A quick football note before I get to a wild Tuesday of action on the boys and girls sides as the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting probably just got another hour added to it. Southern senior safety John Binford has committed to Sacred Heart, according to Rams assistant Chuck Donohue Jr., making him the latest Shore Conference product in a Sacred Heart recruiting class that also includes Southern linebacker Steve Sibona, Red Bank Catholic wideout/defensive back Alex Taylor, Point Boro defensive tackle Jeff Keffer and Ocean defensive back Rhett Cowley. Binford also joins Glenn Carson (Penn State); Anthony Stroffolino (UPenn) and Sibona as the fourth player from this past fall’s Southern squad to commit to a Division I-A or I-AA school.
Now, on to a crazy night of boys and girls hoops in which my phone nearly melted from the text messages pouring in from different precincts while I was also sending out some updates from Middletown South’s 66-64 nailbiter against Freehold Township. First off, do we have to keep producing a Top 10 on a weekly basis? Is there any way we can suspend that maybe? It’s becoming the equivalent of eating a lima bean and beet sandwich as far as how much I’m looking forward to it with each passing week.
I’ll start with the Freehold Twp.-Midd. South boys game since it was the one I was at. The Eagles were up by as many as 20 in the third quarter and were getting whatever they wanted in their halfcourt sets, from lobs to Kyle Cancillieri to penetration and dishes by Pat O’Connell to open looks from behind the arc and putbacks. However, handling full-court pressure continues to be a concern, as a lethargic Freehold Township team that was frustrated with missed lay-ups and box-outs suddenly came alive on defense.
The Patriots’ full-court pressure led to some easy buckets and free throw attempts and senior Matt Devine, one of the Shore’s most potent scorers, starting dumping in shots from everywhere and converting at the foul line. Either from behind the arc or rebounding in the lane, Devine led the charge along with Steve Talbott to get the game down to a point. That’s when I figured South’s shaky free throw shooting might come into play, but seniors Will Low and Matt Callori went 6-for-6 in the final 1:30 to seal the win. Freehold Township nearly pulled off an improbable comeback when Talbott intentionally missed a free throw with 2.9 seconds left and the Patriots down by two, and Tyler McKinnon grabbed the loose ball and fired up about a 15-footer, off balance, from the baseline that fell short.
The win gave Middletown South at least a tie for the Class A North public title with a divisional game against Howell still looming and a big nondivisional game with Point Boro coming up on Wednesday night. The match-ups are going to be big for the Eagles in the Shore Conference Tournament because if they can draw a halfcourt-type team rather than a trapping and pressing outfit like Asbury Park or Neptune, they could go very deep in this tournament. With Callori and Cancillieri in the middle to contest shots, it’s tough for teams to post them up and they can seal off the defensive backboards, so it’s really turnovers that opponents use as an equalizer. If the Eagles can limit those, they will be tough to knock off. But as long as those issues against pressure linger, it will be hard for the Eagles’ faithful to feel comfortable. As our All Shore Media Middletown South student correspondent Jim Geant put it after the game, “We always have to make it interesting.”
Freehold Township is like an old TV set where you have to mess with the antenna (remember those?) and it either comes in crystal clear or it’s all blurry. When they really put effort into defending, they come alive because it sets up open looks and fast breaks for Devine and Talbott, and the points come in bunches. When they don’t, everything bogs down and it’s usually one and done on offense. This team is still dangerous because as long as Devine is on the court, it will be able to put up points quickly. Brick Memorial coach Ed Sarluca was in the house at Middletown South on Tuesday night because it looks like the way the seedings will shake out in Central Jersey Group IV that Freehold Township will play Howell for the third time this season in the first round and then the winner will have to travel to Brick Memorial in what appears to be a fairly wide open bracket this season.
While filming and taking notes on the FTwp.-MS game, my phone was rattling often with updates from what turned out to be a crazy 61-60 win by Red Bank over Freehold that denied the Colonials a piece of their first division title since 1995-96 and kept Red Bank’s heartbeat alive in its quest to qualify for the SCT. The Bucs now have to beat Rumson and Middletown North to make it in after being eliminated from the state playoffs with a loss to Shore Regional on Saturday.
I would guess it’s possible that my comment from an earlier blog about Shore wanting it more than Red Bank on Saturday may have gotten printed out and put up on a bulletin board over in Bucs-ville, possibly with my face as a dartboard, and I have to give it up to the Bucs for a great gut-check win. There was no doubting this team’s heart on this night.
A technical foul that was whistled on Freehold coach Ben DiBiase in the final seconds proved to be enormous as Red Bank sank one of two free throws to get within two points and then set up a final 3-pointer by senior guard Eric Raybon, who knocked it down with 2.7 seconds left in regulation for the game-winner. I like how the Bucs just went for the kill rather than the tie and overtime. It’s like at the end of “Happy Gilmore.'” “Happy, hit it around the tower, sink your putt, and we’ll go to sudden death.” “Nah, I’ll just beat him now.”
Christian Garcia played for Freehold but was not at 100 percent on that ankle from everything I heard. The Colonials need to forget about it quickly and get ready for a nondivisional game with Asbury Park on Thursday with big SCT seeding implications. If I’m Asbury Park, I didn’t want to see Freehold lose on Tuesday night because the Blue Bishops want the Colonials to be held in as high esteem as possible so that if they are able to knock them off, it carries a lot of weight. I still think Asbury needs that game way more than Freehold does when it comes to the SCT seeding.
Christian Brothers Academy beat Colts Neck 62-54 in a game it led by 20 points before it went to a zone and the Cougars nailed some late 3-pointers to trim the final margin, but the big story was senior center Pat Light leaving the game with an ankle injury that put him on crutches after the game. Can we make it through a week without a star player in the Shore getting hurt? The Year of the Injury isn’t a story I really want to write. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, and the good news is that CBA won’t be playing a meaningful tournament game until next Friday in the SCT Round of 16, so Light could rest up for that. It does make CBA’s nondivisional game with St. Rose interesting because Purple Roses big man Sean McPaul is a big body inside, but if CBA could play with the five or six 6-7 behemoths on St. Anthony, the Colts will find a way against St. Rose without Light if necessary.
I have to give credit to Marlboro, which could’ve mailed its season in a while ago but has picked up wins over Middletown South and Howell in the last five days after knocking off the Rebels on Tuesday night. Guard Andrew Goldstein has had a nice little run, it’s just too bad that it’s too late for the Mustangs’ postseason hopes. Howell is going to need a win against Brick in its next game because if it loses that game, it means it will have to defeat Middletown South on Friday to clinch its SCT berth in a game the Eagles need to clinch the outright Class A North public title.
Another team that deserves a lot of credit is St. John Vianney under coach Bob Mahala. This team was 1-7 at one point this season, and then when it was building steam, it lost sophomore big man Mike Balkovic, its leading scorer, to a season-ending wrist injury. Still, the Lancers battled through that and clinched a state playoff berth via a win by forfeit against Raritan on Saturday, and on Tuesday, guard Craig Ganter hit a buzzer-beater against Matawan to clinch a berth in the SCT. Ganter and guard Joe Badru have stepped up in Balkovic’s absence and guaranteed that this team will live to play in the postseason.
A potentially good sign for Manasquan came on Tuesday night when one of the Shore’s top scorers, junior guard Matt Vadas, was held to eight points, yet the Warriors pulled out a win over Holmdel thanks to 17 points by senior guard Kyle Wehner. I think a lot of people thought that Squan couldn’t beat a quality team without Vadas having a big game, but they gained the confidence that they can.
Monmouth won its share of the Class B North title and ended Ocean‘s SCT hopes with a lop-sided win, while Long Branch, which has been the definition of under the radar this season, nabbed a berth in the SCT with a 10-point win over Wall. Manchester, which is right there with Long Branch in the shadows, clinched its SCT berth and dashed Toms River South’s hopes by knocking off the Indians.
The main other eye-opening score was Keyport‘s 72-54 win over Point Beach in which several of the Garnet Gulls top players were disciplined and sat for long stretches of the game.
With all of this parity and craziness, one common line has emerged from talking to coaches when it comes to the SCT. They don’t want the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, the No. 8 or No. 9 seed or the No. 16 or No. 17 seed, but they’ll literally take anything else. That’s because those teams will eventually run into CBA, and the feeling is that any other team out there can beat any other team. You might see a coach almost want to be dropped from No. 7 to No. 10 or from No. 16 to No. 18 just to avoid CBA because the feeling is that it’s possible to make a deep run against any of the other teams in the field. You can almost imagine delegates arguing teams are worse than they are. Oh, you guys think that team should be seeded No. 8? No, they’re not that good, put them at 10 or 11.
As for the girls side, they had a pair of surprising scores as well, as Raritan knocked off No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, 37-36, and in the biggest surprise of all, Shore not only beat Red Bank Catholic, but beat the Caseys by 17 points behind an 18-point effort from center Liz West.
Raritan’s victory gives the Rockets a bargaining chip to try to get a top 10 seed, while it really clouds the issue near the top now. Senior Alexa Ryan became the third girls player to cross the 1,500-point milestone for her career in the Shore this season and is now 88 points away from breaking Kelly Robinson’s school record set in 2003 of 1,597 points. The Rockets have developed a nice little rivalry with RFH and have found a way to knock them off in consecutive seasons by winning low-scoring, defensive battles.
Who in the world is the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds right now? Does Rumson still stay at 4? It’s hard for St. Rose to jump them because the Bulldogs beat the Purple Roses. Middletown South could possibly be the No. 4 seed right now because it has a win over RFH, with Rumson at No. 5. That is going to be a long discussion on Sunday at that meeting, that’s for sure. Can Ocean argue to be all the way up there? Southern? It’s going to be a free-for-all.
As for the Shore Regional win, I’m wondering if that’s the first time Shore has ever beaten RBC, or maybe it’s the first time in at least 15 years or so. You just don’t see RFH and RBC lose on the same night too often, that’s for sure.
Howell was on a roll after qualifying for the state playoffs but got picked off by Marlboro and Meghan Reilly in the final seconds of a one-point loss. The Rebels now have to beat RBC on Saturday to qualify, which is an interesting game with the Caseys reeling right now.