MIDDLETOWN - With two starters down due to injury Wednesday night, the Ranney boys basketball team's prospects of beating the No. 1 team in the state were remote at best.

The final score of Wednesday's 75-50 loss to Roselle Catholic in the Jersey Shore Challenge on the campus of Brookdale Community College might suggest that on this particular night - with juniors Scottie Lewis and Alex Klatsky out of the lineup - the Panthers were a lost cause from the beginning.

If anyone in Ranney's program knows something about staring down impossible odds and fighting anyway, it is junior center Chris Autino. The 6-foot-7 junior was forced into the starting lineup because of the injuries, played an inspired first quarter and continued fighting against Roselle Catholic's towering front line throughout the rest of the game.

Despite the opponent and the venue, Autino's effort had little to do with basketball.

Wednesday's Jersey Shore Challenge doubled as a high-profile showcase event as well as a fundraiser for the Joan Dancy and PALS Foundation, which champions a cause that hits close to home for Autino.

Joan Dancy and PALS (People with ALS) helps provide people affected by ALS - also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease - with a higher quality of life for them and their families.

Autino's mother, Theresa Autino, lost two-and-a-half-year battle with ALS last May.

People with ALS typically live only two-to-five years from the time they are diagnosed, but Autino learned the importance of not only living through the adversity of the disease, but also continuing to work on behalf of those who are still affected and will be affected by it.

"The foundation takes care of a lot of patients from all over the Jersey Shore area," Autino said. "It was just a pleasure to play for the people that helped me and my family when we were going through a tough time."

At the end of the summer, Autino helped organize a three-on-three tournament at Rumson's Victory Park to raise money for Joan Dancy and PALS and his experience with the foundation made it the ideal beneficiary of Wednesday's ticket sales.

While Autino's work off the court has worked toward helping those stilling fighting ALS, his play on the court is all for his mother. The junior played a particularly inspired first quarter, during which he scored all four of his points. Autino finished with four points, eight rebounds and three assists before fouling out and often found himself guarding Roselle Catholic senior and 6-10 LSU commit Naz Reid.

"I always play for my mother," Autino said. "With the fundraiser today, knowing we were playing for the people who helped her out, it definitely gave me a little extra in the tank."

Autino was part of Ranney's heralded freshman class of 2015-16 and as a starter for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons. With the addition of 6-8 St. Anthony transfer Savior Akuwovo, he began this season as the team's sixth man.

In recent weeks, Autino has found himself back in a starting role due to a number of absences by Ranney starters. Junior Ahmadu Sarnor had to sit two games after being ejected from a win over Mater Dei and on the same day in which Sarnor returned to the lineup, Lewis went down with an ankle injury that has forced him to miss the team's last five games.

"Chris has been playing meaningful minutes for for three years now," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "Sometimes his efforts get overshadowed having Scottie and Bryan (Antoine) and then bringing in Ahmadu and Savior (Akuwovo), but he's always given me his best and the effort he has put in hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaches and his teammates."

On top of the injury to Lewis, Klatsky suffered a concussion in a win over Keansburg last week and junior Mike Dettro - who had emerged as the team's sixth man with both Sarnor and Lewis out - suffered a broken clavicle in a win over Keyport on Monday.

With three contributors out on Wednesday, senior Dylan Barbanel earned his first start and senior Kiran Shah saw important minutes as well.

"I didn't ask them to do anything they aren't capable of doing," Holden said of Barbanel and Shah. "They didn't need to go behind the back, through the legs and finish over Naz Reid. It's hard for a five-star recruit to do that.

"We know what they can do - they can knock down shots, hustle, get back on defense. They do those things, so I just asked them to do that and nothing more."

With Autino providing some early energy, Ranney jumped out to leads of 6-0 and 12-7 on the No. 1 team in the state, according to NJ.com. The teams were tied, 13-13, after one quarter.

Sarnor and fellow junior Bryan Antoine each scored 18 points to carry the lion's share of the scoring load for Ranney. With Lewis out of the lineup, Roselle Catholic focused its defensive attention on Antoine and held him to 4-for-16 shooting from the field. Sarnor was named Ranney's MVP of the game.

Reid finished the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds, including the 1,000th point of his high school career on a one-handed slam with two minutes left in the third quarter. Wednesday was a big day for Reid, an Asbury Park native who was presented with his McDonald's All-American jersey earlier in the day.

Senior guard and Delaware recruit Ithiel Horton scored a game-high 19 points to lead Roselle Catholic and picked up MVP honors, while junior Kahlil Whitley added 17 points and six rebounds. Six-foot-8 senior Alanzo Frink added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Lions.

Holden said Lewis and Klatsky will remain day-to-day heading into the end of the week and as Monday's rematch with Shore Conference Class B Central rival Mater Dei approaches.

Wednesday's loss was a tough pill for Ranney to swallow - the Panthers had a chance to potentially move into the top spot in the statewide rankings with a win, but could not field a complete team.

Although it is a missed opportunity for now, the team hopes the effort in the face of the injuries will benefit them in the postseason.

As far as Autino is concerned, it's always worth putting in the effort.

"We we down three guys, so we knew it was going to be a battle," Autino said. "It was going to be a battle no matter how many guys were hurt, so we just had to fight and grind it out.

"Now we have to go kill February. It just gives us extra motivation from here on out."


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