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RED BANK - Kevin Bauman is enjoying basketball again and that has been bad news for opponents of the Red Bank Catholic boys basketball team.

After another stellar performance by the 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior and University of Notre Dame football commit in Thursday night's 61-51 win over Lakewood in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, Bauman and the seventh-seeded Caseys are headed to the SCT quarterfinals for a second straight year as a player and team that appear to have simultaneously rediscovered themselves over the past two weeks.

It is probably no coincidence that as Bauman has reasserted himself as one of the Shore Conference's most imposing front-court players, Red Bank Catholic has surged to the brink of its first trip to the SCT semifinals since 1994.

"The coaches have always been on me about being more aggressive offensively," Bauman said. "I just said, 'I only have a few games left of high school basketball - who knows what the future holds - so why not be more aggressive with my scoring to help my team in any way possible to win these games."

Based on the earlier part of Bauman's career as well as his championship-level performance on the football field, it should come as little surprise that he has been a catalyst for RBC's success on the court. Yet just a month ago, he was doing as much to hurt the team as he was to help it.

Red Bank Catholic senior Kevin Bauman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Frustrated by what he felt like was physical play that was allowed against him but penalized when he returned the favor, Bauman was frequently picking up technical fouls on a game-to-game basis. It all culminated in a 62-44 loss to Holmdel on Jan. 21, in which Bauman was ejected after picking up two technicals.

"He is a major college football recruit and I think every team we play is trying to get under his skin," Red Bank Catholic fourth-year coach Tyler Schmelz said. "They are poking the bear and he has done a really nice job recently of just concentrating on playing good basketball. It got the better of him early on, but he has been locked in since he has been back."

By NJSIAA rule, Bauman had to serve a two-game suspension and Red Bank Catholic tacked on two extra games to the punishment while also requiring Bauman to meet with athletic director Joe Montano and principal Robert Abatemarco, according to coach Tyler Schmelz.

"He sat down with Mr. Montano, Mr. Abatemarco and myself and we came to the agreement that we want the best for Kevin and we want the best of Kevin to come out," Schmelz said. "And that's what happened. He is staying positive, he is being a leader and he is playing great.

"I think coming off football season, he wasn't totally ready to play. He wasn't playing as well as he wanted to play and he was frustrated. Plus, he is a big, physical guy: when he makes contact with somebody, they go flying. He went over the line a couple of times, but he learned his lesson and I think that's a positive."

The Caseys also got on track with Bauman out, as they went 4-0 with wins over Shore, Toms River East, St. Rose and Rumson-Fair Haven - the last two of which beat RBC earlier in the year with Bauman in the lineup. That opened Bauman's eyes to the reality that he should not return to the team because it needed him there but rather because he wanted to be there.

After four games away, he learned that he indeed want to finish his basketball career on a better note.

"I just wanted to get back on the court," Bauman said. "I wanted to play with these guys before we went our separate ways and take the court with my brother (sophomore Alex Bauman).

"A switch kind of flipped for me. I am just like, 'I'm going to have fun with this.' We're going to enjoy every second of it. The highs, the lows - we are just going to enjoy it all together and I'm grateful for that."

Red Bank Catholic senior Kevin Bauman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Perhaps the most convincing evidence of Bauman's reformation is that RBC has had its struggles since his return and the senior and his teammates have remained upbeat. The Caseys defeated Henry Hudson and Raritan in Bauman's first two games back, then suffered a shocking 52-50 setback at four-win Monmouth Regional.

To make matters worse, the Caseys lost senior Charlie Gordinier - one of Bauman's closest friends and a Boston College football commit - to a broken bone in his shooting hand just before the Monmouth game and would have to play without him during a regular-season-ending gauntlet that including No. 1 Manasquan, No. 4 Holmdel and No. 8 Christian Brothers Academy.

"There were a lot of moving parts to that Monmouth loss," Schmelz said. "We got together, we knew the schedule coming up and we just told ourselves, 'We're not going to worry about wins and losses - we're just worried about getting better. When we go out there against Manasquan, get better. Holmdel, get better.' Then CBA is kind of the stand-alone for us. It's the regular-season Super Bowl, so they brought it that day."

Red Bank Catholic hung with Manasquan for a half before the Warriors pulled away in the the second half in a 60-42 win. To add to RBC's woes, his brother, Alex, left that game with an injury and had to sit out the next game against Holmdel.

It appeared Holmdel would run away from RBC for a second time this season but the Caseys mounted a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, cutting a 13-point deficit to one before ultimately falling, 53-50.

The Holmdel loss struck a nerve with the Caseys heading into last Saturday's Founder's Cup game vs. CBA and no one was more eager to take it to the rival Colts than Bauman. The senior turned in a career performance with 31 points and 11 rebounds, leading RBC to a 67-54 win over CBA.

In two SCT games since the big win over CBA, Bauman has scored 19 points in a win over No. 26 Manchester and put up 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists Thursday against No. 10 Lakewood - which entered the round of 16 having won 12 in a row and 17 of its last 18.

"I always tell Kevin he is a graceful player," Schmelz said. "People assume he is a bruiser but he is actually a really talented, graceful player. He is Euro-stepping to the rim, he is finding open teammates. If you run into him, you will think he's a bruiser, but that's more him as an athlete, not as a basketball player."

Bauman also combined with his brother to defend Lakewood senior star Ryan Savoy, who matched Kevin Bauman with 21 points to go with 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

On top of another strong defensive performance, Alex Bauman contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists in Thursday's win while fellow sophomores Cyril Arvanitis and C.J. Ruoff added 12 points each.

"We have really been playing well together and tonight was a great example of that," Kevin Bauman said. "It's not going to be a one-man show with us. We have trust in each other and knowing we have more than one guy to go to has made us better.

"We know that we can accomplish all the goals that we have. We're more than just a team that's going to be spotty week-to-week. We're a good team and we just found our mojo, we're playing team basketball and we're just having fun with it. That's what's fueling us."

Ruoff and Arvanitis have emerged over the course of the season, with Ruoff playing a huge role during the current three-game winning streak. The sophomore guard scored 20 points in the win over CBA and erupted for 28 - including 17 in the first quarter - in the win over Manchester on Tuesday. Arvanitis scored all of his points Thursday on four three-pointers.

"Everybody has found their little niche," Schmelz said. "C.J. is playing great. Kevin is being what Kevin should be, which is this force. He's not trying to do too much. He's just playing his game and we're having fun."

If CBA brought out the edge in Kevin Bauman, RBC's next opponent - No. 15 Mater Dei Prep - is sure to bring out the animal. While the recent history between the two basketball programs is sparse, the rivalry on the gridiron has escalated dramatically over the past two years. Bauman and RBC beat Mater Dei in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship game in 2018 and Mater Dei returned the favor this past fall by beating the Caseys at Count Basie Field in the sectional semifinals.

Among Mater Dei's regular contributors are football players Tahaj Parland and Kyree Drake, so just as they helped end Bauman's high-school football career, Bauman and Co. would like to squash any designs of an extended Cinderella run by the Seraphs - who shocked No. 2 Middletown South at the buzzer on Thursday night.

"We have a real rivalry with Mater Dei," Schmelz said. "The script got flipped on us a little bit and now we have to get prepared for them. Honestly, I haven't seen them much this year because our paths don't cross much in basketball. We'll have to do what my coaching staff did for Manchester and Lakewood which is prepare the kids to play well."

Fittingly enough, the last time Red Bank Catholic reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, the Caseys beat Mater Dei to get there back in the 1993-94 season. Among the stars on those teams were Scott Stump and current Monmouth University women's basketball assistant James Young for RBC and current Ranney assistant John Tierney on the Mater Dei side.

Both participants in Sunday's second quarterfinal game at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on Sunday afternoon in Toms River are a reminder that the season is a process and teams change throughout. In RBC's case, the Caseys lost one of their best players due to injury and regained one of its best after some self-reflection.

It remains to be seen how far RBC can take it, but the Caseys are glad that Kevin Bauman is a part of it and, more importantly, so is Bauman himself.

 

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