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BARNEGAT - At 6-foot-5 with a strong frame, Isaiah Gerena has been the perfect addition to Barnegat's experienced returning lineup. The senior forward transferred back to his hometown school from Holy Spirit in Absecon and has given the Bengals some muscle in the paint during an unbeaten start to the 2019-20 season.

As he showed on Friday night in a key Shore Conference Class B South divisional game against Donovan Catholic, Gerena can also step out beyond the arc in a big spot.

Gerena nailed three three-pointers as part of a 17-point second half and a 21-point performance and Barnegat battled past Donovan Catholic, 54-47, for a crucial B South win on its home floor Friday night.

On top of his usual work in the paint (14 rebounds, four blocks), Gerena knocked down three big triples, including one that extended the Bengals lead to 42-38 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Barnegat senior Isaiah Gerena. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Barnegat senior Isaiah Gerena. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"His size makes a huge difference for us and he really uses it well with the way he rebounds and defends in the paint," Barnegat coach Mike Puorro said of Gerena. "That was definitely a factor today and you also saw how he can step out and make open threes, which just makes him that much harder to defend."

Donovan Catholic rallied to tie the game on two occasions - first on a three by senior Matt Weeden with 2:52 left and again on a pair of Weeden free throws after Barnegat senior Nick Revello gave the Bengals a brief, 45-43 lead.

With the score tied at 45-45, Gerena earned a trip to the free-throw line and hit the second of two shots to give the Bengals the lead for good with 2:02 left.

Senior Ty'zon Jackson did not score but made what proved to be the defensive play of the game when he blocked a foul-line jumper by Donovan Catholic senior Neithen Ramos on the next Griffins possession to preserve the one-point Bengals lead. Senior Brendan Revello followed with a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to three.

Ramos hit a jumper to cut the deficit back to one and junior Jaxon Baker hit two foul shots to push Barnegat's lead back to three, 50-47. Weeden then got a clean look at a potential tying three but his shot rimmed out with under 40 seconds to go.

Baker hit four more free throws to cap a 6-for-6 effort in the final minute and put the game away for Barnegat. The junior guard finished with 19 points and also hit three three-pointers.

"We have seen a lot of guys step up for us so far in different key spots," Puorro said. "Jaxon Baker and Jared Krey have made plays. Ty'zon Jackson had the huge block for us that really clinched the game for us. We tell guys to be ready for the opportunity when it comes their way and those are the situations we're talking about."

Both teams shook off a rusty-shooting first half that saw Donovan Catholic take an 18-16 lead into the locker room.

Sophomore Amari Petty led Donovan Catholic with 21 points. Weeden added Donovan 15 points and three blocks while Ramos chipped in eight points and three blocks. The Griffins blocked nine shots as a team, including eight in the first half, with the 6-3 Weeden and 5-9 Ramos leading the defense of the rim.

Donovan Catholic played its fifth straight game to open the season without key returners sophomore Jaden Anthony and senior Sean Farrell due to injury while the Griffins also wait on Manchester transfer Trevor Pruitt to become eligible.

Barnegat now has home wins over Lakewood and Donovan Catholic in the early part of the new season as the Bengals pursue their first ever B South division title in boys basketball. They made a run as a senior-laden team in 2017-18 before going 7-7 in the division with a new starting lineup last season. The group returns with experience and the addition of Gerena has Barnegat looking like a threat to get over the hump in a balanced B South division in 2020.

"These guys get along with each other," Puorro said. "They like each other. They went through the tough times last year being young and being inexperienced. They went from back-to-back seasons as role players at best on an experienced team to getting thrown into the fire. It was a lot for them and to their credit, they battled. The result was okay, but I think this year, they see what it takes to be successful."


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