Boys Basketball – Holiday Tournament Notes: Toms River South Steals December Headlines
In WOBM Christmas Classics past, a team like this year's Toms River South boys basketball team might have gotten lost in the mix at the 16-team tournament in Toms River, or at least pulled off a single upset before running into a state-ranked behemoth.
This year, however, the Indians are the talk of Toms River through the first two rounds of the classic.
With the continued success of programs like Manasquan, Toms River North, Red Bank Catholic and Marlboro over the past decade, the WOBM Christmas Classic has elevated to the status as the Shore's most consistent holiday tournament year-in-and-year out.
With 16 teams, however, there could be some major disparities in talent, particular considering how good Manasquan, Marlboro and Toms River North have been at their best over the past five seasons.
This year's revised WOBM Classic format has eliminated some of those disparities by breaking the tournament into two smaller tournaments, which are labeled the Jim Ruhnke Bracket and the Steve Gepp Bracket. With the top eight seeds in the Ruhnke and the bottom eight in the Gepp, it amounts to a "A" Tournament and a "B" Tournament, but the restructuring ultimately creates a lane for a team like Toms River South to have its moment in December.
With a chance to seize that moment, the Indians have not disappointed.
"What comes first: winning or confidence?," Toms River South fourth-year coach Vin Arminio said. "For a program like ours, you don't get confidence until you win, but you have to play some good teams. We have played Toms River North, we have played Freehold Township. We're battle-tested a little bit. We might not be there yet with the perennial programs in the Shore Conference, but we'll got out there and fight with anybody."
Toms River South (5-1) already made it a December to remember by pulling off a huge upset over rival Toms River North -- one of the two finalists in the Runhke Bracket -- in a division showdown on Dec. 18. The Indians then absorbed a loss to Lacey, but have bounced back with wins over two one-loss teams in the Gepp Bracket and will play another one-loss team for the championship on Saturday when they meet Donovan Catholic.
The backcourt trio of senior Jordan Jones, senior Kai Barckley and sophomore Shane Gambarony has been the tempo-setting force for Toms River South during its start, but 6-foot-4 senior Rob Peirson has been the closer, as well as the inside presence.
Peirson scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help Toms River South erase a 10-point deficit vs. Toms River North and send the game into overtime. In Thursday's Gepp semifinal vs. Toms River East, he scored 10 of his 20 in the fourth quarter as the Indians closed out the Raiders with a 15-3 run to end the game.
"He really is doing way more than I expected," Arminio said of Peirson. "I knew he could score, but on the boards, he's just been a man. He fights for everything. Without him, it would be a struggle."
Barckley did not have the kind of shooting day that helped him put up 38 points vs. Lakewood and 31 in the loss to Lacey, but he still went for 19 points in the win over East. Jones and Gambarony did not do as much scoring, but set the pace with their ball-handling and passing on offense and pressure on defense.
"Everything goes through (Jones)," Arminio said. "He is my tempo guy. The production of the three guards has been unbelievable. There have been games Kai has 30-plus points and he scored four points the other day (against Freehold Township) and we still won.
Toms River South has not had a winning season since 2014-15 and will head into 2024 with a great chance to end that drought as well.
"I've been preaching to them that it's our turn now," Arminio said. "I've got a lot of seniors and it's been a lot of fun to watch them, because they are playing with confidence. They're good friends. As a coach, that's all you can really hope for."
Can Manasquan Be Stopped?
Manasquan is one of two undefeated teams left in the Shore Conference and since the start of the season, the Warriors have made it clear that they are no worse than the second-best team in the Shore Conference and should not be counted out vs. St. Rose when the two teams meet on Jan. 22.
Red Bank Catholic gave Manasquan its toughest challenge to date, coming within nine points of the Shore's No. 2 team in a 56-47 Warriors win in Thursday's Ruhnke semifinal. RBC took an early 10-6 lead, but Manasquan took over, 15-12, by the end of the fourth quarter and built up a 16-point fourth-quarter lead before RBC scrapped to within single-digits.
With the transfer of Darius Adams and the loss of Ryan Frauenheim to a torn ACL in the summer, followed by an ankle injury that has sidelined 6-7 senior sharpshooter Alex Konov, junior Griffin Linstra has assumed the leadership role for Manasquan. Linstra is averaging 18 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists after putting up 16 points and 12 boards in the win over RBC.
The two players who have taken up the scoring and facilitating roles have been senior Jason Larned and freshman Rey Weinseimer. Larned scored a career-high 21 points in the win over RBC and has been a force on both ends of the floor in his first year as a starter. Weinseimer put up another 10 points to go with three assists and with Konov out is Manasquan's most dangerous shooting threat on offense.
Manasquan has won three of the last four WOBM Tournaments and will look to finish off a fourth in five tries Saturday against Toms River North.
Speaking of Toms River North, the Mariners have already made two statements at the WOBM Classic. After suffering an overtime loss to Toms River South on Dec. 18, they have bounced back and in the Christmas Classic, they beat previously-unbeaten Colts Neck and Central Regional -- the top-ranked team in Ocean County.
Senior Owen Baker put on a scoring clinic in a 34-point effort in the 68-56 win over Colts Neck in Tuesday's quarterfinal round. On Thursday, it was junior Sherrod Nelson (14 points) stepping up down the stretch in a 40-39 win over Central, with senior Micah Ford (11 points) making several key plays in the fourth quarter as well.
Toms River North and Central will meet one more time with division championship implications for each, but the Mariners have established themselves as an early favorite to finish at the top of Ocean County and make a run at a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal spot. On Saturday, they also have a chance to show that Manasquan can be beaten this season and will attempt to hand an undefeated team its first loss for the second time this tournament.
Buc Classic Final: Bucs vs. Buck
The Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic will come down to red-hot host Red Bank Regional taking on the other remaining undefeated team left in the Shore Conference in Saturday night's championship game.
Ranney is off to a 5-0 start to its season behind the play of senior standout Drew Buck, who is averaging 21.6 points, 10 rebounds and 4.6 assists through five games. In the first round vs. East Brunswick, Buck went for 19 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and followed that up with 30, 11 and five in a 21-point win over Tottentville.
It has not just been Buck for Ranney, either. The Panthers have eclipsed 70 points in each of the first five games and are averaging eight made threes per game, even after hitting just four in the rout of Tottenville. Junior MeSean Williams and sophomore Shaan Nayar have stepped in as the lead guards with the graduation of First-Team All-Shore guards Isaac Hester and Jahlil Bethea.
The Panthers will have their work cut out for them trying to score 70 on Saturday night. Red Bank has won four in a row and during that streak, the Bucs are allowing 42 points per game, including just 28 in the semifinal win over Port Richmond on Thursday night.
Junior guard Zayier Dean has been as good as advertised since transferring in from Ocean, while Jameson Ackerman, Ryan Fisher and Anthony Moore have all made significant strides to complement Dean and fellow guard Braydon Kirkpatrick.
Red Bank is in the final for the second straight year, but has not won the Buc Classic since 2014. Ranney has not won it since 2015.
Huskies Holiday Tournament: Holmdel Hitting its Stride
Holmdel has been playing without senior standout Nick Seeloch, whom coach Sean Devaney said is still about a week from returning from a medical issue that has kept him out since the second game of the season.
Even without the 17-point-per-game scorer from a year ago, the Hornets have put points on the board in Husky wins over Perth Amboy and Woodbridge and in the semifinal win over Woodbridge, Holmdel dominated on the defensive end as well.
Senior Ben Kipnis (13.8 points, 6.2 assists this season) has been a steady hand in the backcourt and the Hornets have benefitted from the improvement of a quartet of players that has thrived while picking up the slack in Seeloch's absence.
Senior James Vallillo has been better this season because he has been healthy, which he was not at any point last season while dealing with a lingering foot injury. The four-year varsity starter is averaging 14.2 points per game this season and 17 per game for the tournament after throwing up 19 in the semifinal win over Woodbridge.
Sophomore Jack Vallillo and senior Daxx Corneiro were starters a season ago and have both expanded their games to become scoring threats when Kipnis finds them. Junior Ire Adesina has stepped in for Seeloch and posted two double-digit scoring games in Holmdel's last three games, including 12 points in Thursday's semifinal win.
Holmdel's only loss so far is on the road vs. Manasquan, so if the Hornets can finish off a tournament title against a Sayreville team averaging 78 points per game, they will be set up for a potentially big season, especially with Seeloch working his way back.
Jack DuBois Final: Shore Sleepers Battle at Shore Regional
Shore Regional came within a bounce of the ball of winning an NJSIAA sectional championship last season, but still head into the Jack DuBois Memorial Tournament final Saturday night with something to prove.
The Blue Devils have been playing without injured star Alex George and are still sitting in great position at 5-1 overall with a chance to win the DuBois for the second straight year.
Seniors Gianni Fiumefreddo, Dom DiFiore, Joe Santi and junior Bryce Crowe have all stepped up their games with George out and will look to hold serve at home on Saturday against Lacey.
Last season, Lacey finished runner-up at the DuBois Tournament and is looking to right that wrong while also making a case to be ranked in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16. The Lions graduated three top scorers, but have started the year strong thanks to a group that has displayed great chemistry and toughness on both sides of the floor.
Senior guard Logan Brash is the leader on the floor, while senior Trevor Santucci and junior Jon Stabile have made an impact both scoring and rebounding.
Lacey's only loss is to No. 14 Jackson Memorial and the Lions have a win over 5-1 Toms River South, so a win over a Shore squad that opened the season ranked No. 16 would be another line on a potentially rank-worthy résumé.