Boys Basketball – Middletown South Clinches Class B North, Runs Streak to 14
COLTS NECK – After the first four games of the 2022-23 season, the Middletown South boys basketball team seemed like it was destined to lose every game in gut-wrenching fashion.
Ever since that 0-4 start, all the Eagles do is win.
Behind another big scoring night from senior Pat Brown and high-level point-guard play from classmate Dylan Csik, Middletown South won its 14th straight game Tuesday night by taking down Colts Neck, 59-51, to clinch the Shore Conference Class B North division championship.
The division title is the second for Middletown South in the last four years and it comes after the Eagles began the division slate 0-2 as part of their 0-4 start to the season. Three of those losses came by a single score and the other was a six-point loss at Rumson-Fair Haven.
“Our five seniors have been awesome,” said third-year head coach Jimmy Cranwell, who was an assistant under Jim Anderson when Middletown South won the Class A North championship in 2019-20. “The leadership we get from them has been huge and it was really important to have that when things weren’t going our way early on. That’s what makes your team go – it’s those seniors.”
Both of Middletown South’s Class B North losses came on the road – the first at Red Bank Catholic and the other at aforementioned Rumson – and Tuesday, the Eagles fell into an early hole against a Cougars team that was playing to win a share of the division championship.
After falling behind, 11-7, Middletown South finished the first quarter on a 9-0 run to go up 16-11, then built the lead to 32-22 by halftime. Brown hit three of his team’s six three-pointers in the half while scoring 11 of his game-high 23.
Brown also grabbed 11 rebounds and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line for the game, including 10-for-10 in the second half.
The rest of Middletown South’s scoring came from all around the lineup, with Csik pumping in 11 points while dishing out five assists. Junior Ryan Denery chipped in eight points, sophomore Brady Hahn chipped in seven off the bench and junior Will Nugent contributed six points and six rebounds.
“The ball starts bouncing your way when you do the right things,” Cranwell said. “They started focusing on scouting reports more, they started focusing on practice more on their free-throw shooting and we have shot the ball much better. We had a conversation a few games into the year that we could be very good if we follow scouting reports and the guys have really bought into that.”
After trailing by 10 points at the half, Colts Neck fought back to within three, 34-31, with a 9-2 run to start the third quarter. Brown responded with six straight points, then Csik found Denery for layups on back-to-back possessions, followed by a score of his own to push the lead back to 13.
Colts Neck never got closer than six points in the fourth quarter, but did create a highlight when senior Will Surdez scored his 1,000th career point on a free-throw with just under seven minutes to go in the game. Surdez and junior teammate Mike Belcher each scored 15 points to lead Colts Neck.
Both Middletown South and Colts Neck are coming off losing seasons a year ago and found themselves playing one another for a division championship on Tuesday. First-year coach Steve Jannarone – a longtime assistant under predecessor and trailblazing Colts Neck head coach Lou Piccola – has taken over for his former boss and helped lift the Cougars back into contention.
“We knew Colts Neck’s a tough team,” Cranwell said. “Every team in our division is good and they are all going to make runs. It’s something we have handled better since those first four games, not getting flustered and letting it continue. These guys doing a great job staying together.”
The B North division has had four different teams sit atop the standings over the course of just a 10-game schedule. Colts Neck stormed out with wins over Red Bank and Rumson-Fair Haven, followed by Red Bank Catholic taking over the top spot for a brief period before Rumson-Fair Haven pulled into poll position. All the while, Red Bank defeated Christian Brothers Academy in December and made itself known as a tough out from the early part of the season. Middletown North is winless in the division, but five of its 10 losses were by a margin of five points or less.
Cranwell, meanwhile, has Middletown South running on all cylinders heading into next week’s Shore Conference Tournament, with one more regular-season games against Manalapan scheduled for Thursday. After the season started in the most frustrating manner possible, Middletown South has since responded with its longest winning streak since the Eagles ripped off 19 straight during its 26-win 2019-20 season.
“These guys are capable,” Cranwell said. “We have to take it day-by-day. That’s what got us here and we’re going to continue to do that.”