With five seconds left on the clock, the Jefferson Falcons led by a score of 50-49 after a three-pointer fired from “the parking lot” by Joe Batelli. Jefferson in their first ever county championship game, finally looked like they could come out champions. However, for the Falcons, nothing is ever certain. West Morris headed down the court as Christian Cevis fired up a three for the win; it was missed. The long traveled Falcons Nest from Jefferson started cheering as victory finally seemed inevitable.
Before anyone could get too crazy, West Morris’ Ryan Hillier broke through a box-out and put a layup back in at the buzzer, to yet again upset the Falcons 51-50. For the second straight year, it was the Falcons devastated at the buzzer on the heels of a championship.
With one year left in his high school career, three-year starter Bam Johnson spoke about his expectations and hopes for the upcoming season as well as how the heartbreak has helped motivate him.
“We’ve watched other teams celebrate and now we have the desire to get that,” Johnson commented on the past. In the past two years Johnson has started, the Falcons have gone to consecutive championships for the state championship and the county championship. Both ended in devastation.
With the Falcons making a splash in the conference, state tournament, and county tournament over the last few years, they have a lot to live up to. “I expect to be everywhere we have been the last few years,” Johnson said. “We should be able to make a run and hopefully keep winning games.”
The toughest adjustment for J-Town is clearly the drastic change in their lineup. That season, the Falcons had four starters: Joe Batelli, Richie Botti, Paulie Monaco, and Stefan Tisma, who graduated this past June. This year the projected starting lineup includes Johnson, the lone junior who started last year. Johnson is most likely going to be joined by Sean Whalen and David Hanna, who came off the bench in some important situations. The rest of the starting lineup is finished by Buddy Jacobus and Matt Moran, who got some minutes and need to grow into a bigger role this upcoming year.
“I think we have a lot of hidden talent in the other four guys,” Johnson said. “David (Hanna) and Whalen both proved it last year, Matt (Moran) showed he can play when he got chances, and Buddy (Jacobus) is going to be huge for us and will be a big spark plug for us.”
They also have some fire coming off the bench this year as well.
“Tyler Ruban is a really energizing guy,” Johnson added. Jefferson also has Nate Do and Will Weihmiller, two sophomore who could make a varsity impact this year.
The Falcons also were lucky enough to acquire more possible varsity talent from Theo Fisher and Justin Eisele, both sophomores hope to be able to impact the varsity roster and keep the Falcons afloat this season.
On a personal note, Johnson spoke about the possibility of reaching 1,000 points this season. “If it happens, it happens,” Johnson said. “Obviously it’s a goal, but I’d rather win games.”
The Falcons have had a scorer reach 1,000 points in the last two seasons: Joe Batelli and Steven Breeman, who both reached that mark at Newton High School. Johnson hopes to keep that streak alive, as well as a streak of championship appearances.
The Falcons open up their season against the Hackettstown Tigers in J-Town on Friday, December 20 at 7 p.m. Jefferson needs to gain momentum early in the season before their annual Roxbury tournament the following week.