At that time, the Hawks were in the middle of a “three-peat” in the Hudson County Tournament, led by Barrino, who would go to the University of San Diego on a scholarship, only to have his career end early due to knee injuries.
When Barrino graduated in 2015, he made sure that he passed the baton over to Quinerly.
“Nassir Barrino gave me the keys to the bus,” Quinerly said. “To praise him, I decided I was not going to lose in these big games.”
The big games that Quinerly were referring to were the Hudson County Tournament championship contests. Quinerly was determined to never lose a county tournament game.
Sure enough, the senior guard made good on his promise. He scored 24 points last Saturday night in a 62-52 win over St. Peter’s Prep to give the Hawks their almost unfathomable seventh straight Hudson County Tournament title at St. Peter’s University’s Yanitelli Center.
Quinerly was nothing short of sensational, scoring 14 of his points in the first half, as the Hawks jumped out to a 30-22 lead.
The Hawks (21-4) were never seriously threatened all night, as the Marauders (20-5) only got to within seven twice.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win,” Quinerly said. “But we still got the win. My thought all along was to get the win. That’s all that mattered to me. I didn’t care about anything else.”
Quinerly has never lost on the floor of Yanitelli Center and that streak was not about to be altered with Saturday night. After being silenced for most of the first quarter, he hit a step-back jumper in the final minute of the first period, then added a rebound basket to give the Hawks a 19-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Not only did the Hawks get a solid performance from Quinerly, but they also got 13 points and 12 rebounds from junior forward Danny Rodriguez.
Rodriguez came up huge for the Hawks, especially with Louis King, the Hawks’ second McDonald’s All-American (other than Quinerly) on the sidelines with a torn knee meniscus that was repaired via surgery last Tuesday, officially ending King’s season.
And of course, if the keys of the bus are to be passed on, then Rodriguez stands to be the key master next season.
“Danny had a great day for us,” Quinerly said. “He really stepped up.”
Senior guard Luther Muhammad, the third of the Hawks’ major college prospects (Quinerly recently committed to Villanova and King has signed with the University of Oregon), didn’t have a huge game, scoring just nine points, but the Ohio State-bound Muhammad made no bones about the importance of winning their seventh straight county crown.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Muhammad said. “As long as we win, then it’s my best game. As long as we’re winning, then I’m happy. We just took the early lead and played our game. We didn’t want to play their game. We wanted them to adapt to us. We put the pressure on them to see if they could keep it going.”
“It’s a great feeling to say that we never lost a game in the county tournament,” Quinerly said. “The next is the T of C [the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions]. That’s what we want now.”
Hudson Catholic head coach Nick Mariniello didn’t want to dwell on the historic victory. No Hudson County school had ever captured seven county titles in a row, so the win was certainly memorable for most.
Except for Mariniello.
“It’s a different group of kids every year,” Mariniello said. “This is what we’re supposed to do. This means as much as the other ones. We beat a very good team, a well prepared team.”
Mariniello was pleased with the performance of Rodriguez, who has to come up big if the Hawks are going to make a big run at the T of C title. It’s going to be a tough road to hoe without King, but if Rodriguez comes up big like he did against the Marauders, then they at least have a shot.
“You root for guys like that,” Mariniello said. “It’s his time to shine. I think a game like this gives him more confidence.”
The Marauders got 14 points from Mark Walker, who came up big down low grabbing nine rebounds, and Notre Dame-bound football star Shayne Simon, who also scored 14 points. Brendan Thiele added 11 points, all in the final quarter. Thiele is headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall.
Both teams now move on to their respective brackets in the NJSIAA state tournament. The Hawks exploded out of the gates in the states, defeating Newark Academy by a final score of 99-49, with Muhammad scoring 24 points and grabbing seven rebounds, Quinerly adding 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and Rodriguez scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Hawks will now face Montclair Immaculate, an upset winner over defending T of C champ Patrick School, in the NJSIAA Non-Public B North quarterfinals at St. Peter’s University after press time Thursday night.
Yes, the Hawks are returning to the floor where they’ve never lost. The game was moved to Yanitelli because it was anticipated that the Patrick School would draw a huge crowd. Now, things have changed with the Patrick School’s loss.
The Marauders will face Delbarton in the quarterfinal round of the Non-Public A North bracket after receiving a first-round bye.
Mariniello admitted that the Hawks didn’t play their greatest in the win over Prep, getting the seventh county crown.
“I still think we haven’t hit our best yet,” Mariniello said. “I think that says a lot about them. I think the kids realize now that if they lose, they go home. We grinded out a win and that’s all that matters.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com. This week, Jim takes a satirical look at the recently completed Winter Olympics.