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TINTON FALLS - Despite the enormous preseason hype surrounding a team of four freshman starters, the Ranney School boys basketball team exceeded any reasonable expectation during the regular season and Thursday night against Freehold Township in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, the Panthers reached one of their own preseason goals.

Freshman Scottie Lewis scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and the Panthers - the No. 8 seed in the tournament - edged the No. 9 Patriots, 51-48, to win their 20th game and advance to the SCT quarterfinals, both firsts in school history.

Ranney will take on top-seeded Mater Dei Prep for the third time this season at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Brookdale College, which will be the realization of one of first-year coach Tahj Holden's stated goals for the team before the season began - survive as one of the final eight teams in the conference tournament.


Lewis shot 11-for-15 from the free-throw line, including 7-for-9 in the fourth quarter to help Ranney hold off a late charge by Freehold Township, which trailed the hosts by 10 at one point in the fourth quarter. He also helped handle the offensive load while fellow freshman and leading scorer Bryan Antoine sat most of the first half with foul trouble.

"I was thinking step up to the plate," Lewis said. "When you have one of the best scorers in the Shore Conference with two fouls sitting on the bench, the other best player has to step up. Whether it's blocking every shot, getting every rebound, pushing the ball up the floor, making the smart play or hitting free throws, you have to do that to ensure the win for your team."

Antoine picked up two fouls within the first three minutes of the game and did not score in the first half. He responded with 10 points in the second half, including eight in the third quarter, during which Ranney outscored Freehold Township 15-7.

"I played like a minute in the first quarter and then sat down until the third quarter, so I knew I had to help my team out," Antoine said. "To be honest, at first, I just thought I had one foul, but somebdy on the bench told me I had two. At first I was upset, but then after that, you can't think about yourself; you've got to think about the team."

No Freehold Township player scored in double-figures, but five Patriots players scored at least eight points. Seniors Nick Facendo and John Carroll each scored nine points, while juniors Bobby Weise, Ryan Zyskowski and Steve Staklinski each added eight.

Staklinski highlighted a late rally by the Pats by throwing down an alley-oop dunk.

Ranney will be taking a starting lineup of four freshmen - Antoine, Lewis, 6-6 center Chris Autino and 6-2 guard Alex Klatsky - to Brookdale on Sunday to take on the top seed in the tournament. Mater Dei beat Ranney twice during the regular season, once by a 14-point margin in Tinton Falls and again by 12 at home, and those two losses are still the only ones the Panthers have suffered all year.

Although the margin of defeat was similar each time, Ranney's players felt like they made strides in the second meeting - evidenced by the fact that they were within seven points of the Seraphs in the final three minutes after trailing by 25-plus at one point in the first meeting.

"I like this matchup a lot," said Klatsky, who finished with five points Thursday. "It's the third time we're playing them and we're definitely more prepared. We're getting better each week and it's going to be fun. We need to not get 10 fouls in the first quarter, box out play good defense and play smart."

"Mater Dei has beaten us because we're predominantly a second-half team," Lewis said. "They're a team that plays one, two, three and four quarters as hard as they can. For us to win that kind of game, we have to give the same thing from the tip, be as agressive as they are and then exceed their agressiveness and still play smart."