Friday, June 02, 2023

As the Yeshiva League varsity basketball playoffs have progressed, the stakes have only gotten higher, and each team has been up for the challenge. This past Sunday marked the culmination of the season, and the entire MYHSAL winter sports session, in a matchup that did not disappoint.

After an undefeated regular season and minimal reason for concern in their playoff run, the North Shore Lions were labeled as the early favorites to be crowned champions. Being victorious was nothing new to a majority of the players on the Lions roster, as six out of the eight players in their usual in-game rotation were members of last year’s junior varsity championship team. Even though varsity basketball is an entirely different battle, the underclassmen had demonstrated all season long that not only did they have what it takes to compete, but even excel, on the varsity stage.

On the opposing end was the Frisch Cougars. It’s almost expected that each season the Frisch team will have what it takes to compete for a championship, and this squad assembled by Coaches Brian Jensen and Shlomo Weissberg was no different. Throughout their playoff push senior guard Alex Zakheim was their fearless leader, often tasked to score at will and always capable of being a defensive threat. Last season, the Cougars playoff run ended earlier than desired, with a semi-final loss to the eventual champion Ramaz Rams, but this time around the Cougars believed they were destined for greatness.

Prior to the opening tip, the Max Stern Athletic Center at Yeshiva University had a playoff atmosphere, with packed bleachers and exhilaration in the air. The Cougars took control of the momentum early on by forcing an offensive foul on the opening possession, but the Lions stole it right back on their next offensive possession due to a corner 3-pointer from junior forward Ben Abizadeh to open up the scoring. As the quarter continued, the Lions displayed their offensive prowess in the paint, as their guards fed their forwards successfully on cuts to the basket and controlled the offensive boards leading to multiple opportunities on the offensive end. For the Cougars the story was all Alex Zakheim early on. After two trips to the line and nailing a mid-range shot, Zakheim ended the first quarter in a Stephen Curry-esque fashion by nailing two long range 3-pointers in the last 30 seconds to give the Cougars a three point lead after the first.

Zakheim continued where he left off in the early part of the second quarter with a quick mid-range bucket, but early foul trouble forced him to be less aggressive on the defensive end of the court. As mentioned in the season preview back in October, the key to the Cougar’s success this season would be the complimentary pieces to Zakheim, which was prevalent in the late part of the regular season and playoffs, but it would matter the most in this game. The Lions would go on a six point run highlighted by a transition finish from senior David Orbach to regain the lead. As Zakheim continued to play a more reserved style of basketball to prevent an increase in his personal fouls, the Cougars offense went on a minor dry spell. The Lions would take advantage of this by tacking on another pair of baskets and ending the half in the same fashion as they started the game—with a corner 3-pointer from BenAbizadeh, to give the Lions a seven point lead going into the halftime break.

The third quarter saw the momentum sway entirely to the Lions. In the opening minutes of the quarter, the Lions went on a 9-3 run to give them their first double digit lead of the night. The Cougars had no issue getting into their offensive sets, but their inability to capitalize was hurting their chances of taking home the hardware. Towards the end of the period, Zakheim started to heat up once again narrowing the deficit to seven points, but a last-second tip in from junior forward Jordan Zarka brought all the fans to their feet and the Lions’ lead back to nine points.

The Lions didn’t want to leave anything to chance. The junior forward duo of Eli Abizadeh and Jeremy Levian did a phenomenal job controlling the offensive boards in the early part of the quarter expanding the lead to 15 points. As the game clock was winding down, the Lion’s lead continued to grow. When the final buzzer sounded the scoreboard showed a final score of 63-43 in favor of the North Shore Lions.

Even though the Cougars did not end their season with the ultimate goal, they should definitely keep their heads held high. A 12-2 regular season record gave them a tie for first place in a very competitive Western Conference, and two playoff victories against the extremely talented Magen David Warriors and Flatbush Falcons. Additionally, in their final game of the season, despite being on the losing end, Alex Zakheim was the leading scorer of the game contributing 24 to his team’s 43 points in the game.

The Lions became the first varsity team to complete a perfect regular season and playoff run since the legendary DRS Wildcats team from the 2015-16 season. The most impressive and heartwarming moment of the game was when junior Ben Abizadeh was announced as championship MVP. and he immediately handed the trophy over to his captain, senior David Orbach. This exemplified the unselfishness and teammate chemistry which was on display all season long and pivotal in the Lions championship run.

Up next for both teams will be the annual Red Sarachek Tournament, where the Lions hold the third seed, with the Cougars directly behind them at number four. Will there be a rematch between these teams in the tournament? Stay tuned for an in depth rundown on the tournament next week!

Ikey Gutlove is the Jewish Link sports intern. Please contact [email protected] if you have interest in contributing to this column by providing stories and updates from any high school athletic teams.

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