Quite a Ride for Point Beach Boys Basketball
When the ride finally ended with an exhausting, double-overtime classic against Atlantic City in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, the loss might not have hurt as much as the fact that this was the last time on the court together for a tight-knit group.
Point Beach’s boys basketball team turned in the best season in program history at one of the Shore Conference’s oldest schools, racking up three championships for Ocean County’s smallest public school. It was a ride they will never forget, playing in front of packed crowds and taking down well-regarded opponents on their way to a school-record 27 wins. It also mirrored an amazing run by the girls team, which also won its first Group I title ever and reached the T of C semifinals.
“We sold out all the arenas, and it was the best feeling playing in atmospheres like this,’’ senior center Riley Calzonetti said at Pine Belt Arena following the loss to Atlantic City on Wednesday. “I’m going to miss everything about it.’’
The Garnet Gulls may have been from a school of only 315 students, but they played with the swagger of a squad that felt it could go head up with any team in New Jersey. Playing a Group IV juggernaut in Atlantic City, which entered the game having won 50 of its last 53 games, Point Beach built a 19-point lead in the third quarter before falling 80-73 in double overtime.
“We thought we were going to win, especially when we came out and went up 12-0 to start the game,’’ said junior point guard Matt Farrell. “We weren’t going to back down. We were going to come out firing.’’
“They’re a bunch of competitors,’’ Catania said. “I’m just so proud of these guys.’’
The loss ended a run in which Point Beach won its first Central Jersey Group I title and first overall Group I title after having reached the Shore Conference Tournament final for the first time since 1963. It was the latest step for a program that has gone from the bottom of the standings to a perennial championship contender under head coach and Point Beach alumnus Nick Catania in the last seven years.
This run was no fluke, either. Point Beach loses Calzonetti and starting guard P.J. Kineavy to graduation, but essentially returns four starters and looks to be the preseason No. 1 team in the Shore Conference next season if the roster stays intact in the always-changing landscape of New Jersey high school basketball. Farrell, one of the top point guards in the state, returns along with 6-foot-6 junior swingman Dom Uhl, junior forward Noah Yates and sophomore guard/forward Chris Schifano.
Uhl has a tremendous upside after just scratching the surface of his ability in his first season since transferring in the summer from the same school in Frankfurt, Germany, that produced Point Beach’s all-time leading scorer, current University of Rhode Island guard Jarelle Reischel. If he adds strength to his athletic frame and improves on defense, he has the look of a Division I recruit.
Farrell, who already has multiple Division I offers, put himself among the state’s elite with a tremendous postseason, which including 23 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds in the loss to an Atlantic City team with one of the quickest backcourts in the state. He instantly makes Point Beach the favorite to repeat as Group I champions because of his ability to control the game.
Schifano was a starter before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in a regular-season victory over Manasquan, but expects to be back to full power next winter for his third varsity season. Yates is an outstanding all-around athlete who is also a standout in football and baseball and should be even more of a force next season. In addition, reserve Matt VanNostrand is back after seeing time as a freshman, along with 6-foot-6 junior forward Jeff Bryant, a transfer from Monsignor Donovan who provided a shot-blocking and rebounding presence off the bench this season.
Plus, you never know who is going to walk in the door during the offseason at a school that has regularly accepted transfers and tuition students from out of the sending district in the last six years. Despite welding together players from different places, the program has fostered tight bonds. A clear example is Reischel, who is sitting out this season at Rhode Island per NCAA rule after transferring from Rice University. He made the trip all the way from Kingston, R.I., to Toms River to take in the Atlantic City game on Wednesday.
While the future looks bright after an unprecedented season at Point Beach, it didn’t completely ease the pain of the loss to Atlantic City for a group that took the Garnet Gulls to new heights.
“I've never been on a team that's so close,’’ Farrell said. “It's been an incredible season.’’