Jack Vreeland drives to the basket during the Highlanders loss to Fair Lawn Monday night.
Garrett Hemmerich photo
By Garrett Hemmerich WEST MILFORD – The Highlanders couldn’t capitalize on a strong start Monday night, losing to the Fair Lawn Cutters in dramatic fashion. The final score was 86-85. “(Monday) night was high school basketball at its best,” said head coach John Finke. “Lead changes, crazy shots going in, high intensity, and almost a crazy half-court (shot) to win it.” West Milford wouldn’t go down without a fight, with senior Brandon Licursi draining two clutch three-pointers with under a minute left to keep the team in the game. That led to a big steal by guard Dan Diminno with just seconds to play, who then missed the would-be game-winner from half court at the buzzer. It was a particularly frustrating loss for the Highlanders, because the team got off to such a good start, led by Josiah Basket’s 32-point performance. Licursi, junior Kevin DeRaffele, and point guard Chris Gomez all scored in double figures as well, with Gomez also adding 13 more assists to his all-time team record. West Milford finished the opening quarter with a 25-17 lead before going up by as much as 14 points in the second. Then, the momentum began to change. The Cutters were able to get the lead back down to six by the end of the quarter, causing Coach Finke to storm into the locker room at the half. It was more of the same in the third, as Fair Lawn continued to chip away until they were finally able to take a 49-47 lead about midway through the quarter. Both teams went back and forth from there and the score was tied at 61 going into the final quarter. West Milford was able to briefly regain the lead in the fourth before the Cutters took over for good, grabbing some tough offensive rebounds and hitting a few key three-pointers. Coach Finke, however, came away impressed with his team’s overall performance. “This team fights every minute and has grown so much as a team throughout the season.” coach Finke said. The Highlanders (16-7) rebounded from the loss with a close win over River Dell on Feb. 19, and the team is scheduled to travel to Demarest next to play the Norsemen.