The Ramapo Raiders varsity boys basketball team (23-7, 8-2, Big North Freedom) faced off against Woodrow Wilson (22-6) in the Group 3 Final at Jersey Mike's Arena on the campus of Rutgers University. Ramapo reached the final with a 43-39 win over Colonia in the Group 3 Semifinals.
Ramapo enjoyed immense success on the hardwood, winning three out of four games to start the 2021-22 season, then reeled off six consecutive victories. The Raiders pushed Bergen Catholic to the limit in the Bergen County Jamboree semifinals. They rolled through North 1, Group 3 sectional playoffs, including defeating Tenafly in the sectional title game at Ramapo High School that extended their winning streak to seven games.
Junior Nathaniel Burleson on winning a sectional title: "We're a young team, it was a crazy feeling because I have never won anything to that extent and just contributing to the success of the team was a great feeling."
"Coach (Nick) Vier is a great coach, and his message was never to look past a single opponent because any given team can give us problems on a given day. He pushed us throughout the season, and we still had strict practices through the playoffs."
Sophomore Peyton Seals on the sectional championship: "At Ramapo, that is something we always expect to win the sectionals and that was the goal from the beginning of the year. It was a great environment, a sold-out crowd and a great experience and super happy to come out with the win."
"There were some streaks during the season where we were played high-level basketball and had some good wins. I love the school (Ramapo High School); it's a great community and the fans. They showed up significantly at the end of the year games, supported us, and gave us great energy, and I wouldn't want to play anywhere else."
In front of a jam-packed crowd at Jersey Mike's Arena, there was plenty of support for both teams in attendance, along with enthusiastic students' sections.
"It was a great atmosphere to play in, an amazing arena and grateful for the chance to play there," Seals described. "Putting on that Ramapo jersey, you're playing for the community, teams and players before you and want to represent the school well."
Woodrow Wilson jumped out to an 11-3 lead six minutes into the first quarter. The Raiders managed to get into an offensive flow as they trailed 14-8 at the end of the quarter.
"They jumped on us, we knew they were going to bring the pressure, and we had a game plan to beat it, but then we started missing shots," Burleson explained. "They started getting in transition and we knew some of their offense, but it was hard stopping a fast team."
In the second quarter, the scoring output came to a screeching halt as both teams combined for a total of ten points. The Raiders were down 18-12 in the closing seconds of the quarter when Nathaniel Burleson scored his eighth point as the buzzer sounded.
Once the third quarter got underway, the Tigers expanded the lead to double digits with a 6-0 run. Ramapo answered back with a 6-0 spurt of their own, with Chris Cervino netting four points.
The back-and-forth action continued with Woodrow Wilson exploding for a 7-0 run over a two-and-a-half-minute span. The Tigers shot a sizzling percent from the floor while the Raiders struggled at 27 percent. By the time the period ended, Woodrow Wilson had led 31-22.
With six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Tigers led 35-26. Ramapo kept their composure and displayed a lot of grit and determination over the next three minutes of action, responding with a 9-2 run.
Limited to two points in the first half, Peyton Seals caught fire, tallying seven points in the fourth. Seals drove into the lane for a lay-up that tied the game up at 37-37 with over two minutes left.
The Raiders trailed 38-37 with less than two minutes remaining, but key passes led to Burleson canning a trey that put Ramapo ahead.
Peyton Seals provided some extra breathing room driving into the paint and sticking a floater that made it 42-38 Ramapo. Appearing that the Raiders might be on their way to winning the Group 3 Championship, Woodrow Wilson surged back.
Alijah Smith drove baseline and knocked down a jump shot as Smith got fouled in the process. Smith went on to sink the free throw to cut the gap to 42-41. The Tigers full-court press defense resulted in a key Ramapo turnover.
Woodrow Wilson milked the clock down to 21 seconds. A loose ball on a blocked shot led to James Proctor (11 points) grabbing a loose ball and sinking a jump shot to make it 43-42 Tigers.
Even with a blocked shot attempt in the paint and Javier Proctor of Woodrow Wilson missing a pair of free throws, the Raiders still had an opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds.
Peyton Seals dribbled the ball past half-court and dished the ball off to Wyatt Ellington-Manner, who hoisted up a desperation three-pointer that clanked off the top of the rim as the buzzer sounded as the Tigers won 43-42.
Nathaniel Burleson finished with 13 points. Peyton Seals added nine points, while Wyatt Ellington-Manner and Grant Sloan had eight points.
"It's a heartbreaking loss, and you just keep replaying in your mind what you could have done differently," Seals said. "Coach (Nick)Vier said we're a competitive group, and we never like to lose and should have won. We weren't satisfied and always wanted to win more, but he was proud of our year."
Nathaniel Burleson on the 2021-22 season, "We're a very hard-working team and fought all season," said Burleson on the 2021-2022 season. "Many people didn't have us making it to this game, the playoffs, and winning our section. We played out hardest gave everything we had, and even though we didn't get the outcome, we did for our senior Grant (Sloan), coaches, and Ramapo community. We'll be back, and it's not the end of Ramapo, and you'll see us again."