Boys Basketball – Point Beach Comes Up Short in Title Defense
TOMS RIVER – Pine Belt Arena and the NJSIAA Group I semifinal between the Central Jersey and South Jersey champions has been the place where dream seasons go to die in each of the previous two seasons. After Point Beach played the role of hunter last year, the Garnet Gulls fell prey to a hungry challenger on Wednesday night.
Pitman held Point Beach to its lowest point total of the season and ousted the defending Group I champion, 47-36, to advance to the Group I final for the first time since the turn of the century.
The Panthers won back-to-back Group championships in 1997 and 1998, which is what Point Beach was trying to do by winning two more games. The Garnet Gulls knocked off a two-loss Paulsboro team in the semifinal last season a year after Asbury Park beat an unbeaten Paulsboro squad at Pine Belt Arena.
Point Beach held Pitman’s top three scorers – 6’8” junior Villanova recruit Tim Delaney, senior Lafayette recruit Eric Stafford and uncommitted senior Darnell Foreman – to a combined 30 points, but senior Tyler Wisniewski burned the Garnet Gulls for 14 points, including 12 in the final 8:02 of the game.
“We have been talking about Point Beach from the first day of the season,” Wisniewski said. “We always talk about the game and the team that’s in front of us, but when we got to practice (Tuesday), we were already ready. They were the defending champs, they were the team everyone thought was going to win it again, and we couldn’t wait to play them.”
While Pitman got a lift from a fourth scoring option, Point Beach’s top three scorers accounted for all 36 of the team’s points, with senior Matt Farrell scoring half of them. The senior point guard, who committed to the University of Notre Dame on Tuesday, capped his accomplished four-year varsity career with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field and 4-for-9 from behind the three-point line.
“They were able to find that fourth scoring option and pretty much all of our offense ran through our main guys,” Point Beach coach Nick Catania said. “That was a big factor in the game and it hadn’t really been an issue during the tournament, but we knew that there were going to be times when other guys were going to have to hit some shots. We got some good looks tonight that are usually high-percentage for us, but they just didn’t go in.”
The rest of Point Beach’s lineup outside of Farrell combined to shoot 4-for-27 (14.8 percent) from the field, a grand total of 11-for-41 (26.8 percent). Farrell’s three two-point baskets were the only shots Point Beach made inside the three-point arc, behind which the Garnet Gulls shot 8-for-24. Excluding Farrell, Point Beach shot 0-for-12 from inside the three-point line.
“They sagged off of us and switched everything, like pretty much every team has done against us lately,” Catania said. “What makes Pitman tough is that when they pack in their defense, they have that size in the middle with Delaney that makes it hard to score inside.”
Despite Point Beach’s offensive woes, the Gulls were within striking distance up until the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter and cut Pitman’s lead to 29-27 with 4:13 left in the game after a three and a drive by Farrell on consecutive possessions. Once again, however, Wisniewski answered with his second of two clutch three-pointers, this one from the right corner off a drive and kick from Foreman that made it 32-27 with 3:34 left.
“I watched four Pitman games on tape and in those four games, (Wisniewski) didn’t hit one three,” Catania said. “Tonight, when the game was on the line, he was the guy who hit the big shot and that’s a tribute to the kid and tribute to the team for having guys who can step up like that.”
Yates came back with two free throws to knock the lead back down to three, but Wisniewski scored on consecutive possessions to stretch the Panthers lead to 36-29 with 2:32 left. Farrell made one last stand on behalf of Point Beach by hitting a 23-foot three-pointer to pull the Gulls within four, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.
Point Beach led Pitman 17-15 at halftime, but the Panthers took over the game with an 8-0 run to begin the third quarter. Two free throws by Dom Uhl late in the quarter pulled Point Beach to within 24-22, but Wisniewski drilled a three just before time expired in the third, sending Pitman to the fourth with a 27-22 lead.
While Pitman moves on to play Bloomfield Tech in Sunday’s Group I final at Rutgers University, Point Beach says goodbye to the last links to its only Group I champion. Farrell, Uhl, Yates and senior center Jeff Bryant all graduate this June and only sophomore Matt Van Nostrand played even a limited role on last year’s championship team. Juniors Chris Schifano and Mike Frauenheim will also be back next season, but Schifano missed most of last year with a torn ACL and Frauenheim was at Immaculata.
“I hate seeing this group go, not because of the success they had, but just the attitude they brought with them to every practice and every game,” Catania said. “As a coach in the Shore Conference, you set out to win your division, the Shore Conference Tournament, a sectional championship and an overall state championship, and these guys covered every base over the last two years. That’s what they’ll be remembered for.”
Wednesday caps the end of a great run for Point Beach and the end of a trying season for Catania. The nine-year head coach nearly lost his life in October when he collapsed and fell into critical condition as the result of a heart arrhythmia. He also battled pneumonia off and on and missed a five-game stretch during the season while dealing with a bad case of the flu.
“I’ve been feeling much better lately,” Catania said. “I’m actually looking forward to next year because I’ll actually have some time to recover. I’m going to take the next two weeks to think about anything but basketball, reacquaint myself with my family and get into a good frame of mind before it’s time to go back to work.”
Uhl, Yates and Farell, meanwhile, will all move on to college athletic careers. Uhl will play basketball at Iowa, Yates football at Yale and Farrell basketball at Notre Dame. Farrell just ended his college search on Tuesday and was hoping to turn his focus to the rest of the high school season. Instead, he will take a break before preparing himself for the rigors of ACC basketball while Point Beach will prepare for life without its all-time assists leader and one of its most accomplished athletes in recent memory.
“Matt needs a break more than anybody,” Catania said. “He’s been going non-stop for pretty much the last two or three years, and I think it’s going to do him some good to get away from it for a while, especially with how hectic things have been this season.
“With the way he is, though, that’s going to be hard for him to do. He’s such a competitor and he’s got such drive and such a passion for the game that he’s going to want to go back to work. That’s what makes him special and that’s what made coaching him such a privilege.”
Pitman 47, Point Beach 36
Point Beach (36): Matt Farrell 7 0-0 18, Noah Yates 3 2-2 11, Jeff Bryant 0 0-0 0, Dom Uhl 1 4-7 7, Chris Schifano 0 0-0 0, Mike Frauenheim 0 0-0 0, Matt Van Nostrand 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 6-9 36
Three-pointers: Farrell 4, Yates 3, Uhl
Pitman (47): Eric Stafford 3 5-6 11, Matt Spicer 1 0-0 3, Tim Delaney 4 2-4 11, Tyler Wisniewski 5 2-2 14, Darnell Foreman 3 2-5 8, Dave Collingsworth 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 11-17 47
Three-pointers: Spicer, Delaney, Wisniewski 2