After a tumultuous first-four weeks of the 2018-19 season, the Shore Sports Network Top 10 sorted itself out as expected during the stretch run of the regular season and into the postseason – at least when it comes to the top-half of the rankings. For the second year in a row, Ranney went wire-to-wire as the Shore’s top team and stamped its lofty status at the Shore by winning the Tournament of Champions and finishing No. 1 in the state.

The rest of the top-four is clear-cut and the No. 5 spot comes down to consistency vs. peak performance. There is plenty of room for discussion after No. 4 but this 2018-19 season will be remembered first-and-foremost for Ranney’s historic run to the Shore’s first T of C title, followed by Freehold Township’s first sectional championship and Manasquan’s dominance in reaching the SCT final and winning Central Jersey Group II.

Beyond that, everything is conjecture, but still worth a deeper dive. Here is a look back at the Shore’s best squads from 2018-19.

Junior Phillip Wheeler caresses the Tournament of Champions trophy next to Bryan Antoine (left) and Chris Autino (right). (Photo by Ray Richardson)

1. Ranney (31-3, 12-0) Preseason Rank: 1

For the first time in more than three decades, a Shore Conference team finishes No. 1 in the state in boys basketball. Ranney became the first boys team to bring home a Tournament of Champions title in the history of the Shore Conference and that still might not do Ranney’s season justice. The Panthers went 4-1 against teams ranked in the USA Today Top 25 national poll and finished No. 11 in said poll to close out the season. They also went a combined 5-1 against the other four teams ranked in the top-five in the state by NJ.com and went 26-1 against in-state competition. They also played the first 10 games of the season without junior standout Phillip Wheeler and the first 16 of the year without three-year starter Ahmadu Sarnor. With Sunday’s win over Bergen Catholic, Ranney put itself in the conversation as the greatest team in Shore Conference history and with Bryan Antoine (Villanova) and Scottie Lewis (Florida) heading to big-time national college programs, the legend of this Ranney team figures to grow even grander in years to come.

Photo by Paula Lopez.

2. Manasquan (29-4, 13-1) Preseason: 3

While Ranney had one of the greatest seasons in the Shore’s history, Manasquan had one of the best in its history. The Warriors made it back to the Shore Conference Tournament title game for the first time since 2005 and there might not be too many champions in the history of the tournament that would have been able to beat Manasquan on that night. Ranney, however, was one of those few and the Warriors settled for runner-up in the SCT before rolling to its third Central Jersey Group II title in the last 11 years. Manasquan is set to return five of its top seven players from this year’s 29-win squad and could very well enter 2019-20 as the Shore Conference and Group II favorite.

Photo by Paula Lopez

3. Christian Brothers Academy (20-6, 13-1) Preseason: 2

The standards for CBA basketball are such that a 20-6 season with losses in the SCT semifinals and South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals is one to forget. Upon closer examination, however, CBA was a bounce here and a bounce there from having a huge year. The Colts lost Freehold Township in the final seconds, to Elizabeth at the buzzer when the Minutemen were undefeated, to Manasquan by six points after trailing by 23 in the SCT semifinals, and to Camden Catholic by three in their first state tournament game. Camden Catholic went on to win the sectional title as a No. 4 seed and lost to Bergen Catholic – the Tournament of Champions runner-up – in the Non-Public A final. Factor in a knee injury to freshman standout Ryan Mabrey at the end of the year and it’s fair to wonder what could have been for CBA had the Colts caught just one or two more breaks along the way.

Photo by Matt Manley

4. Freehold Township (24-5, 12-2) Preseason: 9

Coming off a rare losing season with a team light on senior leadership, this year was due to be a resurgent season for Freehold Township. No one, however, could have expected the Patriots to do everything they did coming off a 9-13 season with basically the same roster. Freehold Township stayed right with CBA to the end of the Class A North race – even beating the Colts at CBA. The Patriots then stormed into the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time since winning the tournament in 2007 and only lost after running into Ranney. They followed that up with the greatest state tournament run in program history, which included the program’s first ever Central Group IV championship and first trip to the Group IV championship game. That run included a win at defending sectional champion Trenton in the CJ IV final and a win over Cherokee in the Group IV semifinal. There have been Freehold Township teams with better records and more individual talent over the past two-plus decades, but none have done what this year’s group did when the games mattered most.

Toms River North junior Jakari Spence. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

5. Toms River North (24-5, 14-0) Preseason: 8

With a team heavy on inexperience and light on seniors, Toms River North got off to a slow start, going 3-3 prior to the New Year. After the calendar turned over to 2019, Toms River North played like a new team. The Mariners went 21-2 from that point on, losing only to CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament and Cherokee in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals. Three of Toms River North’s five losses could reasonably attributed to a key injury, with junior Colin Baker missing time in the last week of 2019 and junior big man Najae Hallenbeck breaking a bone in his hand early in the Cherokee loss. Outside of that, Toms River North was as consistent as any team in the conference – they tied Manasquan for the longest winning streak of the season (16) among Shore Conference teams and extended their five-season-long Class A South winning streak to 60. With three key starters and a handful of bench contributors back in 2020, that winning streak has a chance to climb into the 70’s next season.

Photo by Paula Lopez

6. Red Bank Catholic (20-8, 9-5) Preseason: 7

Considering how promising Red Bank Catholic’s 14-1 start to the season was, the Caseys’ 6-7 finish to the year was somewhat disappointing. Despite the rough second-half to the season, Red Bank Catholic’s body of work is hard to top. The Caseys were one of three teams from the Shore (Marlboro and Ranney the others) to beat Manasquan this season and they also scored wins over Freehold Township, Middletown South (twice), Holmdel, Wall and Marlboro. They won the WOBM Christmas Classic in December, stretched a 13-game winning streak into January, reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals in February and reached the South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals in March. Although it was a tale of two seasons for RBC, the Caseys had some great moments throughout, got to 20 wins in the process and are set up to be strong again next season with the returns of Charlie Gordinier and Kevin Bauman.

Middletown South sophomore Luke Albrecht. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

7. Middletown South (16-12, 7-7) Preseason: Not ranked

Like Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South put up one of the best resumes of any team in the Shore Conference this season. The Eagles faced every single team ranked ahead of them at least once and nine of their 28 games – almost a third – were against those six teams. Middletown South went 2-7 in those games with wins over Freehold Township and Toms River North and two losses apiece to CBA and Red Bank Catholic. The Eagles also beat Rumson-Fair Haven, Marlboro and Neptune on the road – all teams with serious cases to be listed in the final Top 10. Throw in a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2010 and a win in the NJSIAA Tournament and the Eagles have a serious argument to be the No. 5 team. Losses to Manalapan, Long Branch and Freehold Boro – all of which missed qualifying for the NJSIAA Tournament – knock Middletown South down a peg but with almost an entire team due back next season, few Shore programs are better positioned for the immediate future.

Wall captured its first NJSIAA sectional title since the 1972-73 season. (Photo by Scott Stump)

8. Wall (21-9, 12-2) Preseason: Not ranked

After finishing 14-13, missing the Shore Conference Tournament, losing in the Central Group III first round and graduating a 28-point-per-game scorer in Steve Geis last season, Wall was not on the Top 10 radar coming into the season. That changed rather quickly and the Crimson Knights never went away after their fast start. They won the Class B North division championship for the first time since 2015 and then captured the program’s first NJSIAA sectional title in 46 years by beating Burlington Township in the Central Group III final. Wall had some slip-ups along the way – losses to Jackson Memorial, Ocean and Allentown – and failed to reach the SCT quarterfinals, but a division championship coupled with that elusive sectional championship get the Crimson Knights some bonus points to bump them up to No. 8. That number should be even better next year, when Wall returns all but one player from its regular rotation.

Holmdel junior Derek Chan. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

9. Holmdel (15-11, 8-6) Preseason: Not ranked

It may get lost because of a relatively quick stay in the state tournament, but the Hornets came on strong at the end of the season and positioned themselves as a team that could find itself in the Shore’s top five at some point next season with its wave of junior talent set to return. Holmdel beat Rumson and Red Bank Catholic in the span of a week in February and reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal round for the first time since 1999 by beating Rumson again in the SCT Round of 16. The Hornets then went down to the wire in a loss to Freehold Township in the SCT quarterfinals. Holmdel got a brutal draw in the Central Jersey Group II Tournament and had to face Manasquan on the road in the sectional quarterfinals. The Hornets lost by 14 points but none of Manasquan’s three other opponents during its sectional title run came within 35 points of the Warriors. Holmdel returns five starters and all but one player from its roster next year but will again have to overcome Manasquan in Class A Central and Group II.

Photo by Paula Lopez

10. Rumson-Fair Haven (18-9, 11-3) Preseason: 4

As a two-time defending Central Jersey Group II champion with two starters back, this season was a bit of a disappointment for Rumson. That is certainly a product of high expectations and for most of the season, Rumson’s shortcomings could be attributed to tough losses against quality opponents. The Bulldogs, however, lost to Red Bank just before the SCT, lost at home to Holmdel in their first SCT game and lost again at home to Lincoln in the Central Group II final. They could never find a consistent source of offense to complement Ian O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy and even McCarthy battled his share of inconsistency thanks to a lingering ankle sprain he played through for most of the season. Two wins over Red Bank Catholic and a trip to the sectional semifinals keep the Bulldogs in the Top 10 but they will have a tall task replacing O’Connor and McCarthy next season.

 

Honorable Mention

Marlboro (14-13, 7-7) Preseason: 6 – Injuries again derailed Marlboro’s season, with Alex Ratner missing 10 games in the middle of the season and senior center and all-time leading scorer Dylan Kaufman missing the last four. With Ratner back next year, Marlboro will hope to turn its luck around and get back into the Top 10.

Neptune (18-10, 10-4) Preseason: 5 – Neptune also endured some terrible luck when sophomore Sam Fagan suffered a season-ending leg-injury in his team’s sixth game of the year. The Scarlet Fliers fought on, winning 18 games and reaching the Central Jersey Group III semifinals for the second straight year.

 

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