By Bobby Klatt
SSN Correspondent

BRICK TWP. - Behind a stellar defensive performance that forced 24 turnovers, Central (1-0, 1-0) got its first win in its debut in the Shore Conference Class A South division with a 57-55 victory on the road Friday Night vs. Brick (0-1, 0-1).

“We knew coming into the A South that it was going to be tough,” said Maks Gruszecki, who led the Golden Eagles with 17 points. “Every single night we got to grind it out day-by-day and game-by-game and we’ll find a way to get there.”

Central's Xavier Jackson lines up a free-throw attempt vs. Brick. (Photo by Bobby Klatt)

With under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the game at a stalemate at 43, the Dragons went on a quick 4-0 run on behind a putback by Anthony DeStefano, who led all scorers with 21, and a leak out layup by Noah Bouno to grab a 47-43 lead.

Gruszecki, returning all-division guard from B South last year, then cut the lead in half with a reverse layup and a layup off an inbounds play by Denis Corbin to tie it with under a minute to go.

“Maks is a tremendous kid on and off the court,” said Central head coach Mike Clemente Jr. “He didn’t play that much in the preseason, but he’s a heck of player. He never lets that (face guarding) bother him and made big plays.”

After a Bouno missed layup on the other end, Central had a few looks to take the lead with a three and a layup off the mark from Anthony Petit-Clair and a missed putback by Corbin gave the Dragons a chance with 16 seconds remaining.

In the final seconds, Bouno had a drive to the lane but an offensive foul gave Central one more look with 4.6 to go. Gruszecki got two defenders up in the air on a pump-fake at the top of the key before his buzzer-beater attempt fell short off the front rim, sending the season opener to overtime.

The Golden Eagles jumped out early in the extra period with a 5-0 run while Brick went 0-for-4 from the field and 0-2 from the line to give them the lead 52-47. The Dragons didn’t get their first bucket in overtime until a putback by Mark Streiter got them on the board.

Central capped off the game from the foul line, finishing their 28-total made free throws on the night to get the 57-55 win in the opener.

“We got six seniors returning and they all played a lot of minutes and we never backed down,” said Clemente Jr. “Our defense was suffocating at a lot of times today. We take a lot of pride in that and that is how we got a big win on the road.”

Brick was the quicker team out of the starting blocks as the opened the game 10-2 behind five from Brandon Williams and three from Dan Venezia, which led them to a 14-5 lead after 1.

“We always preach about defense,” said Gruszecki when asked about the message to the team after the first quarter. “If we could play defense like we did in the second quarter the whole game, we will play well the entire game.

Central answered right back with the stifling man-to-man defense, forcing six turnovers and finishing the half on a 8-0 run to take a 20-19 lead into the locker room.

Out of the intermission, DeStefano got the third going with six straight points to start the second half including a tip slam that got the Brick fans in the packed gym on their feet. The Golden Eagles continued to fight with a chance to take the lead into the fourth at the buzzer, but Corbin’s turnaround three rattled in and out.

“It’s a heck of a win against a very good and scrappy Brick team,” said Clemente Jr. “We just try to get better every day. We hope to be playing in some big games as the season goes on.”