Boys Basketball – After Sweeping Mater Dei, Ranney Sets Sights on Taking Over N.J.
NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B Championship
Tuesday, March 7, 7 p.m.
At Jackson Liberty High School
No. 2 Ranney (27-4) vs. No. 5 Trenton Catholic (20-9)
Ranney Road to the Final: Defeated No. 15 Wardlaw-Hartridge, 84-31; No. 7 Rutgers Prep, 101-90; No. 3 Mater Dei Prep, 77-60.
Trenton Catholic Road to the Final: Defeated No. 12 St. Rose, 92-57; No. 4 St. Joseph Hammonton, 69-56; No. 1 Wildwood Catholic, 65-55.
The Ranney boys basketball team is hoping to play three more games in Ocean County this year but outside of the venues at Jackson Liberty High School and potentially the RWJ Barnabas Health Center in Toms River, the Panthers are done with the Shore Conference.
They are out to conquer the rest of New Jersey.
After vanquishing Shore Conference Class B Central rival and No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 for the entire season, Mater Dei Prep, Saturday for the fourth time this year, 77-60, Ranney will play for in its first ever NJSIAA sectional final on Tuesday when it takes on fifth-seeded Trenton Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public B championship game at Jackson Liberty at 7 p.m.
The Seraphs will likely be the last Shore Conference team Ranney plays this season as the Panthers shift their focus to Trenton Catholic. "Focus" will be the operative term for coach Tahj Holden leading into to Tuesday's game, the winner of which could wind up play Roselle Catholic - the No. 1 team in N.J. - in Saturday's Non-Public B final in Toms River.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mater Dei at Ranney by Paula Lopez
Ranney's last loss came against Roselle Catholic on Jan. 31 at Brookdale, a 75-50 drubbing with junior starters Scottie Lewis and Alex Klatsky both sidelined due to injury. With one more win to go before a possible rematch (Roselle Catholic takes on Gill St. Bernard's at Rutgers on Wednesday) and a rivalry win in their immediate rear view, the Ranney players will have to resist the temptation to begin fixating on a second crack at Roselle Catholic.
"We're definitely looking forward to seeing Roselle Catholic again," Lewis said. "We have played high-level games and coach Tahj has see bigger games at the next level (at Maryland), so we feel we're capable against a team like them.
"They beat us earlier in the year when we weren't really healthy. We're definitely playing to play them if they get out of their bracket, because we know we're going to get out of ours."
If a slow start to Saturday's game was at all a result of a lack of something on Ranney's part, the Panthers showed in the second quarter that they can shift into a different gear that not even one of the state's top 15 teams could match. After falling behind, 14-11, in the first quarter, Ranney outscored Mater Dei, 24-3, during the second quarter to blow open the game.
Mater Dei showed fight early and again late in cutting the deficit to 11, with senior Kenny Jones scoring 20 points in the final game of his stellar career as a Seraph. It was, however, not enough to support the flood gates against junior Bryan Antoine, Klatsky and Lewis, who combined for 64 points.
Antoine, in particular, overwhelmed Mater Dei. The junior scored a game-high 31 points, all of which came from the second quarter on. He scored 10 in the decisive second quarter and poured in 13 in the final eight minutes to put the game away. Antoine also added five assists and four steals.
Klatsky, meanwhile, knocked down 4-of-7 three-point attempts, scored 17 points and handed out four assists, while Lewis added 16 points and nine rebounds, including 12 points and seven boards in the first half. Junior Ahmadu Sarnor also reached double-figure scoring with 10 points to go with three steals.
Antoine and Klatsky finished as the two leading scorers two games after Lewis and Sarnor combined for 66 points on their own while setting new single-game career highs in a quarterfinal win over Rutgers Prep. The Panthers have become a team with multiple players who can lead the scoring effort and Saturday was Antoine's turn.
"I have to thank coach (Holden) for today because I hit back-to-back threes and then coach drew up a couple of plays for me," Antoine said. "You get a steal for a layup or a dunk, then you start to think you're hot and then you make a jumpshot and you're like, 'Okay, I have something going on.' You just keep going."
If the Panthers players need to be convinced of Trenton Catholic's prowess in the hours leading up to the sectional final, it shouldn't be a hard sell for Holden and his staff. The Iron Mikes are coming off a 10-point win over top-seeded Wildwood Catholic after making the two-hour-plus trip to the southern tip of the state to beat a quality opponent.
It's also not the first quality opponent Trenton Catholic with whom Trenton Catholic has gone toe-to-toe. The Iron Mikes have played nine games - two each against Moorestown and Trenton and one each against, Roselle Catholic, Nottingham, St. Augustine, Linden and Atlantic City - against teams still playing in the NJSIAA Tournament (Ranney has played three) and also have a two-point loss to a Montclair Immaculate team that beat Ranney, Hudson Catholic and Seton Hall Prep during the course of the year. They also played a loaded St. Benedict's team and picked up a 17-point win over a Rutgers Prep team that just fell to Ranney, 101-90, in the sectional semifinals.
"We have a really good team that we have to beat before we can talk about playing anyone else," Holden said. "We're not overlooking them. Trenton Catholic is here for a reason just like we are so we have to knock them off first."
Trenton Catholic has a high-level talent of its own in 6-5 junior swing Khalif Battle, the younger brother of Syracuse freshman Tyus Battle. Battle is averaging just north of 17 points per game this season and has help from 6-4 sophomore E.J. Evans and seniors Latrell Reid and Quashawn Lane, all of whom are averaging double-figure scoring per game.
There is also a historical element to Trenton Catholic's profile. Few programs can claim to have won an NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title and the Iron Mikes are one of them, having knocked off St. Anthony on the way to the No. 1 spot in the state back in 2010.
After winning its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship, Ranney hopes it is on the precipice of becoming the first Shore Conference team to ever win the Tournament of Champions - a feat that will take four more wins, including one over another top-five team in the state in the Non-Public B final against No. 1 Roselle Catholic or No. 3 Gill St. Bernard.
Before getting there, however, Ranney has to lock in on a program with a winning pedigree and a point to prove against one of the state's most talented rosters.
"We're capable of beating any team in New Jersey on any given day - we just have to go out there and do it," Holden said. "We'll get prepared on (Sunday) and Monday, play on Tuesday and hopefully we'll get to the championship game and see Roselle Catholic at full strength."