April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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SAR Takes Katz JV Boys Basketball Tournament 2024

SAR JV team.

Fresh off a successful 9-1 regular season record, including wins over traditional rivals like Frisch, TABC, Ramaz and Hillel, the SAR JV boys basketball team flew down south for a three-day tournament in Boca Raton, Florida hosted by Katz Yeshiva High School (KYHS). The eight-team tournament annually features very competitive basketball, inter-school camaraderie, incredible hospitality by KYHS, and is a major highlight of the athletic calendar for participating schools. SAR flew to Fort Lauderdale in hopes of defending its KYHS 2023 Tournament crown, when the Sting defeated an incredibly strong Ramaz team in the championship game.

With only three returning players from the prior year’s tournament, SAR knew it had its work cut out for them. As the eight teams are split into two brackets, SAR’s consisted of the top three from the Yeshiva League’s regular season: DRS (10-0), Frisch (9-1), and SAR, along with a very talented 7-3 HAFTR team. The other bracket featured the host school, together with Ramaz, North Shore Hebrew Academy and Shalhevet. The tournament was up for grabs, with many correctly believing that they could emerge victorious, holding the precious trophy. The first three games for each team, called pool play, saw its share of upsets and no school entered the playoff round unscathed. All four playoff teams went 2-1 and with tiebreakers, Katz entered the Final Four as the #1-seed, followed by North Shore, SAR and Frisch.

The 8:30 a.m. semifinal games were full of thrilling moments, as SAR defeated North Shore 48-47. Sophomore big man Evan Goldberg, one of the returning Big Three for SAR, was tremendously clutch down the stretch, drilling four for four free throws in the waning minutes. The leading scorer for the Sting, as has been the case all season, was sophomore phenom Ari Halpert, as he put up 23 points against a terrific North Shore defense. In the three prior games, Halpert scored 21, 22 and 26 points, consistently thwarting double teams and withstanding some physical interior defense on his acrobatic layups. Freshman starters Nathan Wild and Max Weiss were key cogs for the Sting, with Wild athletically gliding to the rim for nine points and Max Weiss playing pesky, tireless defense on North Shore’s best playmaking guard while chipping in his own five points. In the other semifinal, Katz pulled off an impressive double-digit victory over the vaunted Frisch team, catapulting them into the championship game against visiting SAR.

Katz Tournament MVP Ari Halpert.

The stage was set for a 1:15 p.m. finale, with hundreds of Katz students and family members in the audience, vociferously backing their local talent, who had a 13-0 regular season. The first half saw Katz grab a seven-point lead, but SAR stormed back, tying the score at 20-20 before the intermission. Halpert scored 16 of the Sting’s 20 points, as SAR was an ice cold one for nine from the 3-point line. Fatigue may have settled in, and players were performing hurt, including Wild plowing through on a badly sprained ankle. Katz opened the second half with a Box and One defense, focusing their attention on Halpert and daring other SAR players to harm them. Enter Jonah Blechner, a starting sophomore guard and co-captain, who hit five 3-pointers combined in the prior four games and was eager to step it up with much-needed alternative scoring. One year after his older brother, Ari, was the fourth quarter scoring star of the championship game, Jonah was keen on having his shining moment. His teammates assisted him on four high arcing 3-pointers in the third quarter alone, as they knew to feed the hot hand. Blechner’s confidence kept gathering momentum and at one point in the quarter, SAR took a commanding 12-point lead. But Katz was not going to cower under pressure and their star players drained threes and fought courageously for second chance rebounds to continue offensive sets. Halpert scored four points in the quarter for the Sting, and he was excited to replicate his star turn of the prior year, when he scored 17 in the championship as a freshman sensation. His passion to win was palpable and contagious.

In the fourth quarter, SAR continued to press, as it had been doing for most of the game, and they played the same five throughout the eight-minute stanza. Sixth man Avery Simon, who missed the tournament the prior year due to the flu, added grit and physicality to the lineup, also kicking in three points for the game and a 5.4 points per game tournament average. The fourth quarter belonged to Halpert, who kept draining tough jump shots, scoring nine in the quarter and 29 for the game. Katz clawed its way back into the game, eventually tying the score at 48 with under two minutes to play. Blechner hadn’t yet scored in the fourth but when given a small crease to hoist a 3-pointer, he didn’t hesitate, putting SAR up for good at 51-48 with a majestic shot he’ll never forget. His fifth 3-pointer proved to be too much for Katz to overcome. A couple of SAR defensive stops and two perfect Halpert free throw swishes with 20 seconds to go sealed the win and SAR silenced the energetic home crowd. Though the tournament does not include an individual MVP, there was no doubt that Halpert earned the right to being considered the most valuable player, attaining a remarkable 24.2 points per game average over the five games. Additionally, his incomparable hustle on defense yielded an average of over five steals per game, leading to countless transition points for the Sting. He was the catalyst on both sides of the court. Other major contributors included Goldberg and Blechner each averaging 6.8 for the tournament, and Wild 7.4 points per game as well. SAR is looking forward to the yeshiva league playoffs upon returning from their February break, with a first-round bye and a quarterfinal home game.

Congratulations to the rest of the SAR basketball team, including sophomores Zachy Goldenberg, Will Gollender, Isaac Lebowitz, Will Milstein, Caleb Rosenberg and Noah Rubenstein; and to freshmen Yonatan Fromer, Jesse Minkove, Benji Salomon, Nathan Small and Jaren Ulmer.

A special thank you to Katz Athletic Director Kris Ruffo, Executive Director Shimmie Kaminetzky and KYHS’s entire collection of staff, student and parent volunteers, for coordinating and executing such a memorable tournament experience for over 100 high school student-athletes.


Michael Courtney has been coaching the SAR JV boys basketball team since 2007. He is the director of College Counseling at SAR High School and co-coordinator of the Guiding Good Choices parenting program through SAR’s Machon Siach.

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