Byram Hills Defeats the Bears in the Booster Club Tourney Title Game

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Not that long ago, Danny Bernstein probably wasn’t among the players Byram Hills basketball coach Ted Repa figured would play a leading role in the 2021-22 fortunes of the Bobcats.

Byram Hills guard Danny Bernstein fires a jumper from the left corner in Saturday’s win over host Briarcliff.

But on Saturday evening, Bernstein erupted for a game-high 28 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter, as the Bobcats earned a 68-56 victory over Briarcliff in the championship game of the Bears’ annual Booster Club Basketball Tournament. His two big 3-pointers in the midst of a 14-3 Byram blitz over a three-minute span of the final quarter brought a sudden halt to

Briarcliff’s comeback bid and sealed his selection as tourney MVP.

“He’s really, really our most improved player from last year to this year,” said Repa after watching his sharpshooting guard finish the night with six 3-pointers. “Kind of came out of nowhere. We always knew he was good, but now he’s playing like a man.”

The Bobcats never trailed in the contest, grabbing the lead 50 seconds in on a Benny Rakower 3-point shot and extending it to 19-6 after one quarter following back-to-back buckets from Bobby Chicoine, who wound up with 15 rebounds and a place on the all-tourney team. When sophomore Tyson Repa tossed in a runner from just outside the lane 10 seconds into the second period, Byram Hills built its largest lead of the night, 15 points.

“You know, we’ve been doing pretty well coming out strong,” said Repa, “and it gives us a little cushion because we need it. We tend to struggle a little bit in the second quarter.”

Briarcliff, held to just two baskets over the first eight minutes, exploded for 19 points in the second quarter. A left-baseline drive for a dazzling two-handed dunk by senior guard Jayden Larregue with three minutes left in the half capped a 7-0 Bear run, thrilled the large home crowd and cut the Bobcat lead to just 28-22.

Ben Dreilinger of Byram Hills is sandwiched between Briarcliff’s Jayden Larregue (left) and Luke McCann as he tries to corral a rebound in Saturday’s tournament final.

The Bobcats, who had defeated Hastings in the tourney’s opening round 24 hours earlier, held a 34-25 halftime lead. But their advantage was cut to six points when the Bears’ Cooper Plank made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:19 left in the third quarter before Ben Dreilinger connected on a pair of short jumpers in the lane to restore a double-digit cushion.

Two free throws by Luke McCann brought the Bears to within 49-41 after three quarters and they began the fourth with six straight points, highlighted by a trey from the left corner from Larregue, who finished with a team-high 16 points and made the all-tourney team. But the Bears never got any closer after that, and Byram Hills soon went on its game-clinching 14-3 burst.

It began with Bernstein swishing a 3-pointer from the right elbow with 5:35 remaining. Nearly a minute later, Repa followed with a 3-point shot from well behind the arc right of the key. The Bears’ McCann answered immediately with another 3-pointer, but then Byram responded with eight straight points. Bernstein provided a 15-foot jumper left of the foul line and, 30 seconds later, added a 3-pointer from the left corner.

A fast-break layup by Sean Siegel concluded the spurt and increased the Bobcat lead to 63-50 with just two and a half minutes remaining. Bernstein’s final points of the game, on an old-fashioned 3-point play when Rakower found him open underneath for a layup, came with 1:32 left on the clock. Soon both teams were clearing the bench, with the postgame awards soon to follow.

Ben Siegel of Briarcliff tries to drive past Michael Rocco of Byram Hills in the second half of Saturday’s Booster Club Tournament title game.

“To win games, you have to have guys step up and make plays, and that’s what happened,” said Repa. “Our kids really battled, physically. They won the game with heart and toughness.”

It may have been a disappointing evening for Bears head coach Nick Friedman, but he could at least head home afterwards and spend some time with his brand new baby daughter, who arrived just prior to the start of the tournament.

“We just have to defend,” he said. “You can’t give up 68 points on your home court in a championship game of a tournament and really have a chance to accomplish your goal. So it was the defense from the start. It was a little better in the second half, but still not consistent enough. We’ve got a long way to go, a long way to go. Luckily, it’s still early in the year. But we’re not where we want to be.”

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