COLONIA- It was a perfect high school basketball tournament setting with a sold-out house in Colonia for Saturday afternoon’s North 2, Group 3 state sectional final between fourth-seeded Millburn and the host third-seeded Patriots.
The list of state sectional championships adorns one wall in the gym along with a tribute to 2008 Colonia graduate Eric LeGrand who has become an inspirational force on a national level with the positive attitude he shows every day facing life’s challenges following the devastating injury he had absorbed while starring on the gridiron at Rutgers University back in 2010.
But, there is more inspiration and plenty of emotion that is felt in the hearts and minds of all Colonia Patriots these days as the highly-successful basketball team is honoring the memory of one of its own, 30-year-old assistant coach Danny Brix, who passed away suddenly Feb. 21 just two days before the start of the NJSIAA state tournament.
Inspiration and deep emotion are felt by each and every Colonia player in honoring their late coach’s memory by striving to finish the states in a big way; and the Patriots did just that on Saturday overcoming a poor shooting first half by coming on strong in the third quarter to spark a 61-53 victory over Millburn while capturing a third straight N2G3 state sectional title in the process and the ninth in program history.
Colonia will meet N1G3 champion Ramapo in the Group 3 state semifinals, 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, (March 6) at Bloomfield High School. The highly-regarded Green Raiders defeated Northern Highlands, 50-34, in their sectional final on Saturday.
The Group 3 state final will be played next Sunday (March 10) at the RW Barnabas Arena in Toms River.
The Patriots (22-8) overcame another strong state tourney showing by Millburn (22-7), which led 22-21 at the half and kept playing with vigor up until the final buzzer despite being outscored 40-31 in the second half.
After the game Danny Brix’s uncle presented the NJSIAA N2G3 state sectional trophy to the Colonia players who gathered around a chair on the court with coach Brix’s jacket draped over it and where they placed the latest coveted, championship hardware.
“It’s been very hard and extremely emotional, but it was special to get it done with Danny Brix’s family here and it was great to have them present the trophy to the kids,” said Colonia head coach Jose Rodriguez. “I’ll probably cry in the locker room and it’s been extremely tough these past couple of weeks.
“I challenged our kids big-time at halftime and let them know that first half was not who we are and it’s not who we’ve been all season long and that we really needed to dig deep and toughen up.
“And, to their credit, they did!”
Colonia’s 4-year starting point guard Jaeden Jones scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half while finishing with 10 assists on the afternoon, and 6-foot-6 sophomore star Aiden Derkack poured in 14 of his team-high 19 points during that critical final 16 minutes of action as the Patriots certainly appeared re-energized to start the third quarter.
Derkack hit a pair of free throws to spark a 6-0 run to start the third quarter and even though Millburn’s 6-6 star guard Noah Ravitz’s strong drive to the hoop cut the Patriots’ lead to 30-27 with 4:42 remaining in the third, the Millers had to soon deal with the fact that the team’s best player would then pick up his fourth personal foul on a charging call having to head to the bench with 3:33 still showing in the stanza.