As Bryan Warrick returns, Burlington City win their first game on the pitch since March 2020

The last time anyone saw the Burlington City boys’ basketball team play was they had just defeated Penns Grove in the NJSIAA South/Central State Group 1 Semifinals on March 11, 2020.

Yes, you might recognize this date. It was the last day of action for all high school sports before the NJSIAA shut down the remainder of the basketball tournament.

City were due to play their second successive game for the Group 1 title before that opportunity was seized by this pandemic which is now months into its third year. But even when men’s basketball was allowed last winter, the Blue Devils didn’t get a chance to participate. Some of his players have, as members of other teams, but the gymnasium at Burlington City has been dark all winter.

Wednesday turned out to be a momentous occasion for the Blue Devils. They had the chance to don their black and blue uniforms for the first time in competitive play in 658 days – which breaks down to 21 months, 18 days, 15,792 hours (more or less) and/or 56,851,200 seconds. .

Imagine having something you love taken away from you for so long and the relief that must have been felt to be back on the pitch.

For the Blue Devils, the comeback had a happy ending.

Despite a tough fourth quarter from the free throw line, Burlington City held on to beat Hopewell Valley 53-52. City stopped final possession of the game to ensure they would leave the gym with a win for the first time in a long time.

Burlington City will face the winner of the Ocean Township/Lawrence contest Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Molinelli Championship.

Dejuan Hunter led all scorers with 16 points, including nine in the third quarter (11 in the second half), as Burlington City (1-0) took a sustained lead for the first time. Izaiah Johnson added 12 for the Blue Devils, while Kevin Ellis led the Bulldogs (1-3) with 13.

Hunter ran the point for new head coach Bryan Warrick, also one of City’s most highly regarded former head coaches. He led the team to the Group 1 state title in 2002 before moving to Rancocas Valley.

“It’s awesome,” Hunter said. “It’s been a long journey, a long journey. A whole year without basketball. We just had to stay here and keep working through what was the season, then the offseason, to come back today.

The 2021 Molinelli Tournament match, hosted by Lawrence High School, did not start as Warrick or any of the players would have liked. Hopewell Valley took an 11-2 lead in the opening minutes before Warrick called a timeout to calm his side down and get back into the game.

“Coach just told us to keep our cool during that first time out,” Hunter said. “He told us we did all the work in our practices and just needed to stay calm, keep our composure and have fun.”

The timeout worked as the Blue Devils continued their own run to bring the game back to a manageable deficit. By the time the clock showed four minutes left in the second quarter, the Blue Devils had equalized.

From then on it was scrap for the rest of the way. Now, that’s not something this program was used to the last time it was in the field.

Remember Burlington City have played in three consecutive Central Jersey Group 1 finals, won the last two, played in a state final in 2019 and were scheduled to play in another in 2020. The Blue Devils, who got a 27-4 record in 2019-20 (and which started with 13 straight wins), hasn’t played many close games.

Burlington City won their CJ1 first round match 120-44 over Central Jersey College Charter, 79-47 over rival Florence (the two schools combined for three straight Group 1 state titles between 2000 and 2002) in the quarters, 81-62 over Middlesex in the semis and 73-55 over Bound Brook to claim the sectional crown before dispatching Penns Grove 61-58 to win the state semis.

Due to the free-throw shooting, however, it was a game with two possessions or less in favor of City for most of the final 12 minutes. Hopewell Valley staged a late comeback in the final minute to cut the deficit to one point, but the Blue Devils defense went from strength as needed in the final six seconds to snuff out a late winning attempt.

“We’re happy to have a win under our belt so we can keep doing that and improving every game,” Johnson said. “We took a bit of time to launch our game today. I’ve been waiting for this day since last year. I was ready, just trying to stay positive and win. So it worked today. »

So it was truly the perfect game for Warrick, a close battle that saw him coach his new side for 32 minutes and win in City’s first game on the pitch.

“I think it’s important for the program,” Warrick said. “The kids had to sacrifice themselves, and I feel bad for the kids who graduated. These are the ones who really missed. For me it was the first time with City for 18 years. It was business as usual: aggressive, every possession. This is what we do.

“I think everyone can see that we have a lot to do, but we are not afraid of work. We will go home, even tomorrow before playing, and working. I think today is rewarding for our players. You do all the work and it’s payday, to be able to play the game. We were lucky to get the win. We played pretty well, but we still have areas where we can improve. improve and we will work on it.

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