WARREN, NJ — The Westfield boys basketball season came to a disappointing conclusion on Saturday night with a 77-47 loss at the hands of top-seeded Watchung Hills in the North 2, Group 4 semifinals.
But while the bitter ending was still fresh in their minds, its one that head coach Jim McKeon doesn’t believe will define this team and what it accomplished this season.
“You never want it to end this way, and this group deserves more,” McKeon said. “This is a special group. They won the conference for the first time in a long time. They won 20 games for the first time since the 70s. What this team has done is change the culture of Westfield basketball and that’s what I appreciate the most.”
The Blue Devils (21-7) showed plenty of resilience when it rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat defending state champion Newark East Side in the quarterfinals. But unlike Thursday night, there was no comeback against a Watchung Hills team (25-4) ranked ninth in the state by NJ.com and dictated the tempo nearly the entire contest.
With dynamic senior point guard Mike Bressler, who scored 30 points, leading the way, the home Warriors never trailed. Using its quickness and outside shooting, Watchung Hills seized control with a 19-2 first quarter run, which started with a Trevor Bokach 3-pointer, concluded with a Bressler 3-pointer with 1:18 left in the period, and featured five different scorers for Watchung Hills.
Westfield trimmed the deficit to seven points on a Ryan Friedberg bucket to open the third quarter and seemed within striking distance throughout the period. But as it did to start the game, Watchung Hills’ quick-strike offense once again took over at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The Warriors erupted for 14 consecutive points in a span of just 2:41. Pat Stefurak started with a layup off a Chad Martini feed. Bressler and Martini teamed up for the next nine points. The dynamic Bressler capped off the surge when he took rebound from end to end and found a trailing Bokach with a no-look pass for an old-fashioned three-point play.
“It’s what they do, that’s their thing. They score quickly, and they score in bunches,” McKeon said. “Hats off to them. They play well. They share the basketball. Bressler is one of the fastest kids I’ve seen with the ball in his hand in a long time. He’s the motor, he got a lot of guys going, he gets himself going.
“They played way better than we did tonight.”
“When we get going, we can put some points up fairly quickly, that’s what happens when you have dynamic players like that, especially someone like Mikey,” Watchung Hills coach Justin Salton said. “These guys did a phenomenal job.”
Bressler, who made five 3-pointers, led the way with 30 points and four steals. Bokach had 16 points with six assists, while Martini and Sefurak scored eight points apiece for Watchung Hills, which will host Elizabeth in the section final on Tuesday night.
For Westfield, senior Griffin Rooney led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds. Friedberg sophomore added 13 points.
With guys like Friedberg and starting forwards Jack Spellman and Logan Howland among those set to return next season, McKeon expects the Blue Devils to build upon the success of this year’s group.
“You always want to remember your losses so you can grow for them, but I want them to remember this environment. This is what we want to do, this is where we want to be,” McKeon said. “I want people to understand that this is different now, this is not just a one-year wonder, this is something that’s going to be like this for a long time because of this senior class.”