There were a couple of minutes remaining in Morristown-Beard's game on Saturday night when the Crimson starters took a seat on the bench, with a historic victory secured against Kinnelon in the quarterfinal round of the Morris County Tournament.
It was then that the players noticed a familiar face taking it all in, standing near the door to the lobby at the Randolph High School gym.
The proud onlooker was Eddie Franz, the beloved 27th-year coach of the Crimson, who had to step aside for the remainder of the season two weeks ago after being suddenly diagnosed with a serious illness.
"I looked up and saw him there in his red sweater," junior guard Justin Rodriguez said. "It meant a lot see him. I had to stand up for a few seconds just to take it all in. He means so much to me, and to all of us."
A dream season for Morristown-Beard took an unfathomable turn after Franz, who is also a guidance counselor and very visible administrator at the school, had to unexpectedly step away soon after his Crimson were awarded the top seed in the MCT for the first time.
Morristown-Beard met eighth-seeded Kinnelon in the quarterfinals, and used 15 points from Ryan Russo and 13 points from Justin Rodriguez to beat the Colts, 53-36.
The win sends Morristown-Beard (18-3) into the semifinals for the first time ever. They'll face fourth-seeded Morristown on Saturday night at County College of Morris in Randolph.
Franz's teams had come up short several times in the quarterfinals over the years, and he hoped he could be on hand to see the Crimson finally prevail.
The players made sure they advanced through an inspired effort, something that hasn't been easy given the emotion they've been burdened with ever since they were told the news about their coach's health.
Franz was in contact with school colleague Tim Fell throughout the night, and with the team in front, he drove to Randolph.
He then sat in his car for a while, and when the team blew the game open late in the second half, he entered the building and watched from an inconspicuous spot until his players saw him.
Once the game ended, the players quickly flocked to Franz, with plenty of hugs and a few tears exchanged.
"When I cane to the bench, I saw him walk in," senior guard Brian Monaghan said. "I was so glad that he could look up at the score and see that we were going on in the tournament. I've known him since seventh grade and he'll do anything for anyone. For all he's done for us, this season is for him. Anything we do, we want to make him smile. It's so hard on all of us, but it's also motivation."
"I was hiding," Franz said. "I didn't want it to affect the game. It's hard, but I'm so happy for the guys, because they are such great kids."
Morristown-Beard led 25-20 at the half, behind 12 points from Ryan Russo.
The Crimson then pulled away on the third quarter, with Rodriguez scoring nine as the lead expanded to 42-28.
Morristown-Beard, which scored the final six points of the quarter, then reeled off the first seven of the fourth, capped by a Zach Dees bucket for a 49-28 spread with just under five minutes left.
"We won this for Coach, for ourselves and to make team history," Rodriguez said. "It's been tough, because he's not just our coach, he's everywhere at school. Emotionally it's been rough, but it's also made us push harder and harder."
Monaghan 3-0-0- 6, Dees 4-0-1- 9, Russo 2-2-5- 15, Castillo 4-0-0- 8, Rodriguez 6-0-1- 13, Faccenda 0-0-0- 0, Buemee 0-0-0-0- 0, Martin 1-0-0- 2, Green 0-0-0- 0, Giaquinta 0-0-0- 0.
TOTALS: 20-2-7- 53
Tchikatilov 6-0-0- 12, Stewart 0-1-1- 4, Lewit 0-0-0- 0, Cathcart 4-0-0- 8, Slyfield 0-0-0- 0, Smith 0-0-0- 0, Hatch 3-0-0- 6, Nussbaum 0-0-2- 2, Stickle 1-0-0- 2, Acosta 1-0-0- 2.
TOTALS: 15-1-3- 36
In Saturday's other quarterfinal games at Randolph:
Randolph 52, Mountain Lakes 51:
Senior guard Justin Polesuk, who scored a career-high 20 points, hit a jumper from left of the foul line with 11 seconds remaining ito erase a 51-50 deficit for second-seeded Randolph (15-4).
Seventh-seeded Mountain Lakes (14-6) drove down court and got off a quality shot that rimmed out with four seconds left.
Luke Nathan added 17 points for Randolph. Tate Gillie and Jake Schicke scored 15 apiece for Mountain Lakes.
Morristown 52, Hanover Park 45:
Kevin Hoehn ended with 17 points and Luke Haralampoudis scored 14 for fourth-seeded Morristown (15-5).
Morristown was ahead, 36-34, entering the fourth quarter. Josh Szott, who played his first game of the season on Feb. 4 after recovering from a knee injury and then illness, opened the final period with a 3-pointer from the right wing followed by another basket for seven-point lead with 6:25 to go.
Szott ended with 11 points and Jason Blanco scored 10 for the Colonials. Mike Boeckel scored 17 for fifth-seeded Hanover Park (12-6), which was held to a season-low 45 points for the third time. The Hornets are
0-3 in those games.
Chatham 54, Delbarton 41:
Graham LeMon scored nine of his 13 points when third-seeded Chatham established a 22-14 halftime lead.
Mac Bredahl hit a 3-pointer and Kyle Kology converted a three-point play when the Cougars went on a 15-5 run that pushed the advantage to 37-19 in the third quarter.
Delbarton (13-6), the sixth seed, had beaten Chatham twice during the regular season. The Green Wave prevailed, 64-59, in double overtime on Dec. 16 and 55-39 on Jan. 23.
MORRIS COUNTY TOURNAMENT REMAINING SCHEDULE
Semifinals -- Sat., Feb. 18 at County College of Morris
2-Randolph vs. 3-Chatham, 5 p.m.
1-Morristown-Beard vs. 4-Morristown, 6:45
Sat, Feb. 25, 7 p.m. at County College of Morris