A week ago, the Fort Lee Bridgemen were handed one of their most lopsided losses of the year in a 59-30 defeat against Tenafly.
Head coach John Ziemba and his basketball team were very upset with the performance that evening and vowed to use that effort as motivation for the remainder of the season.
From that point on, the games have been much closer for Fort Lee, but they haven’t equated to the wins the Bridgemen had been hoping for.
Last week, Fort Lee lost back-to-back games against league champions Cliffside Park and Rutherford by a combined total of 10 points.
This week, the Bridgemen were able to overcome their recent shortcomings on Tuesday night, when Fort Lee defeated the River Dell Golden Hawks 51-45 at home.
“Last week we were craving for this win,” said Fort Lee’s sophomore guard Nick Gentile. “Now, we are just going to keep winning. I know it. We feel it.”
Fort Lee felt it in the early going as the Bridgemen utilized a full court press to increase the tempo and establish a 10-2 lead.
“We got down in the first quarter and we had to fight our way back,” said River Dell head coach Brian Long. “We weren’t scoring the ball on our end.”
But the Golden Hawks would pick up their scoring at the start of the second quarter. Senior forward Brian McGoey added 10 of his 14 points in the period as River Dell closed the gap to just five points at the half.
“He is an all-conference football player and winner,” Ziemba said of River Dell’s three-sport star. “You know kids like that [have it] in their competitive nature.”
As McGoey was increasing his point total, Fort Lee’s inside presence of sophomore center Anthony Rafes was sitting due to foul trouble.
“We got a little lead, but when Anthony had to go out, I think that let River Dell get back in the game a little bit,” the Fort Lee head coach said.
Even after picking up his third foul on the first play after halftime, coach John Ziemba kept Rafes in the game, and the center responded by scoring the first six points of the quarter for Fort Lee.
“In the beginning of the year, it was hard to get him the ball, and it was hard for him to get us the ball,” Gentile said of his fellow sophomore. “He’s getting stronger. We’re getting him the ball more and he is getting us the ball more so everything is working out great.”
Although, Fort Lee held a late 41-37 lead, the game was still anyone's for the taking.
As River Dell called a timeout with 2:04 to go, coach Ziemba uttered a message to his team: “This is where we need to put somebody away.”
The result was a quick 4-0 spurt for the Bridgemen as Nick Gentile made back-to-back layups to increase the lead back up to eight.
Fort Lee then secured the game in the final minutes with six made free throws, including four from freshman guard Josh Ford.
Following the 51-45 win, the Bridgemen talked about how valuable this victory could be for the team in the long term.
“We needed a win really bad and had to get a win here,” coach Ziemba said.
Rafes finished with a double-double, scoring a game-high 15 points and adding 11 rebounds. Nick Gentile totaled 14 points and Josh Ford contributed another nine in the win.
But instead of having a day off tomorrow, Fort Lee will have to quicklyprepare for their next opponent. Shortly before Tuesday’s game, it was announced that Thursday’s contest against Dwight Morrow would be postponed and moved ahead to Wednesday night in Fort Lee at 6 p.m.
“Tomorrow we got a tough team,” Gentile added. ““This game is very important, and this is going to prepare us for the start tournament. If we win this, Madison can’t beat us.”
But before looking ahead to the Madison matchup on Monday and the state tournament, there is a lot happening on Wednesday evening for Fort Lee. Before the game, the Bridgemen will honor seniors George Padin and Ryan Ford for their contributions to the program over the past few years. Also, Fort Lee head coach John Ziemba has a chance for his 300th career win if his team is able to beat Dwight Morrow. It all starts Wednesday night beginning at 6 p.m. at the Fort Lee High School gym.