Boys Basketball – Group Semifinal Preview: Rumson and Pt. Beach Play for a Spot at Rutgers
NJSIAA Group Semifinals – Groups I and II
Thursday, March 8
At RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, Toms River
Basketball fans with a particular interest in the Shore Conference caught a bit of a break with Wednesday’s nor’easter – instead of making two trips to watch Rumson-Fair Haven and Point Pleasant Beach challenge for a spot in the NJSIAA Group finals at Rutgers on Sunday, it will only take one.
The Two Shore Conference schools, which have met twice this season, will participate in a double-header Thursday night at the RWJ Barnabas Health Center in Toms River, with Point Beach playing first in the Group I semifinals and the Bulldogs following in the Group II semifinal.
Rumson was originally slated to play Haddonfield Wednesday at Perth Amboy, but the game was moved to Thursday in Toms River due to the winter storm that much of the Northeast on Wednesday.
The opponents of the two Shore teams also met one another during the regular season, so there will be plenty of familiarity within the building on Thursday night. Read on for a closer look at the two games Thursday in Toms River.
Group I Semifinal
Point Pleasant Beach (21-9) vs. Woodbury (19-11), 5:30 p.m.
The last time Point Beach and Woodbury met in the state tournament, the Garnet Gulls traveled south looking to win their first ever sectional championship back in 2010 and were resoundingly denied by the Thundering Herd. That Point Beach team had two-time Kerwin Arward-winner Jarelle Reischel as a junior, but the Garnet Gulls were blitzed from the start of the game and could never recover.
Beyond the simple fact that these are two completely different teams, Thursday’s game should be different for Point Beach on many fronts. Since getting their feet wet in big games for the first time in a long time eight years ago, the Garnet Gulls have made themselves a perennial contender in Group I, with three sectional titles to their name and a Group I championship in 2013. Coach Nick Catania has taken the lessons of losing at every step and turned his program into one that can win anywhere against most opponents – on the road, neutrals sites, against fast athletic teams, bigger teams and sharp-shooters.
As part of that program evolution, Point Beach has gone from an athletic team with size to one that features more skill to go with its athleticism. Its biggest player, 6-5 Trevor Covey, is natural perimeter player on the offensive end and arguably the team’s most dangerous three-point shooter. He also takes care of the big-man duties on defense, but his game is one that revolves around his skill rather than his size -which is, of course, still an asset - on offense.
The rest of the lineup is in the 5-10 to 6-3 range, with guards Danny Frauenheim, Mohamed Traore and Josh Yates bringing multiple dimensions to the table. Frauenheim is the Shore Conference’s assist leader over the last two years and Point Beach’s all-time assist leader after passing Matt Farrell on Friday in the sectional semifinals at New Egypt. Yates has developed into a standout defender as well as a knockdown shooter and showed his range with 4-for-5 three-point shooting in the win over New Egypt.
Traore has been a difference-maker since transferring from the Boston area and becoming eligible in mid-January. He is Point Beach’s leading scorer during that time and delivered again in Tuesday’s sectional final by scoring 23 points – including the game-tying drive to the basket with 13 seconds to go.
Point Beach’s only non-senior in the starting lineup is sophomore Jake Clark and the Garnet Gulls also bring seasoned senior veteran Chris Pina off the bench to get some extra size and athleticism on the floor.
On the other side, Woodbury brings a little bit different offensive formula to the table. Junior Aaron Estrada is the only player on the team averaging double-figure scoring and he is up above 21 points per game for the season. The Thundering Herd’s top three scorers this season consist of two juniors (Estrada and Tommy Carter) and a sophomore (Andre Parker) while only one of the top five is a senior.
As far as its resume goes, Woodbury has not played any team like Ranney – which Point Beach had to play twice – but the Herd did play Camden Catholic and lost by 39 points. Camden Catholic’s profile closely resembles that of Mater Dei, which Point Beach also lost to twice, but in far more competitive fashion.
Both teams have a high number of losses relative to most sectional champions, albeit against quality opponents, for the most part. Each even has a loss to an 18-loss team, with Point Beach losing at Central, 46-44, and Woodbury losing to 9-18 Collingswood, 45-44.
Point Beach will be looking to make a more pleasant memory at the arena in Toms River after losing to Rumson-Fair Haven, 67-47, in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Point Beach also lost its prior postseason game in Toms River, dropping the Group I semifinal to Pitman in 2014.
If the Garnet Gulls can turn the arena into a positive, with the hometown fans needing only make a short trip to see the game, they should gain an advantage in an otherwise close matchup. The road treated Point Beach kindly in each of the last two games and the Gulls will like the RWJ Barnabas Health Center a little more after Thursday night. The Pick: Point Beach, 61-55
Group II Semifinal
Rumson-Fair Haven (25-2) vs. Haddonfield (27-3), 7:30 p.m.
After winning the program’s first sectional title in 46 years last year, the Bulldogs got a dose of harsh reality when they lost to South Jersey power Camden in the Group II semifinals. This year, Rumson has successfully defended its Central Jersey Group II champion and has been gearing up for a far better showing in the group semifinals when Thursday night rolls around.
Mentally, Rumson had been envisioning a rematch with Camden and why wouldn’t they? The Panthers entered the season as a six-time defending sectional champion and were again the favorite to win the South Jersey Group II final. Much to the surprise of the Bulldogs and many others, Haddonfield picked off Camden in the sectional semifinals and went on to win its first sectional championship since 2007. Perhaps it should not have been such a surprise since Haddonfield lost to Camden at the buzzer in last year’s South Jersey Group II final and returned this year with a level of motivation at the very least equal to that of Rumson.
Based on Haddonfield’s record, history and competitiveness vs. Camden in each of the past two years, it would appear it has an advantage over Rumson. Unlike most teams, however, Rumson has undergone a roster overhaul that has significantly improved its talent level from a year ago – a process that involved just one transfer.
On top of adding senior point guard and Red Bank Regional transfer Devin Cooper, Rumson came back this season with vastly improved wing players in junior Jackson McCarthy and Phillip Wheeler, as well as a healthy 6-7 senior captain and defensive leader Elijah McAllister. McCarthy did contribute in spots on last year’s team, but has seen his role increase, while Wheeler played only at the sub-varsity level before emerging as one of the Shore’s most promising prospects as an athletic, 6-7 sophomore.
Junior Ian O’Connor has reprised his role as a strong, slashing player on offense and a physical defender and rebounder as well. Seniors Jack Solano and Teddy Sourlis have taken a step back in their scoring as the Bulldogs have introduced more offensive firepower to the roster, but both still spell potential danger for opponents because of their ability to catch fire from beyond the three-point line.
McAllister had to watch his team get picked apart by Camden in a game that begged for his athleticism and presence in the paint. That presence will still be essential against Haddonfield on Thursday night, but he nature of the challenge might be a little different than it would have been against Camden.
With a rich tradition of winning, Haddonfield has played its usual team-oriented, balanced brand of basketball this season – not unlike what Rumson has done in recent years. The Bulldogs have three players averaging better than 10 points per game, but not with more than 13.5. Junior Mike DePersia – who scored the winning putback with three seconds left in overtime Saturday vs. Camden – leads the way at 13.4 points per game.
Juniors Aidan Blake (10.1) and Dan Fleming (11.1) also check in with a double-figure scoring average and both provide the Bulldogs with plenty of size to counter Rumson, with Fleming standing 6-7 and Blake 6-4. Throw in 6-4 junior Dylan Heine at a little under eight points per game, and Haddonfield has four standouts from the Class of 2019 that are ready to challenge for what they hope is the first of two Group titles.
Both rosters come equipped with plenty of success in big games this year and Rumson, in particular, has only stumbled when faced with a high-level opponent. The Bulldogs’ only losses have come against North Jersey Non-Public A finalist St. Peter’s Prep and to a Mater Dei Prep team that has been ranked in the top 15 in the state by NJ.com and No. 2 at the Shore by Shore Sports Network all season long. Rumson also has two wins over Central Group I champion Point Beach, and win each over Christian Brothers Academy, Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic, as well as four wins in the Central Group II section.
By comparison, Haddonfield opened the season 11-0 before losing to Wildwood Catholic – the Cape-Atlantic League champion and No. 1 seed in the talented South Jersey Non-Public B bracket. The Bulldogs also lost a one-point game to rival Haddon Heights – which they would later beat in the sectional quarterfinals – and a four-point game to Paul VI. In addition to the Camden win, Haddonfield has noteworthy wins over the South Jersey Group I champion (Woodbury), the SJ I runner-up (Glassboro), the Central Jersey Group I runner-up (Burlington City), the Central Jersey Group I runner-up (Moorestown) and perennial state title contender Ewing.
Rumson has the edge in seniors with McAllister, Cooper, Sourlis and Solano, but Haddonfield can match the Bulldogs’ size and its poise in tight situations is beyond reproach. The winner of this game will attempt to end a run of dominance by North Jersey teams in the Group II final. Despite Camden’s consistency, North Jersey teams are in the midst of a five-year championship winning streak and have won eight out of 10 since Haddonfield captured three straight titles from 2004 to 2006.
Newark schools have been the primary source of dominance in the group and even in one of the two years in which the southern team won the section, it was Malcolm X Shabazz of Newark, which was sectioned in Central Jersey Group II that year.
With Haddonfield returning so much of its scoring next year, this might be Rumson’s best chance to win the group, even with O’Connor, McCarthy and Wheeler due back next year as a dynamic trio. The last game in which the Bulldogs turned in a complete effort from start to finish was a 67-47 win over Point Beach in the SCT quarterfinals in the same arena that will host their game tomorrow night. That same arena was also the site of their worst result of the season – a 70-53 loss to Mater Dei Prep in the SCT semifinals.
Rumson’s perimeter defense and three-point shooting have not been quite as consistent as they were last year and while either or both could be on the verge of breaking out, playing short one of those facets of the game will make Haddonfield a tough opponent to beat. With Haddonfield offering a lot of size, the matchup may work out in Rumson’s favor if the three-point shot is not falling for a team that does not rely on it all the much (four three-pointers per game as a team). If McAllister can stay out of foul trouble and continue to dominate the paint – both of which he usually does – then Rumson has a great shot to win, as long as the offense can come through. That last part is a little harder to predict, so I will very tentatively make the homer pick. The Pick: Rumson, 51-47