Holmdel's Three-point Barrage Buries Red Bank

LITTLE SILVER - Following its NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III first-round loss Wednesday night to 15th-seeded Holmdel, a number of Red Bank players emerged from the locker room, still dressed in their uniforms, to shoot around with one another as the gym was all but emptied out.

A state tournament loss is almost always an intense emotional experience for the losing team, and Wednesday brought about an abrupt ending to a two-year healing process that played out on the basketball court for the Red Bank players. For at least a few more minutes, the Bucs wanted to heal together on their home floor.

Since the sudden death of teammate Albert Martin in December of 2012, the players remaining in the program have dedicated their play to his memory, and the program and student body has responded throughout the last two years.

Albert Martin's jersey has been retired at Red Bank and the Bucs teams of the last two years went a long way in paying further tribute to their late teammate.

During Red Bank’s runs in the midst of Wednesday’s 63-58 loss to Holmdel, as well as in the final seconds when the outcome was all but determined, the packed student section that occupied the bleachers behind the east-end basket chanted “Al-bert-Mar-tin!” as they had done for the last two years.

“With 3.9 seconds left and the game pretty much over, I brought them in and told them, ‘These last 3.9 seconds are not going to change what I’ve thought about you guys for the last three or four years,’” an emotional Red Bank coach Scott Martin said. ‘“And that is the best group I’ve ever coached.’”

The Bucs reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game last season before falling to Ewing and had designs on returning to play the Blue Devils, who are the top seed again this season. Red Bank won the Albert Martin Buc Classic Holiday Tournament in December, stayed in a heated Shore Conference Class B North division race until the end and lost a tough Shore Conference Tournament round-of-16 game to eventual champion Rumson-Fair Haven – the only time a team came within single-digits of the Bulldogs in the tournament.

With all that in mind, Wednesday’s loss blind-sided Red Bank, as well as most of the Shore Conference and remaining teams in the Central Jersey Group III bracket. Red Bank followed up its loss to Rumson by beating Montgomery and Cardinal McCarrick – the former of which was the top seed in Central Jersey Group IV and the latter the No. 3 seed in a loaded South Jersey Non-Public B field – in two home tune-up games before the tournament.

“In the locker room after the game, I told them ‘The way this season ended is very tough to swallow,’” Martin said. ‘“We’ve had some tough times this year: the loss to Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament was tough and losing this one here was also tough. But, life has dealt us harsher blows than this and we’ve gotten back up off the deck. For the seniors, you just try to take the experiences of the last four years and go on to live happy and productive lives.’”

And even after Holmdel hit five second-quarter threes to take a 31-19 halftime lead and hit three more to push the lead to 42-23 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Bucs fought back several times before the game was over. Red Bank mounted a 12-0 run to close the gap to 42-35 early in the fourth quarter, and after Holmdel went back up 50-35 with under four minutes to play, the Bucs again trimmed the deficit to seven with an 8-0 run, making it 50-43.

Junior Sadiq Palmer – one of two juniors from the rotation returning next year – led the Red Bank comeback with 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half. Senior Tyler Christie also added 15 points for Red Bank, while senior Eddie Hendrex pitched in 11 off the bench.

“There were 32 minutes in that game and they led for all of them,” Martin said. “We never made them uncomfortable like we wanted to and even when we fought back a couple times late, they were able to execute and we just couldn’t hit enough shots in the half court.”

The ending to Red Bank’s season was a sad-but-fitting parallel to the life of the teammate they had played for during the last two years: it ended far sooner than anyone could have anticipated, but it made an undeniable impact before it did.

“Nothing can take away what they accomplished over the last two years,” Martin said. “We went from a broken team that won four games after enduring a tragedy to reaching the sectional final last year to winning the Buc Classic this year. It ended earlier than we wanted it to, but it doesn’t change the fact that these guys made the program and the community very proud.”