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With no seniors on the roster, the Ranney boys basketball team played the 2019-20 season knowing it would set the Panthers up for a big year in 2021.

As excited as they were for all the talent they were bringing back, it might be their one newcomer that pushes Ranney over the top.

Sophomore Isaac Hester - a transfer from Gill St. Bernard - scored 17 points in his Ranney debut and the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 battled past No. 8 Neptune, 60-52, to open up their anticipated season.

Hester showed off his array of skills in the win, handling the ball, knocking down shots from the perimeter, driving into the paint and finishing, as well as working the glass. He also took pressure of junior and returning Second Team All-Shore guard Elijah Perkins, who poured in 15 points in the win.

"Having Isaac makes the situation so much easier," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said of his newest player. "He gets so many different guys involved. He is a really good shooter but he is also capable of running the point, which is huge because it takes a lot of pressure off of Elijah. We can play him a lot more off the ball, which I think will benefit him because he is at his best when he is catching and attacking rather than trying to bring the ball up and break guys down."

Before transferring to Ranney, Hester posted nine points and 3.4 assists per game during a strong freshman campaign with another one of the top programs in N.J.

Senior Kyle Rhoden and junior Ryan Zan were noteworthy transfers a season ago and both made their presence felt in Wednesday's opener. Rhoden posted nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks while Zan scored all eight of his points in the first half while grabbing six rebounds in the game.

Two years removed from becoming the first Shore Conference team to ever win the Tournament of Champions title, Ranney has a completely new-look schedule, even accounting for the fact that every team's schedule looks different in the shortened 2021 season. The Panthers are not taking on any statewide powerhouse teams like Roselle Catholic or the Patrick School, but they are playing some of the Shore's best after shaking loose of the Class B Central schedule that locked them into two games apiece vs. the Shore's five Group I programs: Keyport, Keansburg, Henry Hudson, Asbury Park and Point Pleasant Beach.

This year, Ranney opens with two games against tradition-rich and top-10-ranked Neptune, followed by two games vs. No. 1 and defending Shore Conference champion Manasquan, one at No. 4 Christian Brothers Academy, then two against two-time defending NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III champion and No. 6 Wall.

"It's going to be a little more challenging for us," Holden said. "You don't have the showcase-type games, but the schedule doesn't have any easy games in it. We play Manasquan twice, so that will be new and definitely challenging."

Neptune proved a worthy adversary on Wednesday night, taking two different leads in the first half and hanging within single-digits of Ranney, which boasts a much bigger team across the board than the Scarlet Fliers do. Senior and Monmouth University commit Sam Fagan set off some fireworks in the first quarter by hitting three of his four three-point attempts, including one from just inside the edge of the halfcourt logo to put Neptune ahead, 17-16.

Fagan finished with 14 points, with 12 coming in the first half. Senior Andre Harris added 11 points for Neptune, powered by three three-pointers.

The two teams will clash again Friday evening in Neptune at 5 p.m. It will be Ranney's first ever regular-season trip to the Flier Dome, where Neptune won in thrilling fashion they last time it played a game there that counted.