As the 2021-2022 season gets underway for SEC High School Basketball, the Belleville Buccaneers looked towards their season opener from this past Friday night as they hosted cross town rival Bloomfield Bengals.
The Buccaneers are lead by Head Coach Jim Catalano and assistant coach Christopher Balz.
Jim Catalano was a former head coach for the NJIT Highlanders which paved the way for the program to build up to become NCAA Division 1 status. He was also recognized as top 50 basketball coaches of all time in New Jersey.
Catalano is a former Belleville alumni, and part of the Belleville Hall of Fame excelling in baseball and basketball.
Coach Cat has been coaching the Buccaneers since 2017 and this will be his fifth year with the high school.
A Bitter Rivalry
The Bucs hosted the Bengals of Bloomfield High School last Friday night at a neutral sight played at Abundant Life Academy in Nutley. Unfortunately, for the Buccaneers, their home court was wrecked by the floods of Hurricane Ida and will play every game this season away.
Bloomfield and Belleville is a cross town rivalry that has been around for decades filled with sports history.
The Bengals finished 13-13 (.500) and 3-9 in Liberty Conference play last 2020-2021 Covid-19 season and are looking for a bounce back season with a very talented roster.
For the Buccaneers, Cat and the team finished the Covid-19 2020-2021 season 8-4 with a 4-4 record in Colonial Conference play. The Buccaneers roster has a lot of returners coming back that are all seniors who are highly skilled and athletic that dominate the court. The seniority and experience the Bucs roster has is one of the key impacts on the team and for head coach Jim Catalano. The Buccaneers were in for a tough showdown against the Bengals.
The atmosphere of the game was loud, rowdy, and intense between players, coaches, and fans. It showed what the rivalry is about between both schools.
After Quarter One
The Buccaneers have a five senior roster lineup that started out on the court at opening tip-off. The Bucs opened up the first quarter with some rough patches on the both sides of the court. There were some sloppy moments on the defensive and offensive end.
Coach Cat described that lack of depth from the bench and that the starting five will be seeing a lot of minutes each game.
It was a bit of a slow start for the Bucs on both sides of the floor, but one thing the Bucs excelled on was taking defensive charges. Coach Cat emphasizes a lot on defense about taking charges. Those charges helped the Bucs keep the game close in the first quarter.
Bloomfield's point guard Shayne Hinton had 8 of the 16 points that the team scored in the first quarter.
Belleville's Nasir Bey created opportunities for himself scoring 4 points, and Richmond Casino nailed a 3-pointer as well. Ethan Laquindanum had 1 steal and 2 points.
Despite a struggling start the Bucs closed the first quarter down 16-9.
Hots and Colds
The Buccaneers found a rhythm early in the second, they were already heading to the free throw line getting into the Bonus early. Ethan and Shane Laquindanum both started off hot for the Bucs each dropping buckets.
Scary moment for Belleville after Nas left the game with a hamstring injury. At the 5:14 mark Nas was given the green light and re-entered the game with the Bucs being down 18-15 in the game.
Late in the second the Bucs lost their mojo on offense and became sloppy with their passing which transitioned to 3-pointers by Shayne Hinton. The Bucs didn't have an answer for Shayne during the game.
Shane L and Richmond Casino both drained back to back threes to close the gap now to 24-20.
Huge momentum swung towards the Bengals, in the finals minutes of the second quarter when Bloomfield went on a 6-0 run to close the first half 30-20.
The Buccaneers came out with aggressive play on defense and offense early on in the third quarter. As the quarter continued the battle on the boards began to show.
Bloomfield had five players over six feet, and were winning the boards off the glass against the Bucs.
The Bucs are down by nine after a huge corner three by sophomore guard Andre Laquindanum. The score is 39-30 after that shot.
Belleville played great defense on their end to keep the game close at the end of the third. There were a lot of opportunities and the Bucs took their chances. Everybody got a fair share of the ball, scoring points to close the lead 42-32 heading into the fourth.
Belleville was averaging at least three to four charges a quarter this game, a huge positive side on the defense, turning Bloomfield's turnovers into points.
A Final Push
The Begnals opened up the fourth quarter with a huge momentum swing, a designed alley oop pass from Julian Paulino and is slammed home by Seth Edwards.
What it appeared to be a punch in the gut, the Bucs kept attacking and driving into the paint. The opportunities were there but Bloomfield's tall interior defense swatted shots and layups away.
Belleville defensively this quarter was roughed up, allowing 15 points in the paint, and putting Bloomfield multiples times to the free throw line allowing them to get to the bonus.
It was a rough push for the Buccaneers, the shots they were committing were all solid looks. Unfortunately, for Belleville, the shots just weren't falling that night. The Buccaneers fought hard, but things were not just falling their way on both sides of the ball.
Richmond Casino fouled out the game leaving mid fourth quarter losing a valuable scorer and starter.
Bloomfield was able to rattle the Bucs and put them away with the final score ending, Bloomfield 62 and Belleville 45.
Shayne Hinton was the leading scorer for Bloomfield finishing with 21 points.
The Bucs should have no shame, despite a struggling first opener to rival Bloomfield, there's a lot of positives to look at with this five man senior squad. Nasir Bey led the team in scoring with 25 points. Terence Folks lead the team in rebounds with 6, and Ethan Laquindanum finished with 4 steals and 10 points.
Coach Cat had a brief discussion with the team after the game. Cat has all rights to be upset with the team after a disappointing lost.
The common theme that was talked about was trust and leadership from these seniors.
Coach Catalano stated,
"They're seniors they know what I expect. They know exactly what they have to do, but they got to want to do it."
The senior Fab 5 is a key core Coach Cat believes in and has high expectations for through out the rest of the season.
Big Turn Around
The Buccaneers traveled to Livingston this past Tuesday, and dominated the Lancers with a 58-44 win. Richmond Casino had a career high with 25 points to end the game. Shane and Ethan Laquindanum both dropped 11 and 10 points as well this game.
The Buccaneers even the field up now sitting 1-1 for the season and have an immediate bounce back.
The team enjoys a little holiday break and then get right back to it as Belleville prepares to play Bergen Tech December 28th tip off beginning at 10:30am.