The one guarantee once the domino effect of one team toppling after another begins as the NJSIAA state tournament commences on Monday is that one of the single best weeks of the entire high school sports year will entertain, surprise at times and almost always create much intrigue.
North 2 is one of those sections with plenty of potential drama and possible suspense, including in Group 3 where Union and Essex County could perhaps collide if top-seeded Rahway (17-2) and second-seeded Irvington (18-5) do eventually earn the opportunity to meet.
Coach Elias Brantley’s Blue Knights have been as balanced as almost anyone in the Super Essex Conference with five players scoring between 176 and 320 points led by the quintet of Moses Pierre (13.9 ppg.), Kynami Dunbar (13.3 ppg.), Karriem Thomas (12.7 ppg), Nazameir Brooks (8.0 ppg) and Dameer Vital (7.7 ppg).
However, while Rahway boasts one of Union County’s top public school performers in Zion Pendleton, the landmines in the section are a plenty, including third-seeded West Morris, fifth-seeded Snyder, seventh-seeded Summit and ninth-seeded Payne Tech.
Summit (19-6), which almost knocked off Rahway in a regular season contest, could wind up playing at Irvington in a sectional quarterfinal, while Payne Tech (11-11), which is battle-tested in the SEC’s top division, the American, has part of the nucleus that won N2G1 as members of Bloomfield Tech last year, including 6-4 standout KyYon Chapman (16.0 ppg, 12.6 rpg) and sharpshooting Jaden Lampley, who played for North 13th Street Tech last winter but came over when the school combined with BT to form Payne Tech this school year.
North 2, Group 2 is a section where perennial title contender West Side (16-9), the second seed, is the clear favorite; however, schools such as top-seeded North Star Academy (20-5), which has both speed and some size, and fourth-seeded Hackettstown (13-8) are among those to watch.
And, there are interesting teams to see how they perform on this stage, such as third-seeded Caldwell (17-5), which has had a splendid regular season and boasts one of the county’s up-and-coming juniors in 6-5 Hank Morgan. If the Chiefs survive vs. 14th-seeded McNair Academy (12-12) in an opening-round contest then they could very well host sixth-seeded Hanover Park (13-10) in an attractive second round contest on Wednesday (March 5).
But, West Side, with its number of key players, such as 6-4 James Bell (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Dashawn Latham (13.2 ppg), Troy Rodwell (10.8 ppg), TyJon Huntley (8.9 ppg), 6-8 Marquall Hardiman (7.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Kirk Parsons (10.7 ppg), are the logical favorite.
Another Brick City team, Central (6-17), which won the section last winter but bid adieu to a number of its key players who either graduated or transferred, is still a handful to face and could meet the 13-Newark Tech (12-9) vs. 4-Hackettstown survivor in a sectional quarterfinal and – if the Blue Devils can advance - then perhaps North Star Academy in the semis.