Underdog Majeski Wins Summer Hoops Title Series As Clutch Play from Larranaga Makes the Difference
STRONG FOUNDATION: Majeski Foundation’s Jason Larranaga looks to make a pass in a June game in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. Last Friday, Larranaga scored a game-high 16 points to help ninth-seeded Majeski defeat third-seeded Athlete Engineering Institute 45-43 in overtime at the Community Park courts in game three of the league’s best-of-three championship series. Larranaga was named as the Foreal Wooten Playoff MVP. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
With the Majeski Foundation trailing Athlete Engineering Institute 22-10 late in the first half last Friday night at the Community Park courts in the finale of best-of-three championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League, it was on the ropes.
But displaying the resilience that fueled ninth-seeded Majeski’s unlikely run to the finals, it started to fight back, narrowing the gap to 26-18 at halftime and pulling ahead 29-28 five minutes into the second half.
“We started to make a little progress at the end of the first half,” said Majeski star and team manager Jason Larranaga. “We came in at halftime and kept emphasizing the same things. We have got to get through this. When we started to make our run, we started believing in ourselves a little more. It was all about keep it going and upping the intensity more and more.”
The fierce battle got more intense as the second half unfolded with the foes were knotted at 43-43 at the end of regulation.
The Majeski squad, which is comprised of players from The College of New Jersey’s men’s hoops team, felt it had momentum heading into overtime.
“By the end, we had the second wind and the pressure was on them,” said Larranaga of the squad which had fought off pressure to get to game three, dropping the opener of the title series 50-41 on August 1 before topping AEI 45-36 last Wednesday in game two to stay alive in the series.
“We came out energized and ready to go. They are a good team for sure, they play really hard. Those guys are strong too, they are grown men.”
Both squads played hard defense in the extra session with the score remaining at 43-43 until Larranaga got loose on the baseline and dropped in a lay-up which proved to be the margin of victory in a 45-43 triumph.
“I got a nice screen from Jackson [Rind] and I saw a guy leaning so I was able to get to the baseline and nobody helped over so I was able to finish,” said Larranaga, recalling the winning bucket. “It was all my guys on the perimeter all around so if I had to jump start and kick it out, I knew I had somebody to shoot it. They couldn’t come off my guys and I was able to get an open layup.”
The Majeski guys employed an underdog
mentality as they went 3-6 in regular season action and then caught fire in the playoffs to win their first summer league title since 2016.
“We wanted to come out this summer and make constant improvement,” said Larranaga of the squad which ended up with a final record of 8-7 and became the first ninth seed to win the summer hoops title. “We didn’t have the greatest regular season, we made a lot of strides. We just wanted to keep getting better so we kept emphasizing team defense, playing hard, moving the ball on offense, and playing as a unit. Things started to click a little better.”
Things clicked for Larranaga down the stretch last Friday as he ended up with 16 points on the night, scoring 11 points in the second half and overtime, getting named as the Foreal Wooten Playoff MVP. Naysean Burch also had a big game for Majeski, contributing 13 points and two rebounds with Jose Estevez tallying seven points and Rind chipping in four points, five rebounds, and one assist.
“I was dealing with some back stiffness in the first half,” said Larranaga, a 6’5, 190-pound guard from Montclair, who averaged
9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds a game for TCNJ last winter. “It loosened up for me in the second half, that was nice. The guys just kept pushing each other, staying positive.”
Getting the summer league title was a big positive for the Majeski players.
“We had a chip on our shoulder after the last New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) season in the
winter (when TCNJ went
10-14 overall, 6-12 NJAC) and last summer too,” said Larranaga, noting that Majeski fell to LoyalTees in the 2021 summer league championship series. “We wanted to come out and win this and prove to ourselves that we could do it and just prove that we can improve consistently. I think we did that.”
In Larranaga’s view, coming through in the championship series should
result in improvement this winter.
“We tried to make it so everybody could get some run this summer and we could really try to build some chemistry and improve together,” said Larranaga. “We also tried to come out and have a lot of fun together. I love playing with these guys. We are hoping to carry it over into the school year.”