Chris Orozco drove the lane for the type of layup he's made hundreds of time in his career.
And right at his heels was teammate Marco Baratta, following up Orozco as if he were the new, skill-challenged kid on the sixth-grade CYO squad and not Tenafly's all-time scoring leader.
The percentages suggested strongly that Orozco would convert that layup on his steady march to 2,000 career points and that Baratta was just wasting precious time and energy in such a hard-fought game.
Well…Orozco's shot hit the bottom of the rim and the 6-3 Baratta was there to retrieve it amid a tangle of limbs. An opponent tried to swipe it, but Baratta juggled it back into his clutches and kicked it out to Yaniv Cohen. Cohen then made a short pass to Steve Sobo, who buried a 15-foot jumper to open a two-point lead with 1:54 remaining and send fifth-seeded Tenafly to a 51-47 win over 12th-seeded Ridgewood Sunday afternoon in the second round of the Oscar F. Thompson Memorial Bergen County Jamboree at Tenafly.
"Whenever anyone goes up for a shot, I try to crash the boards," Baratta said. "But in a situation as important as that, you try to give your team a second chance. He usually makes that shot, but I'm going in anyway. I had it knocked out of my hands, actually, so I just tried to keep it alive. At that point, you just want the ball more than the other guy."
Baratta's gutty play was the last of his nine rebounds and a perfect example of the way this hard-nosed affair played out. This was about adjustment and resilience, not at all about style and fan appeal.
Tenafly (15-3) won for the ninth time in 10 games to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. The Tigers face 13th-seeded Bergen Catholic Sunday at Ramapo College.
"This was a tough, physical game," Orozco said. "We knew we had to get physical with them, especially in that last quarter . We showed some heart out there."
The New Hampshire-bound Orozco finished with a game-high 20 points to raise his career total to 1,881, and junior teammate Kyle Hioki knocked down a season-high five 3-pointers to close with 16 points. Stefan Sengun scored 14 points and had four assists and fellow senior Evan Bartlik added 13 points to lead Ridgewood.
Orozco was his smooth, creative self in the first quarter as he scored seven points to help Tenafly forge a 16-14 lead. But when Ridgewood dispatched a trapping 1-3-1 zone in the second half, Orozco was challenged on every possession and forced to show his resourcefulness and adaptability.
He attempted only five shots in the second half, making one, but he managed to get himself to the foul line when it mattered, hitting 6 of 6 in the last 5:33.
"We knew we would have to do a lot f things against the 1-3-1," Orozco said. "It was more about me making the pass and not really shooting that much. I was trying to get my teammates involved."
Ridgewood also was forced to display its flexibility and will--and did--when senior forward Alex Cohen left late in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. He popped in eight of the Maroons' first 12 points on just four shots and also collected a rebound and an assist. Cohen tried to return in the second half, but left with 1:09 gone in obvious discomfort.
That made 6-3 senior Anthony Balboa Ridgewood's only true interior presence, and he did a commendable job with eight points and eight rebounds. But he also fell into deep foul trouble in the fourth quarter, and that made the lane a bit more accessible for Orozco, Baratta and Sobo.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, we’ve been in that tough spot before," Tenafly head coach Joe Finizio said. "I think that helped us stay composed and figure it out in the end.
"That's how it's been a lot of times this season," he said. "We figure things out at the end. It's not always pretty. But we didn't panic. That's a credit to the kids and their character; not getting down when you’re losing."
Ridgewood had grabbed a 38-33 lead at the end of the third quarter with a 3-pointer by Sengun with 1:45 to go and a steal and layup from Bartlik with 1:22 remaining. The talented Bartlik starred in that period with seven points, two rebounds and two steals.
Tenafly quickly regained the lead it held for most of the game with a 7-0 spurt to open the fourth quarter. Baratta began things with a putback, Hioki followed with a 3-pointer and Orozco sank two free throws for a 40-38 lead with 5:33 to go.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS