Boys Basketball – 2019-20 Preview: Class B South
If you like underdog stories, then Class B South was your division last season. The division title came down to a race between two programs that had never won a division championship, with Jackson Liberty taking the crown and Pinelands finishing runner-up. Another team that has never won a division title – Barnegat – finished in the top four and three perennial contenders – Lakewood, Point Pleasant Boro and Manchester – finished in the last three spots.
This year, some of those traditional powers are hoping to strike back while the upstarts of the past couple of seasons are out to prove they have staying power. The result could very well be the Shore Conference’s most unpredictable division, with every team possessing at least a glimmer of hope and optimism and at least six looking like they can legitimately challenge for the top spot if things break right.
Whether or not B South can enhance its reputation around the Shore Conference in the postseason is another matter but within the confines of the division race, every game on every game night will be a battle.
In predicted order of finish
Head Coach: Mike Kearney, 22nd season
2018-19 Record: 13-13 (9-5, third in B South)
Returners: Neithan Ramos (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Matt Weeden (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Jaden Anthony (So., 6-1, Guard), Amari Petty (So., 5-11, Guard), Sean Farrell (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Alex Melon (So., 5-11, Guard), Christian McElroy (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Christian Deys (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Elijah Taylor (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Matt Melon (5-11, Guard), Glenn Swenson (5-10, Guard), Isaiah Ulep (5-9, Guard), Brady Kunzman (6-3, Guard/Forward), Rola Popoola (5-11, Guard)
Newcomers: Jeremy Dong (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Brian Higgins (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Trevor Pruitt (Jr., 6-2, Forward) – transfer from Manchester, Zeke Luster (So., 6-2, Forward), Dylan Oroscz (So., 6-5, Forward), Dallas Weisse (So., 5-10, Guard)
Even with three freshmen getting minutes and two of them settling in as two of the team’s best scoring options, Donovan Catholic made a serious run at the Class B South championship in 2018-19. Despite the graduation of a group of seniors headlined by starters Matt Melon and Glenn Swenson, the Griffins return a significant chunk of a deep rotation that kept Donovan Catholic in the hunt for the division crown until the end of the regular-season schedule and did so without a player averaging 10 points per game.
With both teams that finished ahead of Donovan Catholic graduating significant portions of their 2018-19 rosters, the Griffins ascend to the position of “tentative favorites” in what should again be a knock-down, drag-out battle for the top spot. Senior point guard Neithan Ramos and 6-3 classmate Matt Weeden return as two of the leaders with big minutes in their history while sophomores Jaden Anthony (7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game) and Amari Petty (8.5 points) are coming off impressive showings as freshmen guards. Fellow sophomore Alex Melon also saw time and is likely to grab hold of more time and production in his second year.
Sean Farrell leads a junior class that is primed to make more of an impact this season with the additions of guard Jeremy Dong, guard Brian Higgins and 6-2 Manchester transfer Trevor Pruitt. The Griffins will also get some front-court help from sophomores Zeke Luster and 6-5 Dylan Oroscz. There will be plenty of competition and likely some growing pains still left to endure for a roster that remains young at multiple positions, but the Griffins laid a nice foundation last year to spring up for a division crown in 2020 – potentially its first since 2009-10.
Head Coach: Randy Holmes, 14th season
2018-19 Record: 7-17 (4-10, seventh in B South)
Returners: Ryan Savoy (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Omari Barksdale (Sr., 5-9, Guard), T.J. Paturzo (Sr., 5-9, Guard), De’Andre Harris (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Sean Antoine (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Ty’mir Bergstrom (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Erick Torres (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Haaziq Barksdale (Jr., 5-7, Guard)
Key Losses: Zymere Calhoun (6-3, Forward)
Newcomers: Samir Padilla (Fr., 5-10, Guard), Respect Tyleek (Fr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Matt Vargas (So., 5-6, Guard), Keyon Tims (Fr., 5-10, Forward), Andre Peace (So., 5-10, Guard), Ky-ru Wallace (So., 5-8, Guard)
While Donovan Catholic is aiming to win its first division championship since 2010, Lakewood is looking to bounce back from a 2018-19 season in which it failed to win at least a share of an outright or public division championship for the first time since 2007-08. The Piners barely pulled out a division co-championship two seasons ago and last season, they endured one of their toughest seasons in the illustrious history of the program: 17 losses, a 4-10 mark and a seventh-place finish out of eight teams in a winnable B South division. Throw in a brush with extinction due to budget issues in 2017 following the near-resignation of coach Randy Holmes one year earlier and the last several years have been a tumultuous stretch for Lakewood.
This season, however, brings with it renewed hope. The Piners have begun to more resemble the Lakewood of old leading up to the season and are poised to start a new streak. Senior Ryan Savoy is back after another impressive season as a junior, during which he posted 20.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game as a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. Savoy will shoulder much of the load but will have some experience around him as the Piners lost just one starter from a year ago. Senior T.J. Paturzo was another bright spot while averaging nine points per game last year and senior Omari Barksdale is primed for his best season as another backcourt weapon.
The Piners will add some length to the lineup with 6-4 senior Ty’Mir Bergstrom and 6-2 freshman Respect Tyleek, with the rest of the rotation pitching in at the guard spots. It will take a dramatic turnaround from a year ago, but just as quickly as Lakewood fell out of the picture, the Piners have a chance to rebound their way back into championship contention in 2020.
Head Coach: Ryan Ramsay, 15th season
2018-19 Record: 7-19 (3-11, eighth in B South)
Returners: Josh Hayes (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Josh Glenn (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Wyatt Hasselbauer (So., 6-7, Forward), Savon Myers (So., 6-4, Guard), Tyler Brockmeyer (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Gavin Clark (Jr., 6-2, Guard), D’Maari Brown (So., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Keigan Kelusak (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Newcomers: Sean Snead (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Anthony Gencarelli (So., 6-2, Guard), Nick Chiapissi (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Justin Merz (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Nick Uberti (Jr., 5-1, Guard), Allen Mitchell (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Jordan Dupont (So., 5-10, Guard), Brandon Sogness (So., 5-9, Guard)
Manchester’s season was even worse than Lakewood’s a year ago by the overall records but the tone of it was much different. The Hawks had almost no senior presence on the team and are even light on seniors this year after playing a team full of freshmen and sophomores in 2018-19. After taking its lumps, Manchester is hoping this will be a major growth season for the program, particularly with the Class B South title up for grabs by all indications.
Guard Josh Hayes is a standout senior on a young team, coming off a junior season in which he averaged better than 14 points, four assists and two steals to lead his squad. Hayes played the point for a good portion of last season but will have a chance to move off the ball with the emergence of 6-4 sophomore Savon Meyers – who grew three inches since last season – and classmate D’Maari Brown. Factor in junior Josh Glenn and Manchester has a well-rounded back court that should stack up against any B South opponent.
Manchester’s biggest weapon is 6-7 sophomore Wyatt Hasselbauer, who enjoyed a strong freshman debut with 9.6 points and an even 10 rebounds per game as a high school rookie. Senior Tyler Brockmeyer will also start in the front court and aid Hasselbauer in the trenches. A 7-19 season might seem like a lot to overcome, but Manchester’s young core is growing up quickly and could be ready to start winning big right now.
Head Coach: Mike Puorro, sixth season
2018-19 Record: 11-15 (7-7, tied fourth in B South)
Returners: Brendan Revello (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Nick Revello (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Jaxon Baker (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Chris Revello (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Shane Savastano (Sr., 6-3, Forward)
Key Losses: Sean Morris (6-4, Forward), Brian Finucan (6-2, Forward)
Newcomers: Isaiah Gerena (Sr., 6-5, Forward) – transfer from Holy Spirit, Laurence Davis (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Jared Krey (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Ty’zon Jackson (Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Logan Armstrong (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Tyler Quinn (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Andrew Vernieri (Jr., 5-10, Guard), John Hudak (So., 5-9, Guard), Keean Paul (So., 6-1, Forward)
Barnegat’s 2018 class was its most accomplished on the hardwood and heading into last year, the absence of that class was likely to lead to some growing pains. While there was some hardship to endure, the Bengals made it to the end of the year with a pretty good resume for such an inexperienced team: a .500 finish within the division and a double-digit win total to finish off 2018-19.
With that respectable showing on its resume, this current group can start to think bigger. Although they will be replacing two tough senior football players in Sean Morris and Brian Finucan, the Bengals return a significant portion of their rotation from last year and should have some overall depth to give coach Mike Puorro options. Seniors Brendan and Nick Revello headed up a balanced attack last year, with Brendan finishing third in the Shore Conference with 4.9 assists per game. Nick Revello is a scoring threat after leading the Bengals in scoring as a junior and current junior Jaxon Baker is a potential No. 1 scorer coming off a strong finish to his sophomore season.
Seniors Chris Revello and Sean Savastano also return with varsity minutes on their resumes, while newcomers Isaiah Gerena and Laurence Davis are primed to make a significant impact. Gerena is a 6-5 transfer from Holy Spirit who will help the Bengals replace what they lost in the front court, while Davis is back after missing last season while recovering from a torn ACL. With the upside of those two additions, plus the returns of the Revellos and Baker, Barnegat has as much room to improve as any team in the division.
Point Pleasant Boro
Head Coach: Kevin Hynes, 25th season
2018-19 Record: 10-15 (5-9, sixth in B South)
Returners: Sam Young (Sr., 6-5, Center), Alex Drucquer (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Matt Lee (So., 6-2, Guard)
Key Losses: Brian Hawthorne (Guard), Cole Young (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Dominic Schiappa (So., 6-1, Guard/Forward) – transferred to Metuchen
Newcomers: Aaron Stencel (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Kai Messeroll (So., 5-7, Guard), Mike Poggio (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Brian Duda (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Stephen Mellett (Fr., 6-1, Forward), Dan Coughlan (Fr., 6-2, Center), Jeff Guilfoyle (So., 6-1, Forward), A.J. Hernandez (Sr., 5-10, Guard/Forward)
As last year wound down, Point Boro fell out of the Class B South race but could take solace in the fact that the overwhelming majority of its team was due to return. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, however, as standout freshman Dominic Schiappa transferred to Metuchen for his sophomore season and one half of Point Boro’s twin duo – Cole Young – decided to sit out the basketball season while preparing for baseball.
The good news for the Panthers is that instead of getting everyone back, they will have to settle for returning the majority of their talent. Sam Young is back after putting up nine points and nine rebounds per game as a junior and will be a steady inside presence on both ends once again. Senior Alec Drucquer poured in eight points per game while starting at guard last year and sophomore Cole Lee returns to the back court as well, this year as a starter with a dangerous outside shot.
Young will be Point Boro’s only conventional big man, with no other player on the team taller than 6-2. Juniors Aaron Stencel and Brian Duda will help out inside, as will sophomore Jeff Guilfoyle and freshmen Stephen Mellet and Dan Coughlan. Sophomore Kai Messerol is another up-and-coming guard to watch for Point Boro and senior Mike Poggio will also get time at guard. The transition to 2020 won’t be as smooth as the Panthers might have hoped back in March but they still have the pieces to join the crowded race for the top spot in B South.
Head Coach: Sean McAndrew, third season
2018-19 Record: 13-12 (7-7, tied fourth in B South)
Returners: Jordan Cohen (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Kalvin Kuhn (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Jacob Bowles (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Donovan Bacchetta (Sr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Carl Swensen (6-1, Guard), Kevin O’Rourke (6-1, Guard), Dylan Gudzak (5-11, Guard), Jimmy Roselli (5-8, Guard)
Newcomers: Jason Nemcik (Sr., 6-4, Center), Troy Buxton (Fr., 6-0, Guard), Carson Howard (Fr., 6-5, Center)
Lacey was home to one of the Shore’s feel-good stories of the past two years, with Carl Swensen overcoming a gruesome, career-threatening leg injury as a sophomore to score more than 1,000 points in his final two high school seasons. Swensen posted better than 18 points during his senior season to lead the Lions to a record better than .500 and an even 7-7 finish in a competitive division. Losing him and fellow senior Kevin O’Rourke will sting but the Lions did a nice job transitioning new talent into the lineup and should be ready to reload this year.
Senior forward Jordan Cohen went down with a foot injury at the end of last season, which took a key big man off the floor and dented Lacey’s postseason hopes. Cohen returns this year as a key piece of the puzzle along with fellow seniors Kalvin Kuhn and point guard Donovan Bacchetta and junior Jacob Bowles – all of whom have starting experience. Bowles is the team’s best three-point threat and can also contribute on the glass and the defensive interior at 6-1.
Senior Jason Nemcik is another 6-4 center that can spell Cohen or move him to the four spot on the floor to give coach Sean McAndrew an additional look. Fresmen Troy Buxton and Carson Howard will also factor into the rotation and give the Lions some upside over the next several years. As for this year, there are some questions to be answered for a Lacey team replacing its top two scoring threats but a nice mix of talent on hand to piece together a solution.
Head Coach: Mike Antenucci, third season
2018-19 Record: 15-10 (11-3, first in B South)
Returners: Manny Clay (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Jimmy Celentano (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Tim Gjonballa (Sr., 6-7, Forward/Center), Jake Bosco (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Dubem Emenuga (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Carl Barth (Jr., 6-1, Forward)
Key Losses: Daniel Sofield (Sr., 6-6, Guard/Forward), Takai Anderson (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Miles Neal (Sr., 6-1, Guard),
Newcomers: Will Piper (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Tyler Cunningham (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Jared Durant (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Bryce Bailey (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tim Duffy (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Phanique Dupree (So., 6-5, Forward/Center), Jake Hickman (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Ryan Fatovic (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Dakhereo Pritchett (So., 5-9, Guard)
Behind all-time leading scorer and All-Shore wing Daniel Sofield (26.9 points per game, 1,824 career points), Jackson Liberty marched to its first ever Class B South division title last season. Not only do the Lions have to replace Sofield but they will also have to replace their next two highest scorers in Miles Neal and Takai Anderson, the latter of whom battled a nagging knee injury for much of last season. With Sofield, Neal and Anderson gone, Jackson Liberty is primed to be a much different team – one that will benefit from having played a lot of different players in the supporting cast last year but will have to figure out how to turn a team of role players from 2018-19 into another title contender.
Senior Manny Clay came on strong as a solid point guard and scoring source last year and will help transition Jackson Liberty into the program’s next phase. Senior Jake Bosco also gave coach Mike Antenucci solid minutes at guard, junior Tyler Cunningham will step up for some backcourt minutes as well, while seniors Jimmy Celentano and Will Piper and juniors Dubem Emenuga and Carl Barth should all provide some versatility.
Senior Tim Gjonballa leads the front court and at 6-7 with a long reach, he is Jackson Liberty’s most unique weapon on the floor both offensively and defensively. Sophomore Phanique Dupree will also give the Lions an intriguing option down low, with senior Tim Duffy also providing more size at 6-3. It remains to be seen how Jackson Liberty will handle replacing all of those points but there is winning experience on hand as well as a point to prove to drive the Lions through the B South schedule.
Head Coach: Fred Johnson, fourth season
2018-19 Record: 18-7 (10-4, second in B South)
Returners: Ryan Skeie (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Andrew Barlett (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Ed Wilkinson (Sr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: Andrew Schultz (6-1, Guard), Anthony Diaz (5-10, Guard), Luke Wiatroski (5-9, Guard), Garrett Brown (6-0, Guard), Arpit Gainder (6-0, Guard)
Newcomers: Josh Kline (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Anthony Falduto (Sr., 5-7, Guard), P.J. Losiewicz (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Austin Carney (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Bryce O’Rourke (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Kendrick Harper (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Timmy Towns (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Rian O’Rourke (So., 5-8, Guard), Darren Barreau (So., 5-7, Guard), Daniel McCarthy (So., 5-10, Guard)
The last two years have been two of the best campaigns in the history of Pinelands basketball, but the Wildcats twice came up just shy of winning the program’s first division title. That looks to be a major missed opportunity for the program as a whole, at least in the short term. The Wildcats bid farewell to four starters and five of the top six players in the rotation from a year ago, headlined by Andrew Schulz – one of the Shore’s top 10 scorers (19.2 points per game) in 2018-19.
With Schulz, Anthony Diaz, Luke Wiatroski and Garrett Brown all gone from the starting five, senior Ryan Skeie will have to pick up a lot of the slack left by the recent graduates. At 6-4, Skeie had a strong showing as a sophomore before running into some injury trouble last season. Senior Ed Wilkinson will add to the front-court depth at 6-5 while senior Andrew Bartlett joins the starting lineup after playing important minutes.
The rest of the Pinelands team is guard-heavy, with Josh Kline and Anthony Falduto poised to move into steadier roles. Bryce O’Rourke, Austin Carney, Kendrick Harper and Timmy Towns are seniors looking to help out in the back court, while Rian O’Rourke, Darren Barreau and Daniel McCarthy hope to make a splash as sophomores. A number of teams have to replace production but none more so than Pinelands. If the Wildcats can finish in the middle of the pack this year, that will be a big step for a program looking to sustain its recent success.
B South Players to Watch
Ryan Savoy, Lakewood – Along with Christian Brothers alum and St. Francis big man Josh Cohen, Savoy was one of only two players to average 20 points and more than 10 rebounds last season.
Wyatt Hasselbauer, Manchester – At 6-7, Hasselbauer is already a problem for opposing defenses, which he proved in averaging 9.6 points and 10 boards as a freshman.
Jaden Anthony, Donovan Catholic – Despite only being a freshman last season, Anthony was one of B South’s better all-around players, having averaged 7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists for one of the Shore’s more balanced offenses.
Josh Hayes, Manchester – Hayes turned in some big efforts for a Manchester team that was more competitive than its 7-19 record would indicate and finished with averages of 14 points, four assists and two steals.
Sam Young, Point Boro – Young is the kind of tough, physical presence that has been typical at Point Boro and he can produce too after falling just shy of averaging a double-double as a junior.
Breakout Players to Watch
Amari Petty, Donovan Catholic – Petty came off the bench last year and was instant offense for the Griffins, averaging the second-highest per-game point total on the team (8.5).
Jaxon Baker, Barnegat – Baker had a lot on his plate as a sophomore first-year varsity player and was still among the Bengals’ best threats on offense with a chance to be a more consistent force this year.
Savon Meyers, Manchester – Meyers shot up from 6-1 to 6-4 and still has the guard skills that got him plenty of playing time as a freshman.
Matt Lee, Point Boro – With former classmate Dominic Schiappa transferring, Lee will carry the torch for Point Boro’s Class of 2022 after serving as a quality bench piece and three-point threat.
Omari Barksdale, Lakewood – For the Piners to get back to the top of B South, they will need their guards to rally around Ryan Savoy. After T.J. Paturzo did the job last year, Barksdale is primed to step up for Lakewood.
Will the “Old Guard” return to the top of B South in 2020?
Lakewood’s run of 10 straight division championships began with a share of the public division title in 2009, with Donovan Catholic winning the division outright in 2009 and 2010. This year, those two traditional B South powers could lead the field again – Donovan Catholic if it can get a senior-level performance from its sophomores and Lakewood if the Piners can continue to gel around Savoy after a disappointing 2018-19.
Is Manchester primed for a worst-to-first turnaround?
With just about every player back from last year and a lot of close losses to learn from, Manchester is uniquely positioned to pull off a complete turnaround this season. With size (6-7 Wyatt Hasselbauer) and lots of quality guard play (Josh Hayes, Savon Meyers), Manchester has the talent to make a run at the title and considering the top contenders from a year ago – Jackson Liberty and Pinelands – took severe hits in graduation, that seven-spot jump is squarely in the realm of possibility.
Which team can best replace its top scorer?
This question is mostly directed at Jackson Liberty, Lacey and Pinelands – each of which lost their top two scorers in addition to top scorers who were among the best in the Shore Conference. Point Boro lost Schiappa to a transfer and Donovan Catholic graduated Matt Melon, but neither averaged more than 10 points per game within their respective balanced offenses. Lacey appears to have the most in place to overcome the loss of Swensen, while Jackson Liberty and Pinelands will look very different without Sofield and Schulz.
In a division without an obvious favorite, is there a sleeper?
Strangely enough, the team that most fits the description of a sleeper might be the defending champion. Without Daniel Sofield, the Lions could fall behind the rest of the pack but they also have some depth back from last year in a division that should not overwhelm them. Lacey also appears capable over outpacing their sixth-place pick, while Barnegat is a legitimate threat to win its first division title if things break reasonably well for the Bengals.