Neptune Girls Romp into Group III Final/Four Games on Thursday

I took in the Manasquan-Camden boys game on Wednesday night and I think even if Manasquan would’ve went to a zone earlier, Camden would have been too much because they had the speed advantage at every position and everyone on the floor was a threat to score. Manasquan would’ve had to have shot 55 percent or better from the floor to have kept that game close. Still, even after an 80-64 loss, the future looks bright for a team that returns almost everyone next year.

The Camden fans are never dull, that’s for sure. They complained about the extra police presence before the game, which, given the history of some incidents at their games, was no surprise and then after a few foul calls I heard one guy say emphatically, “One more of those calls and you’re gonna need all of those cops!” Then came the guy in the “Public Enemy” jacket who was emphatically yelling that we better give Camden the write-up it deserves or else. Ah, playoff basketball. Catch the fever.

Aaron Walton-Moss is a tremendous point guard who makes everything look effortless for Camden. He has the ball on a string and his jumper is smooth off the dribble. He also didn’t take many bad shots at all. I still would’ve been curious to see how Camden would have done had Manasquan opened the game in a 2-3 zone and forced them to knock down some jumpers. The Warriors elected to run with the Panthers, which usually isn’t a good idea unless a team has the personnel to match that style (i.e., Neptune), and the Warriors missed some shots early in the second half, couldn’t get any stops defensively, and the game got away from them. Still, great season for Manasquan and maybe only the beginning of great things under coach Andrew Bilodeau. I told him they looked like a top five team in the Shore next year and he could only laugh about me already putting the pressure on them for next season.

The Neptune girls continue to smash their way toward the Tournament of Champions as they rolled Ocean City, 70-53, in the Group III semifinals to avenge a loss to Ocean City in that game from last year. Sophomore Shakena Richardson all but has the Player of the Year award locked up as she had 26 points and buried six 3-pointers in the game. By the time it’s all said and done, she could be on her way to Shore Conference legend status if she plays like this on a regular basis.

Next up is Shabazz on Sunday at the Ritacco Center in the Group III final, and having seen Shabazz, the defending Tournament of Champions winner, I would definitely call it an upset if Neptune loses to them. Shabazz is well-coached and has good speed, but its talent level is not that of Neptune. The Scarlet Fliers are now 30-0, and they fear no one. Shabazz matches up with them pretty well, but I think that Neptune can capitalize more off turnovers than Shabazz can. It’s almost a shame that only one of these teams can go to the TOC because this could potentially have been the TOC final had they not been in the same bracket.

As for Thursday, there is the Group II-Group IV girls semifinal doubleheader at Southern featuring Rumson vs. Haddon Township (Group II) and Colts Neck vs. Washington Township (Group IV). On the boys side, Neptune heads down to face Kingsway at Winslow Township, which I believe is only a few miles from the equator, in a Group III semifinal and then Asbury Park heads west to face Woodbury at Robbinsville in a Group I semifinal.

Haddon Township is a low-scoring, defensive team, which are always the teams that Rumson seems to squash in these Group semifinal games. This game has 42-28 written all over it. Senior center Maddie McComb is Haddon Township’s leading scorer at just under 12 points per game, and Haddon Twp. has scored 36 and 38 points, respectively, in its last two playoff games. Trying to beat Rumson in a low-scoring, defensive battle is a tough road to go, so expect to see the Bulldogs back in their customary place in the Group II final on Sunday at the Ritacco Center.

Colts Neck should be joining them as the Cougars are on a mission to win their first Group title in school history. Washington Township just got by Southern, and has some decent size on a team that features 5-8 twins Dana and Shawna Wert and 5-9 junior Ashley Giedemann. I still think Colts Neck’s guards and its ability to turn over the Minutemaids in the backcourt will be the difference in this one, but the Cougars have to shoot the ball well and more than anything, keep Washington Twp. off the offensive glass. If they can push this score into the mid-60s or higher, I think Colts Neck will be fine. The door is also open as Group IV favorite Piscataway was stunned by Columbia and is out of the tournament, so Colts Neck has a shot to reach the TOC as well.

On the boys side, Asbury Park is the underdog against a very good Woodbury team. They are a senior-laden, veteran team that has a deep group of guards, led by senior Mark DiRugeris, who averages 21 points per game. They beat an always tough Salem team, which was the defending sectional champ, by 15 in the South Jersey final. Woodbury, by the way, is coming off its first sectional title since 1934 (!), when I believe New Jersey was divided into two sections – this way and that way.

It will be on Asbury’s guards to force some turnovers and the Blue Bishops will have to do what they always do – pound the offensive glass with Lamar Young leading the way. They have to attack the basket – no settling for jumpers. I would still put Woodbury as the favorite to take this one.

As for Neptune, the Scarlet Fliers should go down and get this one against Kingsway. Kingsway has a bunch of seniors, but it is still more of a Cinderella squad. Plus, Neptune matches up well because Kingsway is a guard-oriented team that also has four senior guards in Tom Dickson, Jared Flynn, Steve Pickford and Ryan Juhring. Sophomore Rondell Gilmore has also had a solid tournament and had 19 points in the sectional final.

Senior Dan Singleton has had a strong tournament so far for Neptune and could have a field day in this one on the offensive glass and scoring off dishes. Kingsway is athletic, but it may resort to a zone like every other team that has tried to beat Neptune in the playoffs, so it’s nothing the Fliers won’t be prepared for. It’s also hard to simulate D.J. Gutridge’s speed until you see it in person, so even the film won’t get them ready for his explosive first step.

I think this is one of those games where Neptune just makes the other team adjust to them. Kingsway either deals with the full-court pressure and the relentless transition or they don’t. As long as Neptune keeps the mindset of attacking the basket instead of shooting jumpers, it will be fine. Also, the more minutes for freshman guard Ike Calderon, the better. When he is on the floor, good things happen.

So with that, we could see a Neptune-Shabazz Group III final on the boys and girls sides, which seems like it could be a logistical nightmare on Sunday, but a problem that a lot of schools would like to have.

One final girls note – I’m hearing that Keansburg’s Faith Flannery is now headed to Ramapo rather than Centenary, and she will join good friend Alexa Ryan of Raritan along with Marlboro’s Meghan Reilly. It’s the all-Irish recruiting class.


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