Boys Basketball – RBC Off to Eye-Opening 2-0 Start After WOBM Win
TOMS RIVER - If at any point during the offseason or preseason first-year Red Bank Catholic head boys basketball coach Tyler Schmelz needed to convince his players to buy in and be ready from day one of the 2016-17, all he had to do was turn the calendar back one year.
Despite an experienced lineup with a track record of success, Red Bank Catholic endured an eight-game losing streak that dropped the Caseys to 2-8 and effectively sank their 2015-16 season.
This year's RBC group is convinced this year's 2-0 start is different than last year's and it's hard to argue with the results. After knocking off Middletown North - the No. 4 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - on opening night, the Caseys overwhelmed Manchester in the fourth quarter Sunday en route to a 63-45 win in the opening round of the WOBM Christmas Classic.
The win over Manchester earns RBC consecutive games against another team ranked in the preseason top five. The Caseys will play at No. 5 Manasquan in a Class B North division game on Tuesday and one week later will play the second-seeded Warriors in the WOBM quarterfinals at Pine Belt Area in Toms River.
"We're having fun," Schmelz said. "I really like the group of kids we have. They're all really good kids and we're practicing hard. That's what's going on right now."
Senior Terrence Calandrillo and junior Matt Ansell are the two returning starters from last year's team and both have been instrumental in the two wins to open the season. Both scored a game-high 18 points on Sunday and Calandrillo poured in a team-high 16 on Friday in the win over Middletown North. Ansell scored 13 in the opener, including a pair of free throws in the final seconds after Middletown North had cut a double-digit RBC lead to one in the final minute.
"We're just working really hard on defense right now," Ansell said. "We grind every practice. There's a lot of competition in practice, which is what's really stuck out so far."
On Friday, Red Bank Catholic raced out to a 25-8 lead by the tail end of the second quarter and held off a furious rally by the Lions. Sunday, RBC watched a 10-point halftime lead shrink to three by the end of the third quarter before blowing the game open in the final six minutes.
"This year, we've really focused on moving the ball a lot," Calandrillo said. "Last year, we started really stagnant - holding the ball, not moving around. This year, there's more of a focus on cutting, getting open, taking our time to get a good shot."
After an L.J. Robinson three cut the Manchester deficit to 39-35, RBC benefitted from an intentional foul call that resulted in a five-point possession. After a pair of free throws by Calandrillo, junior Tommy Lang buried a three-pointer that put the Caseys ahead, 46-35. That seven-point burst to build the lead to 11 ignited a 22-5 run over a five-minute stretch that turned a competitive battle lopsided.
Lang, fellow junior John Kelly and senior Mike Conley have been key cogs for RBC in the early going this season and 6-foot-4 freshman Charlie Gordinier has earned a starting job out of the gate in his first high school year. On Sunday, Kelly scored eight points while Conley and Lang were instrumental in hounding Robinson throughout the game and making him work to get to his season average from a year ago.
"Matt and Terrence are really good players and they're showing it," Schmelz said. "And the guys around them are playing great. Lang and Conley played really great defense on L.J. and did a great job on a really good player. We're playing like a pack."
Although this year's team technically has a new head coach, the fast start can hardly be attributed to an altogether new voice. Schmelz was an assistant and the junior varsity coach in each of the past two seasons after leaving his post as the Ranney head coach before the 2014-15 season. Most of the players on this year's team played for him at the sub-varsity level and have a comfort level with the RBC grad.
"When (athletic director and girls basketball coach Joe) Montano hired me, we decided we're taking this basketball program in a new direction," Schmelz said. "He knows what I'm about. We stand for the same things, which is hard work, being accountable, doing the right things. That's what Red Bank Catholic stands for and we're doing that every day."
"I had him as a jayvee coach - a lot of us did - so we've known him for a while," Calandrillo said of Schmelz. "We've really grown to love him. He's a great coach and I'm glad to have him as head coach."
With Manasquan coming off convincing wins over Ocean and Lacey to open its season, it's quite possible RBC will fall to 2-2 overall, just like the Caseys did last year following a 2-0 start. Given the magnitude of the two wins to open the year and the lessons learned from the shortcomings of last season, the RBC players are hopeful this year will be completely different.
"I feel people are overlooking our team this year and we're going to be a good team in the Shore," Ansell said. "I think we can get up pretty high, maybe top five."