There is a ton of stuff to get to after the past couple of days, so I won’t waste any time, and we’ll start with the boys basketball side and wrap it up with the girls side, so scroll down if you want to get right to the girls hoops stuff.
Updated 6:55 p.m.
I took in two games on Saturday, starting with Shore’s 48-39 win over Red Bank in a must-win game for each team to get into the state playoffs. It’s clear that the Blue Devils and coach Doug Shaw used the fact that everyone thought they would fall on their face after moving from Class B Central to the bigger-school Class A Central as a rallying cry this season, so making the state playoffs became a badge of honor for them. I thought they wanted it a little more, while Red Bank sunk under a hail of technicals, missed shots and the ejection of coach Scott Martin to finish a frustrating morning, while Shore senior guard Mike Pillari did his best Steve Nash impersonation while setting up shop at the free throw line in the fourth quarter to bring home the win. I’ve heard from other coaches that they think they never get any calls in Shore’s gym and that the physical Blue Devils turn it into a football game out there, but from what I saw, Shore just plays in-your-face defense and teams just have to match that intensity. In an earlier version of this post, I may have implied that Martin said something to me about the officials, which he did not. I just meant that opposing coaches have been frustrated in that gym, so I could see where Martin was coming from when he expressed his displeasure to the officials during the game, not to me in any way after the game.
It’s a typical Shore team in that the Blue Devils defend you to the death and never give anyone a clean look from the perimeter. They are a little more vulnerable on the glass because sophomore big man Mark Coleman is out for the season with an injury, but they all do their best inside. They also have two athletic big men in Rich Vivian and David Roslin who can face the basket and put the ball on the floor. They are so methodical on offense that they limit the overall number of possessions in the game, which, coupled with their defense, can keep them in the game against anyone. Someone is going to have to work hard to knock this team out of the Central Jersey Group II bracket, and I like the gritty Pillari, who doesn’t really take any bad shots and is a hard-nosed defender.
From there I went to the Neptune-Monsignor Donovan game, where the Scarlet Fliers community honored legendary coach Larry Hennessy, who passed away in Virginia in August. As for the game, Mon Don had it down to seven points in the fourth quarter, but Neptune’s ability off the dribble was just too much in the end. Senior forward Dan Singleton was slashing to the rim with success and, as usual, senior guard D.J. Gutridge was breaking down his defender and getting into the lane off the dribble. It got a little chippy near the end, as Mon Don coach Mike Kearney got hit with a technical for arguing and a Mon Don fan got tossed out of the gym, but the main thing I noticed was how Monsignor Donovan sophomore guard Sean Grennan (19 points) was able to score against some good defenders, including Gutridge, arguably the best on-the-ball defender in the Shore. That’s the kind of thing that colleges want to see, and Monmouth University assistant Chris Kenny, a former star at Christian Brothers Academy and Monmouth U, was in the stands watching the game.
While I knew that Hennessy was a legend who won over 600 games, I learned a lot more about him from Saturday’s event, particularly from the outstanding program put together by 1972 Neptune graduate Bill King. That was no shock, given that King was the public relations director for the Milwaukee Bucks for 22 years, so he knows how to put together key information, but he really did a great job on the research for everything. I had no idea that Hennessy was also an outstanding player in his own right whose jersey still hangs from the rafters at Villanova. Neptune coach Ken O’Donnell, who spearheaded the event and was very close with Hennessy, said he didn’t even really know about all that stuff because Hennessy never talked about his playing days. I included Hennessy’s coaching accomplishments in my story on the event, but here are some more fun facts:
- In the 1952-53 season with Villanova, he finished second in the nation in scoring at 29.2 ppg, just behind Frank Selvy’s 29.5 ppg mark.
- His roommate in college at Villanova was none other than a coach synonymous with Saturday’s opponent, former long-time Monsignor Donovan coach Steve Gepp, who has the gym at Mon Don named after him.
- The Philadelphia Warriors won the NBA title in Hennessy’s rookie season in 1955-56, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in the finals.
- The 58 wins in a row at home for Neptune during nine seasons (1959-60 to 1967-68) are believed to be a state record.
- Hennessy coached one season at Brookdale Community College, and during four seasons at Mater Dei after his first stint at Neptune, his teams went 87-18 and won four division titles.
- This one might be the best one: In 1954, Hennessy was an extra in the film, “Go, Man, Go!” about the Harlem Globetrotters, and it featured legendary actor Sidney Poitier as well as actress Ruby Dee. I’m sure the unintentional comedy is off the charts in that one.
- Neptune has only had four boys basketball head coaches since Hennessy started in the 1957-58 season and has only had eight coaches in since the 1930s. That is insane. They are like the Pittsburgh Steelers of Shore basketball, and Lakewood and Christian Brothers Academy spring to mind as the only ones who can really match that type of longevity out of their coaches.
- The name Scarlet Fliers came from 1929 Neptune graduate James L. Ogle for a team that wore scarlet and flew up and down the court.
- The 1907-08 squad beat Asbury Park 96-0 in one game. I had the over-under at 94 points in that game, so that last bucket killed me.
As for the rest of Saturday’s action, that’s a gutsy win by Monmouth over St. Rose without Neil Thompson, who was suspended for one game for a violation of school policy. Justin Ruiz and Cameron Lee stepped up and had arguably their best games in their careers to bring home the win, and that could go a long way toward this team’s confidence going forward, if those guys can rise to the challenge. They now know that they can beat a quality opponent with a so-so game from Anthony Gibson (10 points) and no Thompson or Joe Willman, which has to help their confidence.
Raritan had a major scare when Vincent Casalaspro had to be helicoptered to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital after hitting his head on the floor against St. John Vianney and suffering a seizure. He stayed overnight after returning to stable condition, so thankfully everything is OK. As for the Lancers, they needed that win to qualify for the state playoffs, so I guess they will either play the rest of a suspended game that they led by 18 points with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, or Raritan will just take a forfeit and move on.
Congrats to Mater Dei and good job by head man Bob Klatt for leading the fight out of a four-game hole and qualifying for the state playoffs with a win over Jackson Memorial. That name that keeps popping up game after game for the Seraphs is senior forward Chris Chamberlin, who has gotten it done scoring and rebounding to help lead the way.
Finally, the Snakebitten Team of the Year Award has already been wrapped up by a one-win Wall squad. So far this season, senior starting guard Tom McDonough was lost for the season with torn ligaments in his thumb after 7 games, freshman sixth man Derek Gardner suffered a season-ending fracture in his thumb after 10 games, senior captain and starting forward Andrew Cecchetti tore his ACL and meniscus on Feb. 2 and is out for the season, and on Thursday, senior captain and starting forward Corey Whitman, who was averaging 14.2 ppg, suffered a severe high ankle sprain and is done for the season as well. Suffice it to say that the first season for new head coach Michael Puorro has been a learning experience in overcoming adversity.
As for the Shore Conference Tournament, which will be seeded on Feb. 15, here are a few quick things. I’m not going to attempt any mock seeds until we see the results from this upcoming week as there are still several big games looming out there that will have implications. I will have a big preview of the tournament next week, but here are some thoughts.
- It’s not so much about seeding as it is about match-ups. Teams will want to avoid the 8-9 seed because that most likely means a date with No. 1 Christian Brothers Academy in the quarterfinals, so if a team like Middletown South is in that area, it would probably want to get dropped to No. 10 rather than get 8 or 9 in order to avoid CBA until the SCT final if it can make it there. There is so much parity that after CBA, I think anybody can beat anybody on a given day.
- The most intriguing team by far is Asbury Park. The Blue Bishops have won 15 in a row, including two last-second wins over Point Beach and a close one against Keyport. They are clamoring for respect, but I think they are going to have to beat Freehold this week to get it. I know the B Central always feels disrespected, but here’s a question – when was the last time a B Central team reached the SCT semifinals? I can’t think of one in the last 10 years or so, unless St. Rose did it with Collin Kamm a few years back, but I don’t think so. One of those teams is going to have to get to that point for people to really take the division seriously, and maybe Asbury Park is that team. With Lamar Young and particularly Jamar Smalls, whom opposing coaches have quietly said should be the Player of the Year in the division for all the different things he does even though Young has better numbers, the Blue Bishops have the firepower. They have shown they can get to the SCT quarterfinals, but they are going to have to win one of those games sooner or later. I have seen them a couple times this season, and this is what they are going to have to prove in the SCT – that they can consistently knock down jumpers from the perimeter. Teams are going to zone them and do everything to seal off the defensive backboards, where the Blue Bishops get the lions’ share of their points.
- I’m interested to see how bad that Marlboro loss hurts Middletown South because it could end up dropping them from maybe 4-5 range to around 7-8, which they want to avoid. Usually good wins are weighted better than bad losses in the SCT seeding meeting, so the Eagles might be able to gloss that one over.
- How much have injuries affected the way certain games and teams will be viewed in the seeding? Monmouth lost to Freehold and Neptune without Joe Willman (who obviously isn’t coming back), Middletown South lost to Rumson without Kyle Cancillieri, and Freehold lost to Middletown South without Christian Garcia. From hearing the coaches discuss these scenarios in the past, I can tell you that there usually is no sympathy there. Injuries are part of the game, so a loss is a loss usually to the delegates.
- How hot is Howell right now? If the Rebels qualify for the SCT after qualifying for the state playoffs, they could give someone trouble because of the way they shoot from downtown. Senior guard Tom Callahan is a 3-point sniper, while several opposing coaches have said that sophomore guard Ryan Keegan is a legit all-around threat and could play for any team in the Shore.
- Did Freehold Township wake up in a recent loss to CBA? The Patriots had been kind of floundering around, but took nemesis CBA to the wire on Friday. Can that give the Patriots the confidence to make a run in the SCT?
Before I get to some girls SCT talk, here are some quick notes.
- I know Colts Neck struggled shooting the ball in a 3-point win over Trenton Catholic in a good nonconference game on Saturday, but it might be a good thing. The Cougars experienced some adversity on the road against a good team and found a way to win, which should only strengthen their resolve going forward.
- While Rumson’s Kate Miller surpassed the 1,500-point scoring mark for her career last week, she isn’t the only Shore Conference senior to do so. Freehold senior forward Shannon Mayrose currently has 1,566 career points and is now just 15 points shy of breaking the school record of 1,580 points set by Liz Scharpf.
- Matawan coach John Kaye must have been reading my mind as he sent me an e-mail to remind me of how well junior Alyssa Johnson has been doing. I know the one-win Huskies have struggled mightily in the merciless Class A Central this season, but in a recent stretch, she had 18 points and 9 rebounds against Shore, 16 points and 18 rebounds against Mater Dei, 17 points and 13 rebounds against Red Bank Catholic and 21 points and 15 rebounds against Manalapan. So even though Matawan is having a rough season, Johnson deserves some credit for a nice year.
- Great job by Howell to lock up a state playoff berth with a win over Manalapan in a year in which standout guard Jacquie Ward went down for the season with a knee injury in the preseason. Junior center Maggie Gilbertson and underrated sophomore Sarah Olson have led the way for the Rebels.
- Keyport also earned its state playoff berth by knocking off Academy Charter. Sophomore Devinn Bright has been a bright spot (no pun intended) for the Red Raiders this season and has put the team on her back in the scoring department to help push them into the postseason.
Now, as the for the Shore Conference Tournament, which will be seeded Feb. 15, the debate continues over that No. 1 seed. Colts Neck just added another bullet to its arsenal with that nonconference win over Trenton Catholic, a team that Neptune will get a crack at this week. That is seriously going to be splitting hairs, but after watching No. 1 St. John Vianney terrorize Rumson 72-45 the other night, it is hard to argue against the Lancers, who now have two wins over RFH this season. I know it might be blasphemy at this point, but SJV freshman Michaela Mabrey might be one of the best players ever at St. John Vianney when it’s all said and done, and I’m including the Gomezes in that conversation.
If SJV is going to shoot like they did against RFH in the SCT, no one is beating them, period. SJV is back to just smashing on teams like Audrey Gomez is running the show, as they have buried old foes like Rumson and RBC like it’s 1989 or something. This team has a swagger, and it is not going to let up on anyone. That RFH game got a little chippy as well as SJV coach Dawn Karpell and RFH coach George Sourlis got into it at one point when Sourlis felt a foul had wrongly been attributed to star Kate Miller. That prompted Karpell’s husband, Jeff, who is the head baseball coach at Shore Regional and a teacher at Rumson, to get up in the stands and bark at Sourlis. It probably was the best part of the whole game as far as I’m concerned.
After halftime, Sourlis and Karpell shook hands and calmly squashed anything in sportsmanlike fashion, but it’s clear that there is no love lost between these teams. I, for one, absolutely love it. As long as the play on the court is clean and hard-n0sed, I love great rivalries. With all of the AAU stuff going on today, everyone on different teams are friends. When I played back in the 1990s, we hated everyone on the other team. Years later I would see those guys and we would laugh about it over a beer, but at the time, we wanted to beat people’s brains in. It’s nice to see that come back again a little bit.
Anyway, as far as the No. 1 seed is concerned, we’ll see how this week shakes out as Neptune has some big nonconference and nondivisional games to help bolster its argument as well. I still most likely see SJV getting that top seed, but you never know. The Class A Central delegate on the SCT seeding committee is Red Bank Catholic coach Joe Montano, who has seen firsthand on multiple occasions how good SJV is this season.
Middletown South is on fire right now after blowing out Freehold, and I wonder if the Eagles’ recent stretch of wins against Rumson and Freehold will help erase a bad loss to Middletown North and a setback against a Southern team that will most likely win or share the Class A South title. Can that get them as high as No. 5 over St. Rose? It could, considering that St. Rose has no wins over any other teams currently ranked in All Shore Media Top 10, although the Purple Roses don’t have any bad losses, either. That could possibly set up a 4-5 rematch between South and RFH in the SCT quarterfinals, which would be a fun game.