Experience was the key element when the Hightstown High School boys’ basketball team rallied for a victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.
The host team, West Windsor-Plainsboro North, looked to be on the verge of the upset and its first victory of the season when it held a four-point lead over Hightstown with 3:07 left to play in this Colonial Valley Conference’s Colonial Division game on Jan. 7.
But the senior-laden Hightstown squad used its leadership to outscore the host Knights, 19-4, down the stretch to secure a 57-46 victory, the sixth triumph of the season for the Rams.
“With having nine seniors on the team, we’re fortunate to have great leadership on our team,” said Hightstown coach Donald DeLeo, whose team rose to 6-2 overall after the victory that evening. “They never say die. They continue to fight. They don’t put anyone down and they try to pick up everyone around them. We found a way to win in the end.”
The loss dropped the Knights to 0-6 on the season.
Despite coming up short in its home opener, coach Tim Stevens believed that his West Windsor-Plainsboro North team is close to winning its first game.
“We have to build on it,” Stevens said. “We’re scratching tooth and nail every night to get that first win. The effort is there. We just have to piece together situational basketball. Take the experiences we have learned so far and build off it. If we can get that first win, I think we can string something together.”
The 19-4 burst that led to the victory for Hightstown began with senior Ben Simon knocking down three successful free throws to pull the Rams within one point.
Moments later after the Rams forced a turnover, Spencer Kenny put Hightstown into the lead, dashing hard to the hoop off the pass ahead by senior Mitchell Fry for two points and a 43-42 game.
That was the first of a couple big shots Kenny hit down the stretch when the junior caught fire in the final three minutes for the Rams
Kenny connected on another huge layup to extend the Hightstown run to 9-0 and give the Rams a 47-42 edge with 2:23 to play. He splashed home his second three-pointer of the second half from the top the key to push Hightstown to a 50-44 lead with under two minutes remaining.
In total, Kenny scored 10 of his 12 points in the final three minutes of the contest. He produced all 12 of his points in the second half.
“I was feeling it out there, so I just kept putting up shots,” Kenny said. “We needed someone to step up in the fourth quarter. Coach (DeLeo) gave me a chance by putting me out there and I tried to make the most of it.”
Simon helped cap the night to help Hightstown by running coast to coast for a layup to give him a team-high 14 points.
The senior scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and was sank four of his five foul shots in the fourth quarter.
“It was really big for our team to control the game down the stretch and play our game and not their game,” Simon said. “It was a great team effort to comeback from where we were and to extend our lead at the end. It took every guy on the court and on the bench to be engaged for the whole 32 minutes for us to get the win.”
Simon is averaging 14.1 points a game this season for Hightstown.
Senior Kyle Reiss delivered six of his eight points in the fourth quarter, while fellow classmate Ryan Hogan scored six points in the victory.
The Knights were led by senior Alex Kline, who was on fire from three-point land in the first half. Kline sank three shots from behind the arch in the first period, his third coming in the final seconds to tie the game at 13-13 going into the second quarter.
The senior dropped in four of his five three-pointers in the first half and finished with a game-high 17 points.
The home team made big plays at the end of each of the first three quarters. Senior Jake Manuel dished a great pass to Jay Ravi for a layup in the final seconds of the first half to cut the Hightstown lead to 23-22 going into halftime.
Manuel made another great read that resulted in a basket for the Knights in the final seconds of the third period.
As he drove into the lane, Manuel floated a great pass to AJ Doherty underneath the basket, and the senior knocked home the layup to put the Knights up 32-30 heading into the final period.
Manuel also collected seven points in the contest. Junior James Vinson recorded nine points for the Knights.
“One of the best things about our team is how unselfish we are,” Stevens said. “When you have five guys who move the ball well and do what it takes to win, it really helps you in those moments. We had those moments for most of the game, but didn’t make those plays down the stretch.”
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