Boys Basketball – 2021-22 Shore Conference Season Preview: Class A North
At times during the 2021 season, conditions allowed a de facto Class A North race to take place. Marlboro and Christian Brothers Academy were two teams vying for high seeds in the Shore Conference Playoff Championship Pod and after CBA routed Marlboro in the first meeting, Marlboro punched back with a road win over the Colts. That the two teams got those two games in and they were of consequence certainly made it seem like a typical season of madness in Class A North.
Unfortunately, there were parts of the Class A North race that were absent because of the rash of COVID-related shutdowns. Freehold Township – a perennial factor in the division race – had to stop its season twice, only played one traditional A North opponent twice (Manalapan) and did not play Marlboro at all. On top of that, Marlboro only got six of 10 scheduled pod games in. That grouping of teams also wasn’t a full A North pod since it did not include either Howell nor Long Branch.
With all that being said, the seven teams listed below are raring to get back to a full scheduled in 2021-22 while playing in what is traditionally one of the two or three toughest Shore Conference divisions in any given year (and often times, the toughest). Marlboro enters 2021-22 as a legitimate contender in Group IV, CBA is reloading but still capable, while Freehold Township remains a Top 10 team in the area and a division-title hopeful. Factor in a talented, senior-heavy Howell roster and three genuine sleepers in Middletown South, Long Branch and Manalapan and the A North road should be treacherous and one that ultimately goes through the likely Shore Conference Tournament favorite.
In predicted order of finish
While there have been some heartbreaking ends to seasons over the last two years off the court with COVID shutting teams shut down, Marlboro at least had two heartbreaking endings happen on the court in classic games. That’s little consolation at the moment for the Mustangs, who lost at the buzzer to South Brunswick in the 2020 Central Jersey Group IV championship game and on a last-second shot against Manasquan in last year’s Shore Conference Playoff Championship Pod final. Three of the five Marlboro starters on this year’s team were starters in 2019-20, so they have tasted every bitter tone of those two defeats and are champing at the bit to finish off Marlboro’s first ever tournament championship.
The trio of Jack Seidler, Jonathan Spatola and Jay Ratner have been through all of the major battles of the past two seasons and, along with second-year starting guard Zach Molod, will make up the nucleus of this year’s team. At 6-foot-5, Seidler is a knock-down shooter at every level of the floor, can handle, get to the rim and defend. Spatola has the same profile, only at 5-8 and he might be the Shore’s quickest player to boot. Ratner is the hard-hat-wearing forward of the trio, taking on tough defensive assignments and battling on the inside. Molod emerged last year as a capable point guard who can push Spatola off the ball or play off of him, depending on the situation.
Guard Vinny Spatola slid into the starting lineup on occasion last year and will start games as a senior. Marlboro coach Mike Nausedes worked his bench in at times and with many of those players now juniors, it is likely that opponents will see a deeper Marlboro rotation. Ryan Mendes was particularly adept coming off the bench late in the 2021 schedule and Jack Levine, A.J. Schwartz and Cole Evans are all prepared to contribute.
The juniors off the bench represent Marlboro’s next wave of players and this year’s experience will be invaluable for them, but make no mistake about: the time is now for the Mustangs. The two championship losses will be the fuel that drives Marlboro throughout this season until the postseason arrives and the Mustangs seek redemption. They showed last year in beating Ranney on the road and taking Manasquan into overtime in Manasquan that they can take any team the distance and this year, they are desperate to show that can push across the finish line and win a trophy.
Head Coach: Mike Nausedas, 10th season
2021 Record: 9-4 (4-1 in Pod E)
Jon Spatola, Sr., 5-8, Guard (RS)
Zack Molod, Sr., 5-11, Guard (RS)
Vincent Spatola, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)
Jack Seidler, Sr., 6-5, Forward (RS)
Jay Ratner, Sr., 6-3, Forward (RS)
Nick Malucelli, 6-4, Forward
Off the Bench
Ryan Mendes, Jr., 6-1
A.J. Schwartz, Jr., 6-0
Cole Evans, Sr., 5-11
Luke Peterson, Sr., 6-4
Vasu Raval, Sr., 5-8
Sohan Eleti, Jr., 5-11
Jack Levine, Jr., 6-6
Brave Haugh, So., 6-5
Steven Scimone, So., 5-11
Alex Frank, Jr., 6-2
Christian Brothers Academy
It is hard to say what a full year might have looked like for last year’s CBA team, which blew out Marlboro on the road, handled Red Bank Catholic in the first round of the championship pod and hung tough in a road loss to Manasquan in the pod semifinal. Perhaps the Colts might have made a run at an outright Class A North championship or been even more of a problem for Manasquan on a neutral court instead of in the Warriors’ gym. As it is, the job last year’s senior class did in a difficult Shore Conference under extenuating circumstances should not go unnoticed.
With that senior core of Colin Farrell, Mike White and Dane Moran graduating, CBA will have a lot of scoring to replace but should remain a team built around its defense, as it was in 2021. Junior Joe White was as important as any CBA player in the playoff win over Red Bank Catholic, in which he guarded Caseys star Alex Bauman for most of the game and held him to nine points. Returning starter Pat Lautato is another tough perimeter defender who offers some offensive creativity, while junior Will Bradley appears poised to lead CBA in scoring and add to the overall defensive prowess of the team during his first year as a starter.
The new starters heading into the new season are a pair of underclassmen: sophomore Peter Noble and freshman Justin Fuerbacher. Noble will take some of the ball-handling pressure off of Lautato, while Fuerbacher looks to make an immediate impact in his first year at the Academy. Assuming Fuerbacher does indeed make the start in Friday’s opener vs. Holmdel, he will become the second freshman to start a season-opener at CBA since Colts all-time leading scorer Pat Andree started the 2012-13 opener. Ryan Mabrey, now a senior at national power La Lumiere in Indiana, as also a freshman starter back in 2018-19. Andree’s first year was the start of CBA’s climb back toward the upper tier of the conference, and with an intriguing mix back this season, this year’s team only has to keep the climb going rather than start from scratch.
Head Coach: Geoff Billet, 15th season
2021 Record: 9-5 (8-1 in Pod E)
Peter Noble, So., 6-2, Guard
Pat Lautato, Sr., 6-1, Guard (RS)
Joe White, Jr., 6-3, Forward (RS)
Will Bradley, Jr., 6-2, Forward (R)
Justin Fuerbacher, Fr., 6-4, Forward
Colin Farrell, 6-1, Guard
Mike White, 6-3, Guard
Dane Moran, 6-8, Center
John Straley, 6-1, Guard
Dillon Kneucker, 6-4, Center
Off the Bench
Colin Torres, Jr., 6-4
Brian Williams, Jr., 6-5
James Durney, Sr., 5-10
Rob Hemmsing, Sr., 6-1
Luke Roccesano, Jr., 6-3
Not one, but two COVID-related stoppages took the air out of what might have otherwise been a season to remember for a Freehold Township – a squad that said goodbye to a strong group of seniors that got to play only nine games in 2021. The timing of those stoppages could hardly have been worse, with the first wiping out two games vs. rival Marlboro and the second knocking Freehold Township from postseason eligibility. The Patriots did get back on the court during the few days of the season, but were not able to return in time to participate in the pod tournament play, where they likely would have been placed in Pod B if eligible.
Last season, thankfully, is in the past and Freehold Township is now facing forward with a team that retains some legitimate talent off last year’s roster. The headliner is physical 6-5 forward Jayden Holmes-Cotter, who has played a more traditional center position during his first two varsity seasons but is now in great shape and showing off a wider offensive arsenal heading into his junior year. Fellow junior Malachi Harris got some play at point guard last year and while his scoring is still on the way, he is already a capable distributor. The other key contributor back in the lineup is senior Bobby O’Brien, who brings the energy and will look to be a more consistent scorer as a senior.
Ryan Keegan and Josh Ibaretta join the starting five as seniors and, like so many past Freehold Township teams, the bench will play a key role in Freehold Township’s success as team that loves to press. James McCarthy, Andrew Mayer and Shawn Corchado offer some size and Sean Keegan, Tim Bertscha and Christian Mojares are three members of Freehold Township’s Group IV runner-up soccer team who can add to the winning culture. Marlboro is a step above with all its perimeter skill and experience, but Freehold Township is absolutely on-par with CBA to open the year and could emerge as Marlboro’s primary challenger.
Head Coach: Brian Golub, 27th season
2021 Record: 6-3 (3-2 in Pod E)
Jayden Holmes-Cotter, Jr., 6-5, Forward/Center (RS)
Bobby O’Brien, Sr., 6-3, Guard (RS)
Ryan Keegan, Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward (R)
Josh Ibaretta, Sr., 6-0, Guard
Malachi Harris, Jr., 6-0, Guard (R)
Zach Orrico, 5-8, Guard
Jayce Schapiro, 5-10, Guard
Anthony Barthel, 6-2, Guard
Joe Lardaro, 6-5, Forward
Matt Cardone, 5-8, Guard
Off the Bench
Sean Keegan, Sr., 5-10
James McCarthy, Jr., 6-4
Tim Bertscha, Jr., 6-0
Christian Mojares, Sr., 6-1
Jason Norero, Sr., 5-10
Jack Goldsmith, Jr., 6-1
Kyle Chalfin, Jr., 5-10
Andrew Mayer, Sr., 6-5
Shawn Corchado, So., 6-2
Jack Vaughn, Jr., 6-3
Over the last two seasons, Howell has been building toward 2021-22, when its talented graduating Class of 2022 would be seniors and, hopefully, seasoned enough to take on the likes of Freehold Township and CBA, if not the loaded team at Marlboro. The shortened 2022 season, while a fairly successful one for Howell – which finished in first place in its pod – probably did not fully help the Rebels better prepare to challenge the top three teams in Class A North. Howell did get a look at both Marlboro and Freehold Township – both of which were 11-point losses – but it was only one time each and a matchup vs. CBA never came to pass.
All-in-all, Howell made the best of its situation last year and is hopeful a big season is on the way beginning on Saturday against Montgomery. The Rebels bring back four starters and a couple more players with starting experience as well, including a senior who missed last season due to injury after ascending as a top scorer on the team during the 2019-20 season. Joe Dupuis leads the group of returnees after a strong all-around season for the 6-3 swingman. Zach Emery was a breakout junior a year ago thanks to his three-point marksmanship, while Dylan McVeigh steered the ship at point guard and Nick Gallo added some handle and athleticism to complement the rest of the backcourt.
John Diab is slated to start in the front court and Howell will have a host of experienced players ready to jump off the bench. Damien Padilla is a 6-4 athlete who can impact the game on both ends, Marc Tango is a senior who started in spots last year and Chris Jannarone also returns with some varsity time to his credit. The x-factor is Abdul Al-Shrouf, who was a dependable, versatile scorer as a sophomore and missed most of his junior year due to injury. With some real offensive threats coming off the bench, the challenge for Howell coach Pat Ramsay will be to piece it all together and let his senior-laden team go to work late in the year.
Head Coach: Patrick Ramsay, eighth season
2021 Record: 8-6 (6-1 in Pod B)
Dylan McVeigh, Sr., 5-8, Guard (RS)
Zach Emery, Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)
Joe Dupuis, Sr., 6-3, Guard (RS)
Nick Gallo, Sr., 6-0, Guard (RS)
John Diab, Sr., 6-4, Forward (R)
Jake George, 6-3, Center
Off the Bench
Marc Tango, Sr., 6-0 (RS)
Abdul Al-Shrouf, Sr., 6-0 (R)
Damien Padilla, Jr., 6-4 (R)
Chris Jannarone, Sr., 6-0 (R)
Brendan Vogel, Sr., 5-10
Matt Plisky, Sr., 6-4
D.J. Orloff, So., 6-5
Jalen Zamont, So., 5-9
With five out of the team’s top six players graduating from a 26-win team in 2019-20 and a new head coach taking over, the 2021 version of the Middletown South boys basketball team was a mystery heading into the shorted season. Strangely enough, Middletown South came out of the season still a mystery after only playing 10 games due to a pair of COVID-related shutdowns, the first of which delayed the start to its season and the second of which forced the Eagles to withdraw from the Shore Conference postseason. After starting 0-4, Middletown South finished 4-2 with wins over Freehold Township, Malapan, Hunterdon Central and Edison.
With a more normal lead-up to the season, Middletown South will have a chance to avoid the rocky start to the season that stalled last year’s team. It will also help to have some experience back after only one starter returned from the 26-win team. James Mayerhofer and Tom Schork are back as starters, with Mayerhofer playing off the ball in the back court and Schork providing scoring and rebounding on the interior. Junior Dylan Csik is ready to take over the point guard job, with junior Pat Brown and Jack Himmelberg joining him as first-year starters.
Rob Powell and Tom Manning will bolster the bench after gaining varsity experience last year, with Owen Richter emerging out of the sophomore class to add some additional depth, along with juniors Alex Lescavage and Matt Sliva. This particular group is still a little unrefined as far as varsity experience goes, but Cranwell and his team showed last year that they can adjust quickly and figure things out. In Class A North, that is an imperative and it could help Middletown South spring some surprises this season in a very tough division.
Head Coach: Jimmy Cranwell, second season
2021 Record: 4-6 (2-3 in Pod E)
Dylan Csik, Jr., 5-9, Guard (R)
James Mayerhofer, Sr., 6-1, Guard (RS)
Pat Brown, Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward (R)
Tom Schork, Sr., 6-3, Forward (RS)
Jack Himmelberg, Sr., 6-2, Forward (R)
Luke Albrecht, 6-1, Guard
Joe Stanzione, 6-2, Forward
Tom Brown, 6-4, Guard/Forward
Julius Forte, 6-3, Guard/Forward
Off the Bench
Rob Powell, Sr., 6-0, Guard (R)
Tom Manning, Sr., 6-2, Forward (R)
Alex Lescavage, Jr., 5-9
Matt Sliva, Jr., 5-9
Owen Richter, So., 6-1
In a position similar to what Middletown South found itself in, Manalapan had to figure out how to transition from a talented, senior-led team in 2019-20 to a new group, all while facing a limited schedule. Manalapan did not endure quite the level of chaos that Middletown South or Freehold Township did, but the Braves missed their share of games and had to both develop players while helping the seniors get the most out of their season.
Perhaps a full season would have better prepared the returning group for the challenge that lies ahead, but the Braves still have some real bright spots to follow during the early part of the season and into 2022. Mike Bimonte stepped up as a secondary perimeter scorer alongside then-senior Chris Frontera, while both Jimmy Bruno and Gabe Blackwell got valuable reps in the frontcourt. More than reps, Manalapan had its share of success, beating a strong Matawan team in the final game of February, then reaching the championship game of the Pod D final with tight wins over Monmouth and Point Pleasant Boro.
New to the lineup will be point guard Anthony Conforth, who came off the bench a year ago, and Mike Cerreto. The latter will add some length to the perimeter and seniors Mike Heckel and Nick Arthurs will provide additional senior experience off the bench. Mater Dei Prep transfer Jake Heitzner is a key addition for Manalapan as well, with the 6-4 forward giving coach Rick Garretson a chance to either play bigger or spell Blackwell when Heitzner goes in. In a division that throws so much at a team, Manalapan has some versatility and ability that should help the Braves present problems as well.
Head Coach: Rick Garretson, 28th season
2021 Record: 5-7 (2-6 in Pod E)
Anthony Conforth, Sr., 5-11, Guard (R)
Mike Bimonte, Sr., 6-2, Guard (RS)
Mike Cerreto, Sr., 6-3, Guard
Gabe Blackwell, Sr., 6-5, Center (RS)
Jimmy Bruno, Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward (RS)
Chris Frontera, 6-1, Guard
Tanner Szatkowski, 5-11, Guard
Anthony Mezzina, 6-2, Forward
Jake Feinerman, 6-2, Forward
Off the Bench
Jake Heitzner, Jr., 6-4 (Transfer from Mater Dei Prep)
Mike Heckel, Sr., 6-2 (R)
Nick Arthurs, Sr., 6-0 (R)
Zach Lugo, Sr.
Josh Debner, Sr.
Nick Leigi, Sr.
Itai Peretz, Sr.
Dan Bressler, Jr.
Jake Buchman, Jr.
Dylan Sullivan, Jr.
Long Branch did not play in a pod with any Class A North teams last year and that did not help the Green Wave much under first-year coach Darnell Tyler. Long Branch drew Red Bank Catholic in back-to-back games to open the season and after getting overmatched by the Caseys, the Green Wave were shut down until Feb. 10. They came back rusty and lost five more games to fall to 0-7 and run the program losing streak to a remarkable 27 games, dating back to a forgettable 1-21 season in 2019-20.
At the end of the 2021 season, however, Long Branch began to make significant progress. The Green Wave won four of the last six games, with two wins over Monmouth, one over Asbury Park and one over Shore to close out the season. Two catalysts during the stretch run were Christian Rodriguez and Bruce Gooding, both of whom return as starters for the upcoming season. Rodriguez was both a scorer and a distributor and Gooding has all-around skills that allow him to run the point as well.
Justin Fisher, Amari Menter and Jayden Farmer join Rodriguez and Gooding in the starting lineup this season, while Tyler will work a trio of transfers – Ny-Shaun Gayle, Devin Jones and Peter Da Cruz – into a rotation that will also include a pair of quality athletes in Sekou Kamau and Shawn Rodriguez. The schedule will be a significant challenge, but Long Branch is better equipped to handle it than the Green Wave has been in a number of years.
Head Coach: Darnell Tyler, second season
2021 Record: 4-9 (2-5 in Pod G)
Bruce Gooding, Jr., 6-1, Guard (RS)
Christian Rodriguez, Sr., 5-9, Guard (RS)
Justin Fisher, Sr., 5-7, Guard
Amari Menter, Sr., 6-1, Forward
Jayden Farmer, Sr., 6-0, Forward
Josiah Evans, 6-0, Guard
Morgan Preister, 5-10, Guard
Ba-Sean Fraser, 5-10, Forward
Mason Alexander, 6-2, Forward
Mehki Priester, 5-10, Forward
Jyshon Presley, Sr., 6-1, Forward
Off the Bench
Sekou Kemou, Jr., 5-11
Shawn Rodriguez, Sr., 5-9
Ny’Shaun Gayle, Jr., 6-1
Devin Jones, So., 5-10
Peter Da Cruz, So., 6-5
Anubis Roman, Jr., 6-2
Ka’jion Thorne, Sr., 5-8
Division Starting Five (With 2021 Stats)
Jonathan Spatola, Sr., Guard, Marlboro (19.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.6 steals, 26 3-pointers, 80% FT)
Jack Seidler, Sr., Guard, Marlboro (20.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 83% FT)
Pat Lautato, Sr., Guard, CBA (5.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals)
Jayden Holmes-Cotter, Jr., Center, Freehold Twp. (9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds)
Jay Ratner, Sr., Forward, Marlboro (7.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists)
In the Rotation
Joe Dupuis, Sr., Guard, Howell (12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 blocks)
Zach Molod, Sr., Guard, Marlboro (7.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists)
Christian Rodriguez, Sr., Guard, Long Branch (11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 steals)
Joe White, Jr., Forward, CBA (4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals)
Mike Bimonte, Jr., Manalapan (9.2 points)
Breakout Players to Watch
Will Bradley, Jr., Forward, CBA
Dylan Csik, Jr., Middletown South
Malachi Harris, Jr., Freehold Twp.
Gabe Blackwell, Sr., Center, Manalapan
Zach Mendes, Jr., Marlboro