The eighth grade girls Suburban Basketball team’s season came to an end last Thursday in a double overtime loss to rival West Orange in the semifinals of the Essex County Suburban League. Before a packed house at the Verona Community Center, the girls from both Verona and West Orange thrilled the raucous crowd with an incredible display of basketball skill, heart and determination. The game featured a double-digit comeback from Verona and six lead changes during the tense fourth quarter and two overtime sessions.
Things looked particularly dire for Verona down 12 points with 1:06 left in the third quarter. But then Lexia Guarino did her best Reggie Miller impression by scoring seven points in 56 seconds. Guarino’s driving layup as time expired pulled Verona within five points, at 35-30.
Fueled by Guarino’s heroics, Verona sustained the momentum at the start of the fourth quarter. A jump shot and backdoor layup from Morgan Rossi and a driving layup from Julia Hromoko trimmed the lead to 37-36. Following a West Orange timeout and basket, Ellie Marateo pulled Verona within two of the lead with a free throw following a great offensive rebound. Leah Haggerty, whose indefatigable defense on West Orange’s talented point guard was critical throughout the game, got one of her four steals and her pass to Marateo for a layup tied the score at 39.
With 3:51 remaining in the fourth, Verona took its first lead of the game since 2-0 on a foul shot from Hromoko. The heady half court steal led to a breakaway layup that was foiled by a hustling West Orange defender. Not to be outdone, West Orange retook the lead at 42-40 with a foul shot and a driving layup which set the stage for the final minute of regulation basketball.
Following another Haggerty steal at half court, Verona possessed the ball on the West Orange baseline with 16.5 seconds remaining in the contest. Rossi’s astute pass to a cutting Emma Aromando on the baseline led to an Aromando 15-foot jump shot that swished through the net to knot the game at 42 with only 14 seconds left. Another Verona defensive stand on West Orange’s final possession of regulation and the teams were headed to overtime.
Verona’s best chance to win the game was in the first overtime. Following a West Orange three-point play, Verona scored the next five points in overtime with a Rossi foul shot sandwiched between two Marateo baskets to retake the lead at 47-45 with 1:31 remaining in overtime. West Orange tied the game on a driving layup with 1:03 left on the clock.
As the teams traded possessions over an intense final minute, Aromando drew her second charge of the game on a West Orange offensive player and Verona dissected the West Orange press with an Aromando to Guarino to Marateo to Haggerty press break that resulted in a Haggerty six-foot jumper to take the lead 49-47 with only 20 seconds left. West Orange immediately inbounded the ball and raced up the court and tied the game on a tough, running one-hand floater from the foul line that banked in off the glass with 13 seconds left in overtime. Verona responded with a quick attack of its own, and Haggerty’s catch and shoot 12-foot jumper over two defenders as the buzzer sounded bounded softly on the rim two times but fell off to the right.
Despite Haggerty scoring the first basket of the second overtime, Verona’s comeback effort was stymied in the second overtime by some great plays by the West Orange players. Based on the stellar play, steely resolve and sportsmanship displayed by both teams throughout this unforgettable battle, everyone left the gym proud and exhausted.
Verona’s scoring attack was a balanced affair with seven different players contributing points (Haggerty 12, Marateo 11, Aromando 7, Guarino 7, Rossi 7, Hromoko 5, Marley McDeavitt 2). The defensive effort was spurred by the tenacity of McDeavitt and persistence of Riley McClellan. Kiley Haggerty and Molly Mutovic’s leadership and support throughout the contest was integral to the team’s success.
Under the guidance of coaches Dave Aromando, Deana Hromoko, Christa Rossi, Joe Guarino and Joe Haggerty, this group of Verona girls has accomplished a tremendous amount over their Suburban League basketball careers. In addition to a stellar regular season record each year, the girls won one Suburban League championship, lost another on a gut-wrenching buzzer-beater and provided thrills and chills to everyone who attended the breathtaking double overtime duel with West Orange.
More important than the wins and losses, however, are the bonds and memories that these girls have cultivated over the last four years for themselves and their ardent supporters. In addition, all of these girls have proudly represented Verona with class and character in every gymnasium in which they competed. This incredible group of young women will now head off to Verona High School to play for its basketball program.
(Photos: Mike Perry)