MANAHAWKIN - Few teams in the state last year were as reliant on one person to score points than Wall was on Steve Geis. The All-Shore guard scored 778 points for an average of 28.8 per game, but it was not enough to get Wall into the Shore Conference Tournament or past the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament.

With almost 30 points graduating with one player, the Crimson Knights have not only managed - they have thrived.

Wall showcased its new-look, multi-pronged attack Saturday in the opening-round of the Score at the Shore Tournament at Southern Regional High School, where the Crimson Knights beat Middle Township, 52-44, to improve to 4-0 and advance to the quarterfinal round of the tournament.

Five Wall players scored between eight and 11 points, led by senior Trey Dombroski and junior Quinn Calabrese with 11 apiece. Dombroski also grabbed eight rebounds and Calabrese connected for three three-pointers.

Wall junior Quinn Calabrese knocks down a first-quarter three on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Wall junior Quinn Calabrese knocks down a first-quarter three on Saturday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"They have bought in," first-year Wall coach Bob Klatt said. "I'm so happy that they have bought in because it's working - we are sitting at 4-0 and they are sharing the ball every night."

Calabrese entered the season as the most likely candidate to follow Geiss as the team's leading scorer and while he has done just that, it has been part of balanced effort on the offensive end. The 6-foot-3 junior swingman is now averaging 17.25 after Saturday's win and has exceeded 20 points once in those first four games.

"We have been bringing the energy every game and I think that's been a key for us," Calabrese said. "We have a lot of different guys who can score so I think that keeps defenses honest and it keeps everybody in the game because everybody contributes."

On Saturday, Calabrese shot 3-for-6 from the floor and took only one shot from the field in the second half, during which Wall outscored Middle 27-21 in the second half with its top scorer taking just one shot and scoring two points.

"I told him (before the season) he was going to get his points but we can't have everything run through him and he understood," Klatt said of Calabrese. "He has been one of the biggest buy-ins and I think that's the key. When everybody is looking at him as 'the guy' and he is buying in, everyone else follows."

Sophomore Pat Lacey and junior Michael Caputo each added nine points for Wall and freshman Colin Ackerman added eight points off the bench, including six in the fourth quarter.

Wall first took the lead with a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to go up 22-13. Middle pulled within 22-21 before Calabrese hit his third three to stretch the lead back to four and help the Crimson Knights get to the halftime locker room up, 25-23, after one more Panthers score on the other end.

"Guys like Colin and Caputo have really stepped up this season and kind of come out of nowhere," Calabrese said. "They have made big shots and big plays for us and it's made us a much better all-around team knowing there are always going to be five guys on the floor we can count on to score."

The Knights then scored eight straight points to open the third and go back up by 10, 33-23, with Dombroski scored four of the eight.

Middle chipped the Wall lead down to 34-31 before Wall again answered with seven straight to go up 41-31. Ackerman scored six unanswered to start the run and the Crimson Knights never let the Panthers get within six points the rest of the way.

"We wanted to keep changing our looks against them," Klatt said. "We feel we can do that a lot this year. The last couple of years, we have pretty much had to play one way but with the athletic ability we have on this team, we can do a lot of different things."

Wall's fast start comes under the direction of Klatt, who was forced out as head coach at Mater Dei after 18 seasons so the school could hire Ben Gamble a little more than three years ago. Mater Dei went on to win two Shore Conference Tournament titles and reach another SCT final under Gamble, who resigned after three seasons at the helm.

Klatt, who graduated from Mater Dei and participated in the effort to keep the school open after it announced it would have to close amid financial troubles following 2014-15, spent three seasons as an assistant at Wall under Matt Kukoda and took over as head coach this year when Kukoda resigned to become an administrator.

"The last three years as an assistant, I could see more things and I think as a coach, I got better," Klatt said. "I realized don't have to do everything. You just have to make sure everybody knows their responsibility and if everyone is buying in, it works. It's great right now, I'm really enjoying it."

Wall will try to keep its unbeaten start going when the tournament resumes on Thursday. The Crimson Knights will take on fourth-seeded Lenape in the quarterfinals.



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