The high school basketball season was just three games old, but already veteran Union City boys’ coach Drew Morano had his concerns.
That’s because the Soaring Eagles started the new season with three straight losses. Morano fielded a very young team, with two sophomores and two freshmen, so he knew there would be growing pains.
But Morano also put a young team on the floor last year and the Soaring Eagles won only eight games.
“Last year, going in, we didn’t know what to expect,” Morano said. “So halfway through January, I decided to go with two freshmen and think about the future. Those two freshmen got experience for the last 11 games or so in the season. We ended up beating Snyder in the county playoffs.”
So Morano believed that this year would be different, considering that the young Soaring Eagles took their lumps last season.
“I thought as sophomores, they would be better,” Morano said. “We also had a real strong sophomore class. We knew we were going young this year. It’s a young team. We’re always going to be small and scrappy in Union City. That’s what we do. We knew we’d have to take some lumps.”
With three losses to start the season, it could have been very easy for the young Soaring Eagles to crash and burn.
“It would have been extremely easy,” Morano said. “But these guys are basketball players. We want to compete.”
The Soaring Eagles’ season changed dramatically for the better, when they managed to upset Perth Amboy at the buzzer, when sophomore shooting guard Luis Solorzano nailed a 3-point bomb as the horn sounded.
“There are moments like that which can change a season,” Morano said. “Fortunately for us, after that win, things went the right way. We had to keep things in perspective and keep working hard. We were showing signs that we wanted to compete.”
After losing their first three, the Soaring Eagles have won nine of 14 to get to 9-8. They’re over the .500 mark. They’re staring at an NJSIAA Group IV state playoff berth and are looking to make a little noise in the Hudson County Tournament.
“I’m happy with where we are at right now,” Morano said. “We didn’t play well to start the season, but we’ve turned it around and are now finding ways to win. Give the kids credit. They never put their heads down and gave up.”
Senior Rocco Timpone has proven to be a valuable commodity for the Soaring Eagles. The 6-foot-3 Timpone suffered a concussion in the preseason and missed the first three games of the regular season.
“He’s our biggest guy and our go-to guy,” Morano said. “We’re playing better now that he’s been back. He knows what we want. He’s the heart and soul of the team.”
Timpone, who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game, is also the lone senior to get major playing time. The rest of the Soaring Eagles’ roster is comprised of youngsters.
Solorzano has been a mainstay at shooting guard, averaging about 13 points per game.
“He’s a tough kid and a good defender,” Morano said of Solorzano.
Sophomore Darcel Wood is another quality underclassman. The 6-foot-1 Wood starts at small forward and is averaging nine points per game.
“He is a good shooter and defender,” Morano said of Wood, who hit three 3-pointers in a recent game against Dickinson.
Junior Jhonny Sanchez is a 6-foot-2 power forward.
“He’s probably our best shooter and one of our better scorers,” Morano said of Sanchez.
Freshman Steven Sanchez (no relation) has been a pleasant surprise. The 6-foot-2 Sanchez is a solid rebounder.
“He’s learning his way,” Morano said.
The other freshman seeing major playing time is 5-foot-9 point guard Anthony Gomez, who Morano believes will be a superstar someday.
“He has a chance to be one of the best we’ve ever had,” Morano said. “He’s intelligent. He’s a good ball handler and an excellent shooter. We’ve never had a true point guard like him.”
Sophomore John Bejar is another 5-foot-9 point guard.
“He has good instincts with the ball,” Morano said.
Sophomore Kenny Morales is a 6-foot-3 post player who will be an even better player down the road. That’s the one redeeming factor about these Soaring Eagles. They are still a very young team, with the entire team returning next year other than Timpone.
“I think we’d like to get a home game in the county playoffs,” Morano said. “The goal is to make a little noise in the playoffs. It will be something for this young team to hang its hat on. I like the way they are maturing. They’re also very close, so I like their chemistry. I’m happy where we’re at, but I’d like to knock off one of the big boys.”
The Soaring Eagles will have that chance, with games against Bayonne, Dickinson and North Bergen upcoming.
“If we can get one or more of those, I think we’ll really start to feel like we have something,” Morano said.
After that 0-3 start, the Soaring Eagles definitely have something. It’s called character…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ H.S. Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (18-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (18-1). 3. St. Peter’s Prep (14-4). 4. Marist (13-2). 5. Snyder (14-2)…
Hudson Reporter Girls’ H.S. Basketball Top Five: 1. Lincoln (16-0). 2. Secaucus (16-1). 3. North Bergen (12-3). 4. Bayonne (13-4). 5. St. Dominic Academy (11-5)…--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.