PISCATAWAY — A second straight state championship was on the line Sunday night for the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team, but the player who sank the clinching free throws wasn’t even there for last year’s title.
Dzja Chase, a senior who was suspended for the end of last season, stepped to the line with the Vikings leading Linden by four points with 4.8 seconds left in overtime. He looked up and saw his mother, Vanessa Parker, in the stands behind the basket.
“I was about to pop a tear out when I went to the foul line,” Chase said. “I saw my mom, and I was like, ‘Well, now I’ve got to make these.’ Coach (Gene Allen) told me, ‘You make these free throws, that’s the game.’ I just felt it all in my gut, like, ‘I’m really here now.’ ”
Chase calmly drained both free throws, and the celebration was on as the clock ran out on a 60-54 victory for the Vikings in the state Group IV final at Rutgers Athletic Center.
Atlantic City boasts five of the area’s most talented players in its starting lineup. But its bench — led by Chase, junior Tashad Reynolds and freshman Lamar Thomas — has been crucial throughout the playoff run.
With Ga-briel Chandler and Jahleem Montague in foul trouble against Linden, Atlantic City turned to Chase and junior Tashad Reynolds for some key minutes.
Chase and Reynolds each scored only two points, but both played solid defense and helped move the ball on offense so that the Vikings did not miss a beat. Chase had three assists in the fourth quarter.
“Every time I get in the game I just focus on making the right play, doing the right thing, getting my big men the ball and playing excellent defense,” Chase said.
Thomas made three 3-pointers against Southern Regional in the South Jersey quarterfinals and two more against Lenape in the South Jersey final. Chase and Reynolds have provided stability in the backcourt throughout the playoffs.
“Coach pushes us hard in practice, so we’ve got so much confidence for the freshmen coming off the bench, me coming off the bench and (Chase) coming off the bench,” Reynolds said. “And I’m so confident in them, too, and coach is, too, and he just lets us ball, just play.”
Reynolds played junior varsity last season. His cousin, starting forward Dayshawn Reynolds, said the Vikings’ returning players were motivated to win one for the guys who were not part of last year’s team.
“It was basically all about getting them the ring more than myself,” Dayshawn Reynolds said.
Allen, who did not disclose why Chase was kicked off the team last season, said that was a motivating factor for Chase all season.
Chase, though, said he was driven to reward his teammates for accepting him back this season.
“As a team, they never, like, pushed me to the side,” Chase said. “I played for them. And I really got this ring for them. I mean, I’m happy, don’t get me wrong. I’m really happy. But I actually really played for them.”
Allen said he was proud of the way Chase responded to adversity and happy he got a championship of his own. The coach also acknowledged that the second title might not have been possible without his reserves.
“After most games of this magnitude, I go back home and just sit down and think about how critical my bench is,” Allen said.
“So those guys really stepped up and really were able to hold it together.”
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