Boys Basketball – Shore Tops Florence, Back in CJ I Semifinals
WEST LONG BRANCH - The Shore Regional boys basketball team is more familiar than most other Shore Conference teams when it comes to reaching the NJSIAA sectional quarterfinals, but after two trips to the Central Jersey Group I semifinals in each of the previous two years, this one has a different level of urgency.
With a starting lineup of all seniors, including three three-year starters and another two-year starter, the Blue Devils are back in the sectional semifinals after a 56-48 win over Florence on Friday. They are two wins away from finishing the incremental climb to their first sectional title in school history.
"It's been a little different this year just knowing in the back of our minds that this is our last run," senior Kevin Bloodgood said. "We've been trying to bring a state title here for the last three years and we've been close before so it definitely feels like this is our chance. We took today very seriously because we knew this has a chance to be our last home game, and we wanted to give our fans a good game to go out on."
Shore lost on the road to eventual Central Jersey Group I champion Point Pleasant Beach in each of the past two seasons - in the sectional semifinals in 2013 and in the sectional championship game a year ago. The Blue Devils will have to go through No. 1 seed Perth Amboy Tech Saturday to get back to the sectional final and if they do, there is a chance they could once again be headed to the Gulls' Nest in Point Pleasant to try to get over the hump.
Against a Florence team that would not let Shore put the game away despite several threats to do so, the Blue Devils pounded the Flashes on the glass and took advantage of their advantage of height and length. Senior 6-foot-5 swingman Dan Largey scored 21 points, lived on the block on offense and flew around the wing and in the paint on defense to lead the charge on both ends.
"When I was a sophomore, we played Florence in this tournament and we went to overtime tied at 26," Largey said, recalling a Blue Devils' win over the Flashes in the 2013 tournament. "We knew they were going to be well-coached and run very good sets on offense. They have tough kids, even when we've seen them in football. We expected a battle tonight, and they were tough."
Senior Jack Byrne also added 12 points while wreaking havoc on defense with four steals. Bloodgood added 17 points, including 13 in the first half and 10 in the second quarter.
After Shore started the game on an 8-2 run, Florence answered with a 7-0 spurt to take its first lead. The Flashes went up 11-10 early in the second quarter on a lay-up by Kyle Ryan and that was the last lead Florence would enjoy.
Bloodgood drove for a lay-up to regain the lead for Shore, fired a pass to a flashing Largey for a lay-up, then rimmed in a short jumper to push the lead to 16-11. He later capped his 10-point quarter with two of his three 3-pointers in the game to send Shore to the half up 26-18.
Shore also held 1,000-point scorer and three-point specialist Michael Muchowski to five points and one 3-pointer. The Blue Devils began the game in a 1-3-1 defense and switched over to man-to-man late in the first quarter.
"I thought we did a really good job at the top of the zone, just putting pressure on their ball-handlers and their shooters," Byrne said. "When we went to man, we did a good job keeping them from getting into the paint and staying on their shooters."
Largey, Bloodgood and Byrne have been the center of Shore's offense this season and combined for 50 of the 56 Blue Devils points on Friday. Bloodgood joined the 1,000-point club earlier in the season and Largey moved within 12 points of the career milestone with his 21 points on Friday. The senior scored 34 points in a first-round win over Metuchen, one of three 30-plus-point games by Largey - all within a span of two weeks.
"I'm just thinking about getting wins," Largey said. "I'm sure I'll have some idea of when I get (1,000), or at least I'll find out from someone in my family after the game. They'll tell me which shot I got it on, or more likely, I'll hear them cheering when I hit it. But I'd rather not think about it and just try to go out and help us win a championship."
"Dan's been great about it, as you would expect him to be," said Bloodgood, who scored his 1,000th point in a key divisional game against Rumson-Fair Haven in late January. "He just wants to win. It's similar to my situation. We needed to win the game, so all the indiviual stuff takes a back seat and with the way he's been playing, we know he's going to get it."
After two successful showings on its home court, Shore will head on the road for the rest of the sectional tournament unless seventh-seeded South Hunterdon can knock off two-time defending sectional champion Point Beach on Saturday. Should they beat the No. 1 seed on Saturday, the Blue Devils will either host a sectional final or will get a shot at redemption on the floor where their season ended each of the past two years.
"The last two years, after we lost, I can remember thinking and saying to some of the other guys, 'Remember this feeling for next year,'" Byrne said. "This time, there is no next year. We don't want to have that same feeling from the last two years because we don't get another shot next year."