High School Night: The Jack Stone Shootout

Rutherford, NJ - Taking in a high school game is always special. There is a certain purity present. The game is four periods in length (which I wish the college men’s game would utilize) and no media timeouts. A good flow of action. And, did I mention, no trips to the monitor (there is none).

This past Friday night was especially meaningful. A trip to my St. Mary (Rutherford,NJ) High School alma mater. It is also the final night of the Jack Stone Shootout. The three day tournament was named for the late father of St. Mary’s all time leading scorer, former coach and AD Matt Stone. Present are Matt, who is serving as PA announcer, and his family plus a number of former players and St. Mary alums.

On this night following Dickinson (Jersey City)’s fifth place victory over Ridgefield Park and Hoboken’s consolation win over Wayne Hills. St. Mary squared off against Paramus. The visiting Sparts showed an impressive amount of grit and hustle in their semifinal win over Wayne Hills on Wednesday. At one point Paramus trailed 26-9. Midway through the final period they were looking at a three possession deficit. A furious press, some timely shooting and good old intensity turned the tide as Paramus posted a 51-39 decision.

St. Mary came in 5-0 with each win by double digits. They far from expected any walk in the park in the title game. The opening minutes were owned by the visitors as they jumped out to a 9-2 lead. Brian Gaccione’s Gaels were able to get out in transition but were also guilty of a succession of turnovers and defensive breakdowns.

Trailing 13-5 after one period the Gaels tightened up defensively the second stanza. The Gaels were in man to man with occasional doubling of the ballhandler on the perimeter. Gaccione alternated between his normal lineup and a smaller rotation. The Gaels limited Paramus to three field goals in the second period and cut the deficit to 21-20 at intermission.

More stops and solid inside play allowed the Gaels to build a 36-31 lead after three. A two possession lead is not insurmountable. Given the nature of the game though, it was significant from a momentum viewpoint.

The final period Paramus once again showed their resiliency. Not as dramatic as two nights prior the Spartans still refused St. Mary any opportunity to gain separation. The Gaels were limited to one field goal the final eight minutes. Coach Gaccione paced the sidelines. Working up a sweat comparable to his players, he implored them to get stops. Paramus regained the lead late then lost it. With just over a minute left and the score knotted at 45 St. Mary held for the final possession. That last trip for the Gaels was settled by two free throws with 1.4 seconds left. After a time out Paramus attempted a desperation half court attempt that was well off the mark. St. Mary prevailed 47-45.

In the aftermath it was difficult to tell which emotion St. Mary and its faithful felt- jubilation or emotion? Gaccione graciously greeted well wishers with that look of relief. Assistant coach Bill Mulcahy said," we told our kids this (Paramus) team was down 17 the other night and still diving for loose balls, They are so well coached and weren’t going to be an easy opponent."

Julien Leveille of St. Mary led all with 16 points. Leveille had a double-double adding 10 boards and was named Tournament MVP. Damir Stone added 11 points, 8 rebounds for the Gaels while Luke Gaccione scored 10. Luke Limbacher gave the Gael defense problems all night scoring 14 points for (3-3) Paramus.

Paramus had 16 field goals (2 three pointers). The Gaels were limited to a dozen field goals without hitting one from beyond the arc. Paramus did a masterful job of dictating tempo. Outside of the first period, St.Mary for the most part, was in a halfcourt battle. On the night the Gaels used 60 possessions for a 78 offensive efficiency. Simply, Paramus defended, and well.

The championship was a significant achievement for Gaccione’s group. Of added significance was the fact they were able to adjust to a slower pace and emerge victorious. Resilience was a big part of the Gaels’ story as well. On a night the offense hit bumps in the road, they found a way to win.

The 2022 portion of the slate left St.Mary an unblemished 6-0. There are more challenges on the horizon. For the moment there was the time to enjoy the Jack Stone Shootout championship. A well earned title.

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