybody, and I know Coach Colicchio will have them ready. I know most of the kids play as hard as anybody in the state on account of them coming off a huge win in the counties. Our kids know and I know that we have to play a very good game on Wednesday to get out of there with a win.”

Eric Storms is a sophomore at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAP into Westfield.