Pirate boys in with win

WW-PS hoops makes states with final chance

By: Bob Nuse
   HIGHTSTOWN — As excited as Eric Mooney was for himself on Friday night, he was even more excited for his players on the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South boys’ basketball team after a 57-50 win over Hightstown put the Pirates in the state tournament for the first time since 1998.
   "I was at South (Hunterdon) and we were on the bubble the last two years and didn’t get in," the first-year head coach of the Pirates said of his last two years as head coach at South Hunterdon. "So this is nice to get there. But I’m happier for the kids. They haven’t been in and now they are, which is exciting for them. Now they get to see if we can compete on the state level."
   It wasn’t an easy road, but the Pirates managed to get to where they hoped to be when the season started. After an 0-3 start, WW-P South finally got to the .500 level with a win over Lawrence last Tuesday. That meant all the Pirates needed to be .500 at Saturday’s state cutoff was a win Thursday at Rutgers Prep or Friday at Hightstown. After losing at Rutgers Prep, 59-43, all the pressure was on Friday night.
   "This was our state game," said Mooney, whose team jumped out to an early lead and never lost control of the game. "The guys knew what was at stake. They knew we needed to win to get into the states, which was something we hadn’t done in five years. They came out and played their butts off for four quarters. It was 32 minutes of all-out hustle."
   It didn’t hurt that even on the road there was a home-court atmosphere for the Pirates. With a strong and vocal cheering section from South, the Pirates had plenty of support in their quest for the needed win.
   "The fans were great," said Mooney, whose team will host Nottingham tonight at 7 p.m. "It was a great atmosphere and we had a lot of support. I think that reminded our guys that there were a lot of people out there that believed in them. There were people coming up to me and to the players all day while we were walking the halls supporting us and saying they believed in us. I think made a big difference to the kids."
   As for the game itself, the Pirates got an early lead and maintained it through the middle of the third quarter, building the advantage to as much as 13 points. But Hightstown rallied and got to within six before senior guard Kevin Turner took over, scoring eight straight South points to regain control of the game.
   "They were giving me my shot, so I had to take it," said Turner, who finished with 15 points. "I was out for a lot of third quarter and when I got back in there I wanted to do whatever I could to help us win."
   The Pirates did all the little things they needed to do in order to in, on both ends of the court. While Turner finished with 15 points, Uche Ndubizu led the Pirates with 16 points and Randy McKnight added 10. And on the defensive end, the Pirates finished with 17 blocked shots.
   "I told them they have to get to every ball," Mooney said. "If it was in the air or on the ground, they had to get to it. Hightstown is a great team. I know they were playing without some of their key guys, but they’re still a good team and we knew we needed to play hard to win. Don (Hess) had them ready to play and we had to make adjustments during the game.
   "It’s been a real roller coaster for us. We started out 0-3 and now we’re 7-7. We went through a lot of transition with a new coach and the kids have responded."
   "It feels real good, especially because this is my last year and we needed to win this game to get in," Turner added. "After last night we knew we had to come out strong and give 110 percent effort. We had another game where we lost to Notre Dame and then came back the next day and beat Lawrence. I think it was good for us that we came right back after the loss and got to play again.
   "I just want us to keep doing what we’re doing and playing strong."
   If the Pirates can do that, there will be plenty of excited players and coaches roaming the halls at WW-P South.