Another beach secret may be getting hard to keep, as Jim Walsh's 12 and 13 year old Gateway Bombers continue to make noise. Back in December, Walsh began to quietly assemble this group of local talent, adding just the right touch of outside personnel to make the team a force to be reckoned with. Gathering the strongest players from the area Walsh selected St. Francis standouts Dan Corrigan, Brendan Jones, Brendan Fitzgerald, Shane Gauvard and Tom French; St. Thomas More's talented Daniel Klein; St. Rose stars Omar Walker and Quevan Anderson; and St. Camillus's headliner Ryan Roberts. Reaching into Brooklyn the Bombers picked up marquee players in Kevin Riley and Ricky Palmer to round out the squad.
Scrounging for gym time Walsh was forced to deal with all the problems typically encountered when dealing with what was at first just a CYO all-star team. The boys soon learned that, unlike most of their CYO teams, they were now involved with players of similar abilities, who could all run, catch and shoot. Couple this with learning Walsh's hi-tech system and run and gun philosophy (did somebody say Loyola Marymount?) and there was a lot of ground to be covered. For months they dealt with torturous two hour workouts and a high-energy coach who demanded perfection, dedication and hard work. Rewards however were soon to start coming, as the boys became comfortable with both each other and the new system.
While certain elements of the team played in various local events, the formal group didn't get its first real test until early April when they traveled north to Rhode Island for the Converse Jam (a.k.a Scam)Fest.
The Bombers opened up with an impressive victory over the New Hampshire Falcons 71-53. Advancing to the quarterfinals, the boys lost a heartbreaker to the well-established South Jamaica NY Rise Panthers 51-50, when a Bomber five footer hit iron at the buzzer. They finished the tournament, playing their third game in one day, by besting another well established area A.A.U. program, the Long Island Lightening, 45-41. The trip was far from a disappointment as the boys arrived back home knowing they could compete with the A.A.U. elite.
Next on tap was the Metropolitan Regionals, hosted by the Bronx Gauchos. Once again the Bombers showed they belonged, posting wins over the Bayside Rising Stars and the Long Island Running Rebels, while qualifying to compete in the A.A.U National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee. Faced with some hard decisions Walsh decided to pass on the national tournament this time around, opting instead to enter the group in some local tournaments and allow their game to be refined. As team confidence grew, the boys began to turn the corner. If June has been any indication, Walsh's decision to polish and hone their skills before joining the national fray, may have been a stroke of genius.
Last week the Bombers traveled to the Hudson Valley Joust, making it to the finals before losing, while missing several players due to graduations, baseball and all the other summer events that get in the way of basketball from time to time. Again, the Bombers continued to grow, as players continued to improve and find their individual roles on the team. The road however had been paved for their first taste of success.
Father's Day weekend found the Bombers competing in the Garden State Sharpshooters Showdown in Montclair, New Jersey. In the opening round, two games on Saturday, the Bombers let the artillery fall. Playing shorthanded again, with Corrigan and Riley unavailable due to prior commitments, and Gauvard on injured reserve with a broken finger, the Red Wave leveled the Tri-State Dragons 60-26 and Rosell Rebels 58-37. Both games were consummate team victories, with balanced scoring and great defense. In the first game Klein had 10, Anderson 9, Walker 5, Fitzgerald 11, Jones 3, French 8 and Roberts 14. In the second, Klein had 6, Anderson 10, Walker 5, Jones 4, French 2, Roberts 19, and Palmer 12. They had qualified for the championship round.
Father's Day was just as sweet, with a semi-final blowout victory over the Jersey City Boys & Girls Club 65-35. Sunday's roster had Corrigan rejoin the fold, while Anderson and Riley were not available. Klein had 3 points, Palmer 7, Roberts 16, Corrigan 16, Walker 6, Fitzgerald 6, Jones 4, and French 7. The Championship Game had the Bombers pitted against the talented Mid Hudson Warriors, which boasts a legitimate 6-4 middleman, and superb overall talent. In a game where four points was the largest lead until the final 30 seconds, the Bombers posted an impressive 58-52 victory to capture their first tournament championship. Klein had 5 points, Roberts 8, Corrigan 26, Walker 2, Jones 15 and French 2. But, more than most games, the scoring line tells only a part of the story. While Brendan Jones was stellar at the point and Corrigan paced the scoring, defense rebounding, and fast break lay-ups, borne out of unselfishness, were the real stories. Tom French gave a phenomenal effort as he and Brendan Fitzgerald, and Ricky Palmer took turns with Corrigan and Roberts, keeping the 6-4 postman off the glass. With the big guy's playing him front and back and the quick hands of Jones, Klein and Walker giving him fits when he brought it down, the Bombers managed to turn a 1 point halftime deficit into a 6 point victory. In particular though, Corrigan (7-10 overall & 4-4 in second half) and Jones' (6-8 overall & 4-4 in second half) clutch free throw shooting at the end secured the victory.
Congratulations Bombers, and sorry, but the secret is out!