The Jefferson Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak on Thursday, January 31, with a hard-battled 57-55 win over the Wallkill Valley Rangers. The game needed more than the standard 32 minutes of play and brought the Falcons to a solid 9-6 record, as the Rangers fell back to 12-5.
The double-headed backcourt of seniors Joe Batelli and Stefan Tisma led the stat sheet for the Falcons, as Tisma tallied 20 and Batelli finished the night with 17. Wallkill was led by senior Shane Geene, who put together a 19-point effort, and junior Shawn Faulk, who added 15.
The first quarter gave the Falcons the start they needed after coming out sluggish in their last three games. However, Wallkill finished the first with a run of 8-0, capped off with a vicious dunk by Geene. The second quarter had a similar storyline, as the Falcons just could not keep pace with the Rangers. But a barrage of threes from Tisma and Batelli kept the Falcons around as they went to the halftime locker rooms with a 7-point deficit.
High scoring began in the second half. The Falcons scored 14 in the quarter (just 5 fewer than in the entire first half), including 8 from Tisma, who continues his great shooting on the season. Overall, the quarter was not enough to catch up, as Wallkill led by 4 heading into the final quarter and held the lead for most of the quarter. However, the Falcons continuously stepped up on defense highlighted by Batelli, Paul Monaco, and Matthew Johnson. With one minute remaining in the game, the Rangers led by 2.
Due to a missed shot from the Falcons with just 40 seconds left in the quarter, fans assumed that the Falcons would continue their losing streak. But Monaco had different ideas. He fought for the ball and caused a jump ball to retain possession and get one last chance for J-Town. That’s when Johnson hit the biggest shot of his high school career – tying the game at 47, with just 20 seconds left. Wallkill still had plenty of time. After a timeout, the Rangers drew up a perfect play to get Shawn Falk an open shot at the buzzer. But the shot was turned away by Johnson, sending the nail-biter into overtime.
Yet one overtime was not enough to decide this game. Both teams scored 4 points, sending the game at 51-51 to a second overtime roller coaster ride. First the Falcons grabbed a 1-point lead with a Johnson free throw. Geene came back with a quick bucket of his own to put the Rangers in front by 1. With two minutes to go, Tisma grabbed a great offensive rebound and got a putback layup, returning the lead to the Falcons. On the other end, Geene refused to be stopped; he nailed another layup for the lead yet again.
After the Falcons missed opportunities, loss seemed inevitable for the struggling team. Then Tisma caused a turnover on a Rangers inbound play to give the Falcons one last chance. Jefferson would not miss this opportunity, as Batelli hit a last-second 3-pointer to secure the 57-55 win for the Falcons.
“It felt awesome,” said Batelli about the buzzer beater. “Wallkill is a great team. The coaches drew the play up for me and it felt just amazing seeing it fall for the win.” He continued about snapping the losing streak, “We had a lot of long talks, and now we’re back; now we’ve just got to keep rolling.”
Senior Pat Burns commented on the crowd’s response to the final shot. “As soon as he shot, I knew it was falling. Everyone’s reactions were crazy and our team feeds off that energy really well. We got to close that tough game out and it felt awesome.” He added, “Our whole bench was pumped up. The starters were telling me to calm down a little, but I had to keep going – because, again, we feed off that energy and it was just amazing tonight.”
“The other four starters are great scorers, which I struggle with a little bit,” said Monaco on his hustle plays down the stretch. “So I do what I can in other areas, and just go get them the ball.” On the love he gets for being the hustle guy, he added, “I don’t really care what I do. We got the win – that’s all that matters to me.”
On Saturday, Wallkill Valley looks to jump back in the win column as they get a visit from Lenape Valley, while the Falcons square up against Kinnelon, looking to stay hot.