River Dell Varsity Boys Basketball Team celebrates Senior Night with a victory over Mahwah


The River Dell Golden Hawks Varsity Boys Basketball Team(13-8, 7-3 Big North Patriot) hosted the Mahwah Thunderbirds(14-12, 3-7 Big North Patriot) on Senior Night at River Dell High School in Oradell, New Jersey.

Five senior players were honored in a special pre-game ceremony in front of a mostly packed gym total of River Dell parents, students, fans, and administration/athletic officials: Liam Hickey, Sean Golden, Phil Doornheim, Oscar Nunez, and Michael Mihalitsianos. With colorful balloon arrangements in the stands and on the floor, the senior players had flower arrangements to hand out to their families.

Liam Hickey, on the pre-game ceremonies honoring him and the rest of the senior group, said, "It was a special night, four years of River Dell basketball and honoring the seniors." "Sean, Phil, and I have been playing together our whole lives, and it's a special night to celebrate all that."

"River Dell does a great job with senior night, and they had the balloons and flowers, and afterward, we had donuts and cake." "I would like to thank Mrs. Brunner(Julianne Joyce-Brunner) and Mr. Milnes(John Milnes)."

"The gym was packed, I had whole fan section with my poster and seeing everyone treating me like a celebrity was definitely funny to see that but the fans are always awesome." "The support from parents, friends and schoolmates and everyone comes out to the game to have a good time."

After the pre-game festivities concluded, the recording of the national anthem played. The public address announcer then announced the starting lineups. For the Golden Hawks, all five seniors got the starting nod.

In the first quarter, River Dell got off to a solid start, with Liam Hickey and Oscar Nunez knocking down trifectas. Sean Golden notched five points that propelled the Golden Hawks to a 15-11 lead at the end of the period.

Liam Hickey on the seniors' contributions in the first quarter, "It was awesome for Phil and Oscar to score like that, and the middle of the zone was open so we were trying to get Phil the ball and he did a great job of reading the zones and we gave it to him when he had the open shot."

"Sean at the high-low going and Oscar with that three as he was open and hit a great shot." "I'm happy for those guys; they got the experience that on a senior night."

Moving to the second quarter, River Dell widened the advantage to 19- 11. Mahwah ignited a rebuttal behind the stellar combination and offensive production by the tandem of Brian Appiah and Tyson Van Pelt, each tallying seven points apiece. Eventually, the Thunderbirds jumped in front, but the Golden Hawks tied the game up at halftime 28-28.

Liam Hickey, on the message from Head Coach Ron Van Saders at halftime, "Coach Van Saders said don't leave this locker with a good feeling, you don't want to have any regrets." "We definitely took that into account when we went back out there in the second half." "We had a chance to win the league, but it didn't happen, but power points were also huge if we're going to get a home game in the playoffs."

Once the third quarter commenced, the teams kept trading the lead back and forth. By the time the quarter ended, Mahwah led by a slim margin of 41-39.

"We knew that we're going to make a run in the third quarter and just had to make sure Mahwah didn't outscore us," Liam Hickey explained. "We knew if we ran our offense and played defense and rebounded, we would be okay."

In a close contest three minutes into the fourth, River Dell took the lead on David Nunez's second trey of the game. Aditya Pandya provided further cushion by hitting a pair of free throws. Pandya knocked down five throws in the quarter and scored seven of his ten points on the night.

"I never get down on myself and didn't have the greatest game through the first three quarters," Aditya Pandya noted. "I came into that fourth quarter with three points but as soon as Mahwah pressed, I would have the open opportunities." "I knew just to rebound the ball and get myself to the line in crucial situations." "I'm able to knock down free throws by staying confident on the line and calm and collected."

The Golden Hawks erupted for the 10-0 spurt to expand their lead to 56-46, but the Thunderbirds answered with a 5-0 run to trim the deficit. However, River Dell withstood the pressure by Mahwah by sinking free throws down the stretch. Liam Hickey and Sean Golden were the primary sources of offense in the quarter, pumping in a combined 21 points and eight free throws.

"We jumped on Mahwah in the fourth quarter and made them have to play from behind," Liam Hickey described. "We're a good free throw shooting team, and when we get to the line, we're pretty confident we can hit the shots."

River Dell went on to cruise to the 73-65 victory as the seniors exited one by one to rousing ovations from the home crowd. Sean Golden poured in a game-high 24 points, while Liam Hickey supplied 18 points, and David Nunez netted 13 points.

"It's definitely special to get win on senior night and all your friends and family there supporting you and to put on a good show for them," Liam Hickey stated. "Coach Van Saders said play your heart when you put the jersey on to represent the school and hardest because you don't know when your last game is going to be."

Now the Golden Hawks shift their focus to a Bergen County Invitational Tournament Semifinal match-up against Dwight-Morrow Maroon Raiders(12-10, 5-3 Big North American) on Sunday, February 11th with tip-off set for noon at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey.

"They definitely kicked our butts during the season, and we have a chip on our shoulder to get revenge on them," Liam Hickey cited. "It's definitely a great opportunity to play them again but we're going to have to fix our mistakes from the first time we played them." "We're going to need to rebound the ball, especially our guards, and contain their dribble and close out on the shooters."

"We want to prove everyone wrong but proving yourself right and you can play and win at this level." "We made it this far to the Final Four and hope we can go even further and advance to the championship game and win it and that's our goal."

Aditya Pandya on the upcoming BIT semifinal vs. Dwight-Morrow: "We played them earlier in the season and probably had the worst effort of the season, and we can't let it happen." "We must eliminate the turnovers, play well defensively, and run our offense." "When we entered the gym, we had to be ready to win and play our game, and we should be able to advance to the finals."

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