Before I get to all of the basketball stuff, here is some quick football news. Monmouth Regional senior offensive lineman T.J. Acerra has committed to Gettysburg College to continue his career, according to Falcons coach Sal Spampanato. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound lineman was an All-Liberty Division selection by the coaches in the fall.
I also talked with Manchester junior defensive lineman Jimmy Lawson, who will try to defend his state heavyweight title on the wrestling mat in Atlantic City this weekend, about his college choices. Lawson, who is an athletic 5-10 and 280 pounds, said he is receiving interest from Rutgers, Maryland and Duke, and he added that he had fellow wrestling star and Penn State recruit Glenn Carson trying to talk him joining him with the Nittany Lions as well.
Now, on to the hoops, where the state tournament started to get interesting on Wednesday night.
I’ll start with the boys, where the text message came across with three exclamation points, “Holmdel beats Midd. South 49-48!!!” Well, there goes my pick to win the Central Jersey Group III bracket. I thought this was going to be a hard game for the Eagles because if Holmdel shoots the ball well from behind the arc, it is a scary opponent, and guess what happened? Junior guard Erik Shirvanian buries the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left in regulation. Great win for the Hornets, who now move on to face top-seeded Monmouth. While Monmouth certainly won’t be taking Holmdel lightly, the Falcons have got to like the match-up with Holmdel a little better than that of Middletown South, whose two big guys, Kyle Cancillieri and Matt Callori, would have been a bad match-up for Joe Willman-less Monmouth. A player I’ve been touting to anyone who asks about Holmdel, junior point guard Mike Perillo, had a game-high 20 points in the win for the Hornets. Keep an eye on him heading into next season.
Lakewood took care of business against Long Branch and will play Freehold on Thursday in the CJ III quarterfinals. If Freehold wins and Neptune handles Lawrence at home, we will have Neptune-Freehold Part III. If that happens I’ve heard it will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Freehold.
In Central Jersey Group IV, Freehold Township senior Matt Devine had a night he won’t soon forget as he poured in 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, to lead a comeback win over second-seeded Brick Memorial. In the process, he went over 1,000 points for his career, as he needed 31 going into the game. That’s a senior who does not want his season to end. I thought the Patriots could make a nice run in this bracket, and they are aiming to win their first sectional title ever. Getting 1,000 points is a nice accomplishment for Devine, who really didn’t see any minutes until his junior year because he was stuck behind the stacked team that won the SCT in 2007 and only really played in garbage time. As for Brick Memorial, that’s one final bitter pill to swallow as they were up by 10 with three minutes to go and couldn’t hold on, which was a similar scenario in their last-second loss to Keyport in the SCT Round of 16.
I took in Manasquan‘s win over Rumson-FH in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals, and the Warriors just gradually pulled away in the second half as the Bulldogs ran out of gas. As one Shore Conference assistant put it who was watching in the stands, “This is like watching paint dry.” It did get a little slow in the second quarter, and a flurry of 3-pointers and offensive putbacks turned it into a jayvee game in the last few minutes.
Junior guard Matt Vadas dropped in 21 points, and I think he is going to have to shoot a little better for the Warriors to take this thing. He is a high-volume shooter, and when he is on, they can bury teams, but the opposite is also true. I thought Vadas passed the ball well and the Warriors shared the ball well as a whole. Junior forward Neal Sterling is a tantalizing talent, I’ll tell you that. He is so agile inside that once he finishes with regularity, they are going to have a heck of an inside-outside game because junior Zach Rodgers also is very active in the paint. I also think junior guard Adam Cook has played better as the season has gone on and is becoming more of a reliable scoring option for the Warriors. They host Roselle in the semis on Friday, which is a very winnable game for the Warriors, but they are going to have to shoot better than they have in the last two weeks to ensure their trip to the CJ II final. Roselle took out Weequahic, who had been a thorn in Manasquan’s side in the playoffs in recent seasons, so the door is open.
Shore Regional fell to Middlesex on the other side of the bracket, but I still would like to say congrats to the Blue Devils on a solid season. Many thought that when they went up from the small-school B Central to Class A Central that they would be overwhelmed, but they held their own.
Ocean County still has four teams standing, as Lacey beat Highland to earn a trip to Deptford in South Jersey Group III, Point Beach plays its first state playoff game on Thursday when it welcomes Bound Brook in CJ I, Lakewood now faces Freehold in CJ III and Point Boro faces Princeton at The Pit in CJ III.
Not a bad little run for Class A Central early in the playoffs, as Manasquan, St. John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic, and Holmdel are all still alive. Rumson also lost to division rival Manasquan after winning a state playoff game, and Shore Regional won a game on the road before bowing out on Wednesday night.
As for the girls side, the story for me thus far is Brick Memorial. They rolled over Jackson Memorial by 18 points on Wednesday night to advance to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, believed to be their first trip to the sectional semifinals ever (or at least in a loooong time). Kathryn Lamastra has played well for a team that was up and down in the regular season but has won two road games in the playoffs. Head coach Rayna Post continues to take this team to new heights after leading them to the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time ever last season.
While Raritan has won two road games and is now one win at home away from reaching the Central Jersey Group II final, I can’t really say I’m shocked. The Rockets play in the hardest division in the state so they’re not scared of anyone, and CJ II has not exactly been that great in the past few years with the exception of nine-time defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven. The Greater Middlesex Conference is not producing any Group II teams that the Shore has had to be worried about. With a win over Cranford on Friday, the Rockets will most likely square off with nemesis Rumson for the third time this season and for the second time in a row in the CJ II final. Senior guard Loreta Tonuzi has really picked up her game in the state playoffs and had 21 points in a 20-point win over second-seeded Spotswood on Wednesday night.
Everything else has been pretty much expected, and on Thursday a game to watch is Freehold at Ocean in CJ III. The Spartans beat the Colonials twice this season in Class B North and this has developed into a nice little rivalry. Keansburg also welcomes one of its rivals, Keyport, in CJ I to try and pick up a rare state playoff win and start its run to what it hopes will be a sectional title.
With teams’ seasons ending right and left, the All-Shore discussion has also heated up, and here is my two cents. First off, congrats to the Kerwin Award winners, Rumson’s Kate Miller and Monmouth’s Joe Willman, although I have to say I don’t agree with the choices. However, the Kerwin family has the right to give the award to whatever player they want. With the girls side, Miller might look like the choice by the end of the state tournament, but right now I would put a few others ahead of her as far as this season is concerned. Neptune’s Shakena Richardson and St. John Vianney’s Katelyn Linney deserve consideration above her right now, but Miller and the Bulldogs could have a state playoff run that puts her right back at the top of the discussion. We’ll see.
As for Willman, that argument has come up numerous times as to what to do with him this season.
Here’s my take: I think Willman is a tremendous player and a great kid, but he is not making any of my All-Shore teams. To me, he should either be on first team or no team because his talent level is obviously first team. However, he didn’t even play in half of his team’s games. When you don’t even make it close to playing in at least your team’s full divisional schedule, I’m sorry, that’s the way it goes. A head coach I spoke with recently also raised an interesting point. What if instead of an injury, a player was declared academically ineligible after 10 or 12 games in which he was tearing it up? Would anyone consider him then, or would they write him off because it was his fault and not an injury? It’s an interesting question. Another coach suggested I put Willman as a sixth player on first team, which I can understand to a degree but I see that as kind of waffling. Everyone knows Willman is a great player, that’s not in question, but the bottom line is that playing in 12 of your team’s 26 (and counting) games just isn’t enough. While I will certainly make mention of Willman in my end-of-season wrap-up, he will not be on any of the teams, so you might as well send the hate mail now.
As for the rest of the front-runners, CBA’s Pat Light and Brian Neller both have to be considered first-teamers right now. Senior guard D.J. Gutridge has been Neptune’s best player, and we’ll see how far the Scarlet Fliers go in the state playoffs. I thought Middletown South’s Kyle Cancillieri was coming on really strong, especially after that 31-point, 17-rebound job against Freehold in the SCT, but a one-and-done showing in the state playoffs won’t help.
That also comes into play with Central’s Ibn Moye and Monsignor Donovan’s Sean Grennan, whose teams both lost in their first SCT and state playoff games, although Moye had 36 in his team’s double-OT loss to Lower Cape May on Wednesday night. This is going to be one of those years where a big part of the argument is between individually talented players who put up good numbers and teams who had great seasons and think they deserve a first-teamer because of their team success. Moye and Grennan are both legit and their numbers are impressive, so it makes it tough.
Monmouth’s Anthony Gibson and Neil Thompson still have a chance to make a run at a spot, and Manasquan’s Matt Vadas also has to be heavily considered. Freehold Township’s Matt Devine is making a late push as he pumped in 42 on Brick Memorial on Wednesday night and now has 69 points in two state playoff games. The other team that I think should have a candidate is Freehold, although sometimes it’s hard to determine just who their best player is between junior point guard Lance McKenzie, senior swingman Andrew Gerbehy and junior forward Christian Garcia. Talking to opposing coaches, the name that comes up the most is McKenzie.
So in other words, right now, in my mind, it’s Neller and Light and three open spots, with Light carrying the slight edge over his teammate in the Player of the Year race. It helps Vadas, the Monmouth guards, Gutridge, Devine and McKenzie that they are all still playing and can add to their resumes. Point Boro’s Pat Hart also still has a chance to make a late impression, although I wouldn’t put him in that other group right now. St. Rose center Sean McPaul is also a fringe candidate who has a chance to make a final argument. Point Beach’s Jarelle Reischel is a true talent, but his team has faltered after a great start, although CJ I is out there for the Garnet Gulls to make a run at.
On the girls side, Neptune sophomore Shakena Richardson is the front-runner for Player of the Year in my mind. She is a first-teamer, and as for the rest of the first team, I would think you would have to look at St. John Vianney senior Katelyn Linney and Colts Neck junior guard Lauren Clarke. SJV freshman Michaela Mabrey also could have a big state tournament and get a spot because I don’t care what grade someone is in. Their season is their season.
People seem to think of Neptune senior Marley Mauvais as a second-teamer or something, but I don’t think she gets enough credit. I think she strongly deserves consideration for first team. She had a 17-point, 15-rebound game in the SCT final against the No. 1 team in the state and has been solid all season while being called upon to get seemingly every rebound in every game for her team. I would lean toward putting her on the first team right now.
Shannon Mayrose has some big numbers for Freehold, so once again, that might be an argument of a top individual player vs. a team that has huge success, wins a state title and deserves someone considered for first team. Miller is certainly right in the hunt, but her performance in Rumson’s big games puts her a notch below those others, although I guess you could knock Clarke for that to a degree as well considering she had 7 points in a loss to St. Rose in the SCT quarterfinals. I still think there is a lot of state tournament to play and Clarke or Brooke Hampton will make her case.
St. Rose is an interesting team because they relied a lot on freshman center Samantha Clark during the regular season but junior guard Alexx Hall turned it on in the SCT. If this team can win Non-Public B and one of those two plays great the whole way, there is no reason why one of them might not get first team.
Another player who is right in the first-team discussion is Middletown South Danielle Pankey. She has put up big numbers against just about everyone. Granted, she takes a lot of shots, but the results have been solid, and opposing players have a lot of respect for her.
Dark horse candidates include Raritan’s Alexa Ryan, Manchester’s Camille Valmon and Southern’s Kristen Sharkey, who all have good numbers. The Shore Conference is just so stacked that some good players are going to be on second and third team, so draft your angry e-mails now and have them ready because there is no way to honor everyone with a first-team selection.