The Union Catholic boys’ basketball team did it again.
For the second straight year the Vikings got on the bus, ventured west and ended the home team’s season.
In a first round Non-Public, North A game in Sparta Tuesday night, 13th-seeded Union Catholic came back in the fourth quarter to defeat 4th-seeded Pope John 56-54. The Vikings outscored the Lions 20-17 in the final eight minutes.
Last year in the same round, 12th-seeded Union Catholic went to Morristown and also came back in the fourth quarter to stun 5th-seeded Delbarton 67-64. The Vikings outscored the Green Wave 18-14 in the final eight minutes.
“The kids are relishing the role of going on the road and winning a game or two in the state tournament,” ninth-year UC head coach Jim Reagan Jr. said Wednesday.
Union Catholic improved to 12-12. Since a 4-8 start, the Vikings are 8-4 in their last 12 games. Pope John finished at 15-7.
“Only eight of our 24 games have been played at home, which really helped us prepare for the atmosphere at Pope John,” said Reagan, whose team went 8-6 to finish fifth in the eight-team Mountain Division standings of the Union County Conference.
Senior guards Brian Flores and Jamaad Nash and sophomore backcourt player Damon Lynn combined for 50 of Union Catholic’s 54 points, with Flores pouring in 19, Nash 17, and Lynn 14. Also scoring two points each for the Vikings were Brandon Vargo, Brandon Reed and Kevin Polt.
The Lions were led offensively by Glen Gavan’s 15 points.
Union Catholic came back from a 50-43 deficit with three and a half minutes remaining to advance.
Lynn and Nash connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to pull the Vikings to within 50-49. Lynn then hit two free throws to give the Vikings a brief 51-50 advantage. Pope John tied the game at 51-51 by making one of two free throws.
Union Catholic then took the lead for good after Lynn had dribble penetration to the basket and was fouled. He made the first free throw to put the Vikings up 52-51 but missed the second.
However, Nash was there to grab the offensive rebound and put the ball back in as he got fouled. He made the ensuing free throw for a conventional 3-point play that gave Union Catholic a 55-51 lead.
Gavan then connected on a 3-pointer to pull Pope John to within 55-54. After Gavan’s long-range basket, Union Catholic got the ball with 56 seconds to go.
“Lynn dribbled through them and around them for 40 seconds and then passed to Nash, who got fouled,” Reagan said.
Nash made one of two free throws to make the score 56-54.
“Then they came down and the ball went out of bounds, but was still in their possession with 3.8 seconds left,” Reagan said. “They tried a desperation 3-point shot at the buzzer that was an air ball.”
Union Catholic will next play at 5th-seeded Queen of Peace Thursday at 4 p.m. in a quarterfinal clash in North Arlington. Queen of Peace (15-7) also came back in the fourth quarter of its first round game Tuesday to edge 12th-seeded St. Joseph’s of Montvale 56-55. Queen of Peace won the fourth quarter 17-10.
NOTES: When Flores - a three-year varsity starter for Reagan - scored a game-high 24 points in Union Catholic’s 70-45 loss to Roselle Catholic Feb. 16 in a first round Union County Tournament game at Rahway, he reached the coveted 1,000 point mark for his career.
Flores was the first Union Catholic boys’ player to achieve that milestone since Jamie Dec in 1993. Dec did so when the Vikings were coached by Bill Berger and a member of the Watchung Conference. Dec finished with 1,015 points, which is a total Flores has since passed.
Union Catholic lost at Paramus Catholic in the quarterfinals last year to finish 13-11.
NON-PUBLIC, NORTH A
1-Seton Hall Prep
2-Don Bosco Prep
3-St. Peter’s Prep
5-Queen of Peace
12-St. Joseph’s, Montvale
Tuesday, March 1
Paramus Catholic 59, Bergen Catholic 40 – at Paramus Catholic
Queen of Peace 56, St. Joseph’s, Montvale 55 – at Queen of Peace
Union Catholic 56, Pope John 54 – at Pope John
St. Peter’s Prep 84, Pingry 46 – at St. Peter’s Prep
Delbarton 65, DePaul 60 – at Delbarton
Roselle Catholic 76, Immaculata 66 – at Roselle Catholic
Thursday, March 3
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
8-Paramus Catholic at 1-Seton Hall Prep, 7 p.m.
13-Union Catholic at 5-Queen of Peace, 4 p.m.
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
7-Roselle Catholic at 2-Don Bosco Prep, TBA
6-Delbarton at 3-St. Peter’s Prep, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 5
At the higher seeds.
Wednesday, March 9
At Rutgers, 6 p.m.