LONG BRANCH – Red Bank senior Corey Martin admitted that in the back of his car, he has been keeping his baseball equipment handy for whenever the boys basketball season ends. Martin may his glove and spikes ready when the time comes, but he and the Bucs are also not ready for this basketball season to end.

Red Bank kept its emotional ride alive Friday by beating Long Branch – the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III playoffs – for the first time in three tries at Long Branch high school this season, 42-30. The Bucs advance to play at top-seeded Ewing Monday in the Central Jersey Group III final, their first sectional final appearance since 2004.

Sadiq Palmer and Red Bank have taken out both Neptune and Long Branch on their way to the program's first sectional final appearance in six years.

“I don’t believe in ‘deserve’ because nobody deserves anything that they don’t actually earn,” Red Bank coach Scott Martin said. “But I guess if anybody deserves this, it’s this group.”

Sophomore Sadiq Palmer scored a team-high nine points off the bench and Martin also chipped in seven off the bench to lead Red Bank’s typically balanced attack. Senior Johnny Dengler led the Bucs starters with eight points.

The Bucs will play for a championship Monday one year after finishing a 4-22 season. The record was a footnote to a nightmare season that began with the passing of senior captain Albert Martin. While the Bucs spent last season grieving for Martin, they have spent this year honoring him.

“We knew we had a good team, but none of us thought we were going to be a championship team,” Dengler said. “We knew we were going to be a lot better and that we were going to surprise some people, especially in our division, but it’s hard to sit here and say we envisioned this for ourselves at the start of the season. Once we got to the state tournament, that’s when we started to say, ‘Hey, why not?’”

While balanced scoring has been a Red Bank boys basketball staple this season, low-scoring defensive struggles have not. The Bucs held Long Branch to the lowest scoring output of any opponent this season, limiting the Green Wave to seven field goals on 36 attempts (19 percent) from the field.

It was also the second straight NJSIAA playoff game in which Red Bank hounded one of the Shore Conference’s top scorers into a poor shooting night. Two nights after holding Neptune’s Shakeem Richardson to seven points on 1-for-20 shooting, the Bucs forced Long Branch senior guard Terrel Cox into 2-for-19 shooting with 10 points.

“It’s not the defense we’re used to playing, but it worked against Neptune, so we felt good about it today,” Martin said. “Richardson and Cox are similar players in that they like to pull-up for jumpers rather than go to the rim. With Cox, we just let him take the shots he wanted and contested them. He wasn’t taking good shots, so we just figured we’d let him keep taking tough shots and we’d take our chances.”

Red Bank overcame a major offensive struggle for most of the first half to take a 15-14 lead going into the halftime locker room. The Bucs went scoreless for a stretch of 7:19 and were held without a field goal for a period of 10:06 from early in the first quarter to late in the second.

“Long Branch has done that to a lot of teams this year,” Martin said. “They really cause chaos on the defensive end and it takes some adjusting. They were pressuring our ball screens, so we made an adjustment at half. We decided we were going to try to get some more screen action away from the ball and see if we could create a little more space that way.”

Despite Long Branch’s dominance on defense, the Green Wave could not take a significant lead on Red Bank because of its own poor shooting. Long Branch’s largest lead was 10-7 and Dengler hit a three-pointer to end the 10-plus minute stretch without a field goal and tie the game at 10.

Cox’s second of his two field goals – both three-pointers – cut Red Bank’s lead to 20-19. The Bucs countered with a 16-4 run to go up 36-23 midway through the fourth quarter.

Led by Palmer and Martin, the Bucs got 18 points from their bench on Friday. Palmer – who scored eight of his points in the second half to go with eight total rebounds and three steals – is Red Bank’s leading scorer while Martin is one of its three seniors, but neither has had a problem coming off the bench for a team that relies one at least 10 players every game.

“There have been games I’ve started and there have been games I didn’t play,” said senior Jesse Mack, who has been a starter during the postseason and scored six points on Friday. “We all have our roles and we’ve all had our moments to contribute. Our playing time could change at any time, but we don’t care as long as we win.”

Red Bank will face a Ewing team that won the overall Group II championship two seasons ago and also won the Central Jersey Group II section the prior season. During the last three years, the Blue Devils have vanquished a number of Shore Conference teams, defeating Rumson-Fair Haven and Raritan in the sectional semifinals and finals, respectively, in 2011 and Holmdel in the sectional semis in 2012. Manasquan edged the Blue Devils in last year’s CJ Group II semifinals to break their championship streak.

After shutting down two of the Shore’s top scoring guards, Red Bank will have to stop one of the state’s best swingmen in junior Trey Lowe. In Ewing’s 80-74 overtime win over Hamilton West on Friday, Lowe scored 43 points, including 22 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“You’re not supposed to learn the lessons that they had to learn last year, not at their age,” Martin said of his team. “You’re not supposed to deal with the kind of loss they dealt with last year and I think because they did it’s given them perspective.”

“Before the year started, nobody thought we could win anything,” Mack said. “But if we keep playing like this, I can’t see us losing.”

 

Box Score

Red Bank 42, Long Branch 30

1

2

3

4

F

Red Bank (18-10)

6

9

11

16

42

Long Branch (15-9)

7

7

7

9

30

 

Red Bank (42): Johnny Dengler 3 0-0 8, Anthony Mitchell 2 1-1 6, Eddie Hendrex 2 0-0 4, Jesse Mack 2 2-2 6, Justin Gilson 0 0-0 0, Sadiq Palmer 4 1-5 9, Corey Martin 2 1-2 7, Tyler Chistie 0 0-0 0, Jimmy Ferrogine 0 0-0 0, Jake Marcin 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 5-10 42

Three-pointers: Dengler 2, Mitchell, Martin 2

Fouled Out: Hendrex

Long Branch (30): Izayah Irizzary 0 0-0 0, Terrel Cox 2 4-6 10, Myeson Pennington 0 2-4 2, Deon Williams 1 1-2 3, Hassan Foster 2 6-7 10, Kenneth Barrow 0 0-0 0, Jamar Foster 1 1-4 3, Eddie Jones 1 0-0 2, Dave Colbert 0 0-0 0. Totals: 7 14-23 30

Three-pointers: Cox 2