Highlanders Boys Basketball Team wins with epic comeback
Garrett Hemmerlich photos
By Garrett Hemmerich WEST MILFORD – The Highlanders, led by another outstanding performance from senior Josiah Basket, completed an epic comeback victory over Indian Hills on Tuesday night, beating the Braves 67-66. “We played extremely hard and never gave up,” said head coach John Finke. “The effort we gave in the fourth quarter needs to be repeated consistently throughout the game. If we can do that, the rest of the season will be a success.” It came right down to the wire and the crowd at West Milford High School was going wild after a Highlanders turnover gave the ball back to Indian Hills with under a minute to play and the score tied at 65. The Braves were able to get to the free throw line on their ensuing possession, hitting one of two before Highlanders point guard Chris Gomez made a beautiful full-court pass to junior Kevin DeRaffele, who hit the winning basket with under 30 seconds to go. The Braves last shot attempt was blocked. West Milford had been down for much of the game, having just retaken the lead with under two minutes left for the first time since the second quarter. Both teams played extremely physical from the start, going hard to the basket and diving for loose balls. It was a tight game for much of the first half until the Braves went on a 9-0 run to close out the second period, making the score 39-26 at the break. The momentum began to shift in the third when DeRaffele fought through a foul to score a basket. He’d miss the free throw, but the Highlanders were able to get the ball back to Basket, who hit a quick jumper to make it a 10-point game. A few plays later, DeRaffele came up big again, hitting a circus-like shot while getting fouled. This time, he hit the free throw, making the score 55-47. It seemed like everything was going West Milford’s way after a tip-in toward the end of the quarter and they’d continue to chip away at the Braves’ lead in the fourth. After crowd noise forced two missed free throws by Indian Hills with just over three minutes to play, Basket made a nice assist to Dan Diminno on the other end, who hit a 3-pointer to tie the game. A few plays later, Basket would get to the line himself, hitting both free throws to give the Highlanders the lead for the first time since the second quarter. The Braves would tie it up once again before the epic conclusion. “Amazing game, amazing crowd, including all of the youth travel and Rec players (in attendance), and what an incredible atmosphere for the team to play in,” said coach Finke. Gomez’s clutch pass that led to the game-winning basket also made him West Milford’s all-time assist leader with 431. The Highlanders (6-4) are scheduled to travel to Passaic next to play the Indians on Jan. 17.