Elijah Gertrude and Hudson Catholic High School (NJ) were preparing for another high-intensity season. Gertrude, a 6-foot-3 senior, was ready to lead his team before taking his talents to the University of Virginia next fall. About a month before his senior campaign, the four-star shooting guard tore his ACL, ultimately ending his season before it started.
“We went from being a top-three team, arguably one of the best teams in the state of New Jersey, to being decimated by injuries,” Hudson Catholic head coach Nicholas Mariniello said.
After losing the 90th-ranked high school player in the nation, injuries continued to plague Mariniello’s roster. Junior Tahaad Pettiford, the fourth-ranked point guard in the Class of 2024, tore his meniscus and will miss significant time. On top of losing the starting backcourt, promising first-year guard Saad Mitchell has also been sidelined with an injury.
“You become very young very quickly,” Mariniello said, discussing the state of his roster.
Despite their inexperience, the Hawks soared in their season opener. Facing Shabazz High School (NJ), Hudson held the Bulldogs to 14 points as sophomore point guard Omari Moore and junior Alex Massung picked up the phone when their names were called.
“They look to me to be the anchor,” Moore said.
The Plainfield, N.J., product currently leads the team in points, rebounds, steals and three pointers made. In his last six games, Moore finished with five 20-point performances.
Hudson Catholic brought a 6-4 record to the birthplace of basketball for the 2023 Spalding Hoophall Classic. Facing the Springfield Central Golden Eagles (MA, 6-2), the Hawks leaned on Moore and Massung in the battle of the birds.
The roar of the hometown Springfield Central crowd exposed the Hawks to the high energy the Hoophall Classic provides, as Hudson Catholic could not find its rhythm early. After eight minutes of action, the Hawks had put up a mere four points on the scoreboard.
“The lights are bright and they’re hot right now. You need to step up,” Mariniello told his team in the huddle. “With exposure you can get exposed.”
After a quarter that saw Hudson Catholic shoot 2-for-10, including 0-for-6 from behind the arc, Massung and Moore proved why they have combined for nearly 70% of the team’s points this season.
“We keep playing together, just trying to pick it up,” said Moore. “Finish better than we started.”
With only one way but to go up, Hudson Catholic’s scoring duo began to get back to its scoring ways. Flying to the rim, Massung penetrated the paint, scoring six of the Hawks’ first eight points. After trailing early, Hudson Catholic tied the game late in the second quarter, leading to a tug-of-war match as the two teams kept the game within two possessions.
Entering the fourth quarter down three, quick scores by the M’s gave the Hawks a late lead with the clock winding down. Leading by three with the ball, Hudson Catholic ran the transition offense looking for the man with the hot hand.
Planted in the corner, Moore took flight and released the ball, finding both the bottom of the net and a whistle that silenced the Springfield Central cheer team. The four-point play gave Hudson Catholic some much-needed breathing room. With help from Massung’s game-sealing free throws, Hudson Catholic walked away with a 43-41 victory, the fewest points they have finished with during a game this season.
“Happy with the outcome, disappointed with the approach,” said Mariniello. “They are [future] Division I players and I expect more from them.”
Mariniello stressed the level of intensity the next level of basketball will bring. Therefore, his critical coaching style is intended in part to prepare his players for their future. After a gritty, low-scoring affair, Moore finished with a team-high 17 points while Massung finished with 14, grabbing five rebounds along the way.
It may not have been the most visually appealing win for Mariniello’s Hawks, but his goal of continuing to get better every day is a long flight that is early in its travels. Omari Moore and Alex Massung double-knotted the shoes of their upperclassmen and became leaders in a brief amount of time. With the majority of their season still ahead of them, Coach Mariniello and the Hawks look ready to continue to fly after overcoming some early turbulence.
Photo: Ty Coney/Springfield Student