Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t get any better than this. Two perennial powerhouses that have been staples in the Red Sarachek Tournament for the past few years will battle it out for the Tier-I crown in what will likely be a jam-packed Max Stern Athletic Center. The intensity will be off the charts, and the quality of play will be like nothing that we have seen in this tournament. Tipping off tomorrow afternoon at 2 PM, it will be the 1st-seeded Frisch Cougars (Paramus, NJ) vs. the 3rd-seeded Shalhevet Firehawks (Los Angeles, CA).
Neither of these schools is a stranger to playing for the championship on Sarachek Monday.
Exactly a year ago, Shalhevet made it all the way to the Tier-I finals before losing to an elite DRS Wildcats squad led by the dominant Gabriel Laifer. In 2015, Frisch won it all on a buzzer-beating shot by Benni Tuchman in triple OT vs HAFTR. This came after the Cougars lost to YULA in the championship a year earlier. And last but certainly not least, only four years ago, JoJo Fallas and the Shalhevet Firehawks defeated Judah Cohen and the Frisch Cougars to take the trophy back to Los Angeles. On Monday, these teams will face off in an epic rematch as they write the next chapter in the Sarachek history books.
Coming into this year’s tournament as the top-ranked team, Frisch lived up to the expectations by handily beating the MTA Lions on Friday 46-21 and holding on to knock off the SAR Sting 44-42 in an absolute thriller on Sunday. Shalhevet also had an impressive road to the finals as they beat the Katz YHS Storm 49-39 and the elite Heschel Heat by a score of 44-38.
Because Frisch is such a complete and dominant team, it is difficult to pick players and label them as key figures to watch. They have so many people that can hurt you in a variety of different ways, both offensively and defensively. Point guard Isaac Laifer is an assist machine and one of the most steady ball-handlers and floor-leaders that we have seen in this tournament.
Laifer would tell you that his job is easy considering that he is surrounded by knockdown shooters such as Yisroel Solomon and Josh Dukas. Solomon hit a number of threes in the semifinal vs. SAR that electrified the energetic Frisch fans and started his team off on a series of runs. Nicknamed “DUKE” by the always fun-to-watch Frisch faithful, Dukas hit a gigantic three in the closing minutes against the Sting, which turned out to be the difference maker.
The scariest thing about the Cougars, however, might be the dominant play of their “Twin Towers,” Jack Stepner and Sam Fishman. Both players danced around double-doubles on Sunday (Stepner 12 points and 9 boards; Fishman 9 and 10), and they also played a key role in the defensive shutdown of MTA in the quarterfinals.
However, in order to do that, Fishman and the Cougars will have to take down an excellent Firehawks team that is playing inspired, confident basketball right now. Shalhevet is lead by its “Big Three” of Zack Muller, Edan Sokol, and superstar Eitan Halpert.
Despite being only a sophomore, Muller led his team with 22 points against YHS, and he has shown his three-point marksmanship on many occasions over the weekend. He has a strong demeanor for such a young player and the raucous Frisch crowd won’t have as big an impact as one might think.
Sokol is as versatile a player as we have seen at this year’s tournament. On defense, he uses his 6’1” frame effectively to contest shots down low; on the other end of the court, he knocks down triples consistently and takes smooth drives to the hoop.
Sokol and Muller picked up the slack in the quarterfinals (they combined for 39 points), while Eitan Halpert struggled offensively. However, Halpert bounced back in a huge way with an unbelievable all-around performance against Heschel. In fact, as he capped off a 22 point and 10 rebound game with the game sealing free throws, Halpert heard a series of “MVP” chants coming from a fired- up Shalhevet fan base. His pinpoint passing, relentless effort on the glass, and clutch scoring make those chants very well-deserved.
Here are some additional things to watch for in the championship game:
—Shalhevet forwards Samuel Ellenberg and Isaac Goor were all over the place against Heschel. Their hustle and impressive rebounding skills has played a huge part in Shalhevet’s run, and Stepner and Fishman will need to keep them off the boards.
—Speaking of Fishman, after he pulled down the game-sealing rebound vs. SAR, he appeared to be slightly banged up as he came off the court. His health likely won’t be a problem, but it will be interesting to see him battle against a much faster big man in Sokol.
—How much of an impact will the Frisch fans have on the game? Considering the fact that they live across the country, Shalhevet has a very respectable amount of fans, but they pale in comparison to the hordes of screaming fans that the Cougars will showcase on Monday. Will the Firehawks be able to tune them out successfully?
—Both of these teams generally play mistake-free basketball. Their passing is always crisp, and their player movement is astonishingly fluid and efficient. Which team will be able to force the other into making more mistakes?
No matter what happens, one of these schools will have found redemption. Will it be the Firehawks avenging last year’s finals loss to DRS? Or will it be the Cougars who make up for their 2013 loss to none other than the Shalhevet Firehawks? Only one way to find out.
Hold on tight, folks. This is gonna be a wild one.
This Tier I Championship Game will tip off in the Max Stern Athletic Center at 2 PM on Monday. Be sure to follow all of the Championship Monday action on MacsLive the official home of Yeshiva athletics, and exclusive broadcaster of the Red Sarachek tournament.
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