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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

For the second time in three years, the top seeded Frisch Cougars are once again Sarachek champions, as they defeated the Shalhevet High School Firehawks from LA by a score of 49-47 in a thrilling Tier One championship game Monday afternoon that came all the way down to the wire.

A jam-packed Max Stern Athletic Center was filled with the two perennial powerhouse high school basketball teams, large supporting fan-bases and a raucous crowd, generating a tremendous amount of pride, intensity and drama throughout a closely contested battle. Ultimately, the Cougars were the last ones standing.

Frisch’s Yisroel Solomon, a senior guard who inherited the nickname “the run starter,” after his uncanny job of igniting runs at opportune times for his team in their semifinal match-up, hit what would be the deciding free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining on the game clock after getting fouled on a drive through the lane. With the game all tied up at 47 with nine seconds remaining in the game, Solomon received a pass from Isaac Laifer and took it hard to the paint. The senior got up and sank two free throws that landed him a spot in both Frisch and Sarachek lore.

Setting up the aforementioned sequence, the heroics of Firehawk superstar Eitan Halpert were on full display. Coming off of a timeout with 19 seconds left to play and down by three, Shalhevet guard Zack Muller received a baseline inbound pass and missed a layup. Halpert, who finished with a remarkable double-double of 26 points and 15 rebounds, responded with a putback layup and got fouled in the process. He hit the and-one free throw to knot the game up at 47 with nine seconds left to play.

The Firehawks, seeded third in the tournament, were unable to get off a shot before the final buzzer sounded, as they had to go the full length of the court after Solomon put up Frisch for good. With the loss, Shalhevet has now fallen in the Sarachek championship game in consecutive years. They were beaten by last year’s champions, DRS Yeshiva High School, by a score of 47-32.

Before the game got underway, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel addressed the Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament crowd for one last time, as his term in office finishes later this year. While he spoke, he emphasized the importance of religious unity and closeness within our respective communities. His message appropriately prefaced what would be a very close, tightly-knitted championship game.

The game was never out of reach for either school, as neither team ever led by more than five points. Frisch was up by a score of 24-21 at halftime, and throughout both halves, leads were routinely exchanged and the game was frequently tied.

The game’s first quarter was sloppy with inconsistent play, featuring a plethora of turnovers by both teams. The chaos was caused by poor passes, miscommunications and likely the high running tensions by which the players were certainly affected in the championship game setting.

The Frisch team started to find its way in the second quarter, outscoring Shalhevet by five in the period. Their offensive charge was led by fan-favorite Josh Dukas, who scored eight points in the quarter and 11 overall in the game.

The second half featured plenty of drama, largely produced by Firehawks senior guard, Edan Sokol. After being whistled in the third quarter for his team’s second technical foul of the game for arguing with referees, Sokol carried his team offensively in fourth. He hit two huge three pointers, each from the same corner of the court, and each putting his team in front by three in their respective moments. The senior finished with ten points on 4-8 shooting from the floor, but he and Halpert got little support from their teammates, limiting Shalhevet’s offensive options.

Both Frisch and Shalhevet shot very well from the free throw line, finishing with 74% and 87%, respectively. While The Firehawks statistically had the better game from the charity stripe, Frisch reached the line 34 times compared to Shalhevet’s 15 appearances. A game which featured almost fifty free throws was fittingly decided right there at the line, where Solomon, bigger than the moment, delivered the biggest shots of his life.

Despite Shalhevet’s loss in the championship game, Halpert was named a well-deserved tournament MVP after two phenomenal showings in the Firehawks semifinal and championship contests. Halpert certainly did all he could in this one to propel his team to the promised land, but unfortunately his efforts fell just short.

By Nathan Feifel/Macslive.com