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MIDDLETOWN - The players on the Ranney boys basketball team were disappointed to learn their two games against Manasquan scheduled for this past week would not be played as scheduled because of a positive COVID-19 test on Manasquan's team.

They didn't have to stay bummed out for very long because after the extra time off to practice and scrimmage against one another, the Panthers took a trip to play in one of the toughest home gyms in the Shore Conference against the most decorated team in conference history.

The new-age powerhouse of the Shore Conference overcame the old guard Saturday when Ranney - No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - beat No. 4 Christian Brothers Academy, 57-48, for its third straight win over a ranked opponent to open the season.

"It was a letdown to not get to play Manasquan," Perkins said. "We were amped up to play them but we always want to keep the energy high. We want to have the same energy every game and keep it going for the whole season. That's the emphasis for the entire season."

"We know the history of CBA," said Ranney coach Tahj Holden, who was an assistant at CBA before taking the Ranney job. "They have been doing it at a really high level for a really long time, so to come in here and get a victory is a great feeling. It validates what we have been doing throughout the pandemic because this is one of the best teams in the Shore Conference and maybe the best program in the history of the Shore Conference."

Junior guard Elijah Perkins led an all-round effort from the Ranney roster by scoring a team-high 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field, making him one of three players from his team to reach double-figure scoring. Perkins scored 10 of his points in the first half, during which Ranney staked claim to a 34-28 lead.

Perkins and sophomore backcourt-mate Isaac Hester have starred for Ranney in the first three games of the season, although Saturday against the Colts was the lowest combined scoring output the two have had during the early part of 2021. Hester finished with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, but hit a momentum-boosting shot to end the first quarter - a three-pointer just before the buzzer that gave Ranney the lead for good at 14-11.

"(Hester) is very versatile - he can handle the ball, he can shoot it, he's got the nice midrange pull-up," Holden said. "And he and Elijah play really well off each other."

"He's another great scoring option on the team and it takes a lot of pressure off me," Perkins said. "Everybody can't focus on me because we have him, Kyle, Ryan and everybody down the bench. I guess it's kind of a relief to have all these guys."

On top of taking care of half of Ranney's scoring, Perkins and Hester guarded CBA's senior perimeter duo of Colin Farrell and Mike White. Farrell scored a team-high 16 points with Hester on him most of the game while Perkins kept White in check with five points.

While Ranney's backcourt duo remained a constant, 6-foot-7 junior Ryan Zan turned in his best game of the young season with 14 points, seven rebound and four assists, including a feed to Perkins for a two-handed dunk that served as an exclamation point by extending Ranney's lead to 51-36 late in the fourth.

"We have other guys," Holden said. "Ryan really stepped up today and had one of his best games, not only this year but even going back to last year."

Senior Kyle Rhoden and junior Charles Anyichie had quiet scoring days but were significant factors on defense and, along with Perkins, forced 6-8 CBA senior center Dane Moran to foul out of the game by the 5:12 mark of the fourth quarter. Moran got off to a solid start with six points and three rebounds in the first half but the foul trouble limited his court time and he finished with six points and five boards.

"I feel like we have the best front court in the Shore Conference," Perkins said. "Just height-wise and just practicing against each other every day, we're facing the best of the best."

"This year is really about consistency," Holden said. "Everything off the court is so inconsistent so we want to try and be as consistent as possible on the court. At times, we looked really, really good defensively. For roughly about 60 percent of the second half, they couldn't score and that was because of our defense and how connected we are. When you have the kind of versatility we have and we're playing at our best, it makes it really hard to score."

Junior Pat Lautato scored seven of his nine points for CBA in the first quarter and sophomore Joe White chipped in eight points for the Colts.

Since Holden took over the program ahead of the 2015-16 season, Ranney and CBA have met three times and Saturday's game gave Ranney a 2-1 edge in the all-time series. Ranney beat CBA in the 2018 Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and CBA beat Ranney in a regular-season game between the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Tournament last year.

Since last year, CBA lost two starters in Ryan Mabrey (moved to Indiana) and Ryan Cremen (opted out of the season), while Ranney brought its entire roster while also adding Hester when he transferred from Gill St. Bernard after a strong showing as a freshman.

While losing the Manasquan games on Tuesday and Thursday, Ranney turned to its depth to stay sharp with intra-squad scrimmages at practice leading up to Saturday's game.

"We knew this was going to happen at some point, so we just said, 'Let's just get better every day,'" Holden said. "We have 12 guys who can play right now, so we get to push each other at practice. We'll set up an eight or 16-minute scrimmage so that they don't miss that feeling of playing. A lot of times they are harder because there are no subs.

"Our goal for the entire season is we want to be a position to play every game we can play so we have to keep ourselves safe," Holden said. "We have done a really good job thus far of being able to stay out of the COVID protocol."

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