High School Hoops: An Up & Down Year For St. Mary’s Of Elizabeth

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By Jim Whelan

All three Elizabeth’s boys’ basketball teams played on Saturday night in the 16th annual Elizabeth House the Homeless Coalition event.

St. Mary’s was the only Elizabeth squad to win their game, defeating Scotch Plains 60-55. Elizabeth was beaten by Ridge High School 53-38 and St. Patrick’s lost to St Benedict’s of Newark in the twilight game, 65-64.

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St. Mary’s of Elizabeth is having an up and down season for third year coach John Moffitt.  Starting off 0-4, the Hilltoppers went on a five game tear before falling to a much-improved Dayton Bulldog team 48-40 on Jan. 19.
“Games like that (Dayton loss) really keep me up at night,” said Moffitt, the St. Mary’s coach and alum.

Moffitt won’t let himself get discouraged.  “I love to coach,” he said. “Although I don’t care for their music too much, the kids are very respectful and I enjoy relating to them on a day to day basis.”

St. Mary’s faces off against Scotch Plains in the annual Elizabeth benefit tourney and defeated their Union County foe three of the last four years.

Moffitt was impressed with what he saw while scouting his opponent. “Coach Doherty is back and he has them playing well,” said Moffitt. “They have size in the crease and they can score from the outside.”

Losing an average of 35 points per game due to the graduation of Mudia Oswemgie (New Hampshire Tech) and Tyler Roberson (NIA Prep), this year’s St. Mary’s team had to find scoring. They did, and that translated into wins.

Moffitt said, “We started shooting the ball better and players starting to understand their roles.”  Also, the Hilltoppers got healthy against some lean competition to start their winning ways.

Their fifth win was against an even-matched Union Catholic team-65-62.  Senior Brandon Langston scored the go-head basket with a minute left in the game.  “That was our best game of the year” said the Hilltoppper coach. “We really came together as a team.”

Third year varsity letterman-6’6 center Ederson Exume is the Hilltoppers’ leading scorer and will play at the college level next year.  “He is really coming along,” Moffitt said. “He is rebounding the ball very well.”

Garland Green runs the point, Chris Bazillo, Brandon Langston, and Henginz Janvier round out the Hilltoppers’ starting five. They contributed to last year’s team success and are utilizing their experience this year.

Moffitt also has a deep bench with interchangeable players at his disposal.   Moffitt is a pupil of St. Mary’s legendary innovative coach Al Lobalbo and maximizes every player on his squad.  Junior Joe DeRosa and seniors Jowan Odige, Jarrett Mustafa, and Nick Merced all can be inserted into the starting lineup at any time.

St. Mary’s Looking To Weather The Economic Storm
St. Mary’s High School is also feeling the economic crunch.  Last spring, St Mary’s grammar school was closed by the Archdiocese of Newark and merged with three other Elizabeth grammar schools.

“We took a little hit with that because we could share some of the bills with the grammar school,” said St Mary’s Athletic Director Bob Halleck.  Both the grammar school and the high school shared the same three story building on South Street in the Elizabeth downtown area.

Halleck and Moffitt are teammates and played under St. Mary’s iconic coach Al Lobalbo.   A good basketball program still attracts students to attend the one of the two Elizabeth parochial schools.

Twenty-five years ago there were 15 parochial grammar schools in City of Elizabeth, which had a population of 125,000.  That number has now dwindled to two K-8 schools and a grade 5-8 school, St. Patrick Academy.

This year’s incoming class was 60 students and the school’s target is 90 students.  “We are still operating in the black,” said Halleck “The school has not borrowed any money for expenses.”

The school did have about 15 transfer students, which helps with the school census. The administration likes to maintain 260 students.  Like most parochial schools, fundraising is paramount to keep the school’s $5,500 tuition down.

Halleck is optimistic for the school.  “We had nice attendance at our open houses and have a director of admission go out and promote the school.”

St. Mary’s Alum Gage Daye-Named NJHOOPS.Com Player Of Month
Bloomfield College junior Gage Daye was named the www.njhoops.com player of the month for January. Daye, a 2007 graduate of St Mary’s of Elizabeth, is averaging 20.7 points per game, 4 rebounds, 3.2 steals, and 3.2 assists.   The Newark native is a big part of the Deacons 11-3 record this year. They had an undefeated January.

Jim Whelan can be reached at njhoops@hotmail.com


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