The Cafe Edges Upper Makefield To Win 2nd Straight Hoops Crown
When The Café cruised to a 12-point win over Upper Makefield in Game One of the championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department men's summer basketball league, it appeared the title might be in the bag.
After all, the 53-41 win improved The Café, the league's defending champion and the second seeded team in the tournament, to 11-2 while eighth-seeded upstart Upper Makefield dropped to 6-8.
But form didn't hold. In Game Two of the series last Wednesday, the gritty Upper Makefield built a 35-23 lead at halftime before the game was halted by rain and scheduled to resume two nights later.
Hitting the court at Community Park under cool conditions last Friday evening to pick up where things left off, Upper Makefield stayed hot as it rode a 26-point performance by Jeff Stewart to hold off The Café to win 61-52 and force a decisive Game Three.
With a break of a few minutes, the teams resumed hostilities to decide the title in Game Three of the series. Playing with a renewed intensity, The Café built a 24-18 cushion at halftime.
Sparked by the hot hand of Chris Hatchell, The Café increased its advantage to 36-24 with nine minutes remaining. Unwilling to go away, Upper Makefield, paced by Stewart, narrowed the margin to 38-37 with just over three minutes remaining.
Three free throws by The Café's Shahid Abdul-Karim gave it a 41-37 lead with seconds remaining. But Stewart fired in a long three-pointer from the corner to bring Upper Makefield to within 41-40 with less than 10 seconds left. The Café was able to inbound the ball and finally vanquish the gallant Upper Makefield squad.
In the aftermath of the champagne-soaked celebration, Hatchell acknowledged that The Café had taken Upper Makefield lightly.
"I think we overlooked them because they are a little bit younger than us," admitted Hatchell, who won the Foreal Wooten award as the playoff MVP for the second year in a row. "They played hard. Both of their big men (Stewart and Fred Pope) choked us on the inside."
With a title on the line, The Café turned up its defensive effort. "We just played tough man-to-man defense full court the whole game," said Hatchell, who had 10 points to lead The Café along with Asmar Fortney. "You can't take anything away from them, they played us tough."
When assessing what has set The Café apart over the last two summers, Hatchell maintained that it comes down to the bond between him, Fortney, Abdul-Karim, and Marshawn Ferguson.
"Me, Marshawn, Asmar, and Shahid played together at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and we've been playing with each other since 1998," explained Hatchell with a smile.
"So you've got four guys that pretty much know each other from college ball to now. We come out and play hard, I'd put us four up against anybody."
With Hatchell reluctant to commit to playing for The Café in 2005 since his schedule is tight after opening a clothing store this summer in Nottingham, the glow of the title win had him thinking about a three-peat.
"I'm just happy we pulled it off for two times to become the first team to do that since 1999," added Hatchell, who averaged 17.7 points a game this summer to lead The Cafe. "You never know, we may try to pull it off again."
If The Café
can keep Hatchell and his MCCC buddies together, they could be hoisting
another trophy come next summer.