JACKSON TWP. - Scottie Lewis had just hit the first of the two biggest free throws of his high school career when he turned to his team and pointed at his heart, so as to signal what part of their anatomy to play with for the remaining four-plus minutes of Wednesday's NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public championship game.

Lewis's actions helped Ranney survive regulation against top-seeded, one-loss and upset-minded Wildwood Catholic but in overtime, after the Florida-bound captain of the Panthers fouled out, his message was the only thing left of him that stayed on the court at Jackson Liberty High School.

With Lewis passionately cheering from the Ranney sideline for the final 3:18 of the game, Ranney pulled out a season-saving, 54-50 overtime win over a game Wildwood Catholic squad to win its second straight sectional championship and earn a rematch against Roselle Catholic in the Non-Public B final Saturday in Toms River.

"When I got that fifth foul, I didn't blink," Lewis said. "My teammates didn't blink for me. They just did their jobs. It was my job to have that leadership and passion from the sideline."

Photo by Paula Lopez.
Photo by Paula Lopez.

Before fouling out within the first minute of overtime, Lewis led his team on both ends of the floor through an arduous 32-minute scrap with the Crusaders. The 6-foot-5 wing put up a game-high 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, including two crucial rejections late in the fourth while playing with four fouls.

"I wasn't thinking about the four fouls - no way," Lewis said. "I wanted to stay aggressive defensively and offensively. I knew I had to be out on the floor to make plays."

With Ranney trailing, 48-46, inside of the minute to play, Lewis was fouled and stepped to the line for a 1-and-1 opportunity with 22.5 seconds left. After making the first, he made the gesture toward his chest before turning around to hit the second and tie the game.

On the ensuing Wildwood Catholic possession, 6-6 junior Jahlil White elevated for a potential go-ahead 16-footer, but Lewis stuffed it with five seconds left. Ranney senior Ahmadu Sarnor came away with the ball, pushed it up the floor and got off a clean look at a potential winning three-pointer that was on line, but missed long to close out regulation with the score knotted at 48-48.

Lewis picked up his fifth foul when he was whistled for lowering his shoulder right before converting what would have been a go-ahead layup.

"I didn't sit down," Lewis said. "I kicked my chair that I was sitting on and I was amped up. I was pacing back-and-forth trying to teach Phil (Wheeler) and teach Ahmadu and teach Elijah and kind of be that fifth coach on the sideline, that vocal leader."

With Lewis out for the remainder of the game, freshman Elijah Perkins stepped in and stepped up. With the score tied at 50-50, junior Phillip Wheeler found Perkins cutting to the basket and the freshman guard converted the chance to give the Panthers a 52-50 lead.

"With Scottie on the bench, Elijah went in the game and really stepped up defensively, made a big shot and knocked down a big free throw," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "It's not easy to be on the bench for most of the game and have to go in and do what he did, especially as a freshman."

Ranney's defense clamped down with its best defensive player on the bench, getting a pair of stops to set up Perkins to make one of two free throws, pushing the lead to 53-50.

Needing a three-pointer to tie the game, Wildwood Catholic worked the ball to junior Jacob Hopping in the left corner. Hopping lined up what was momentarily an open look but Wheeler closed out and tipped the shot. The ball went out of bounds to Ranney with 8.1 seconds left and Sarnor hit the second of two free throws to close out the win.

"They play a little bit different style than we are used to," Holden said. "We weren't hitting the shots we normally do and as a result, we really had to grind out a win. We were fortunate to win tonight but these are the kinds of games you have to be able to win if you want to be a championship team."

Hopping - Wildwood Catholic's third-leading scorer for the season - led the Crusaders with 14 points Wednesday, including 12 in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter.

Hopping scored on a putback while drawing Lewis's fourth foul and converted the free throw to give Wildwood Catholic a 36-34 lead in the last minute of the third quarter. He then hit a tie-breaking three to open the fourth-quarter scoring, another three to stretch the lead to 42-38 and answered a basket by Lewis with a pull-up jumper to make it 44-40.

"They had a strong gameplan that they stuck with the entire time," Lewis said of Wildwood Catholic. "They hit shots, we weren't making shots we normally do. We're a fast-break, dunk and three kind of team and when we're not hitting the three, we have to fall back on other things and we kind of figured that out in the second half."

Hopping's hot streak ended with a missed free throw that would have made the score 49-46 and instead left the door open for Lewis to tie the game from the free-throw line. Hopping also missed his only two shot attempts of overtime.

Sarnor finished with 10 points while senior Bryan Antoine scored 13 of his 15 in the second half and overtime for Ranney. Antoine labored his way to a 6-for-17 shooting performance but did hand out five assists and got involved offensively when his team needed him to.

Junior Phillip Wheeler got the start and posted six points, eight rebounds and four blocks. His lone field goal was a three-pointer from the left wing to beat the halftime buzzer and send Ranney to the locker room tied with the Crusaders, 24-24.

Ranney trailed, 44-40, when Antoine hit a baseline floater to trim the deficit to two with 2:29 left to go. Sophomore DeSean Lopez went for a backbreaking three-pointer and missed the mark to give Ranney the ball back and Lewis earned a trip to the line for two free throws, which he converted to tie the game at 44 with 2:05 left. Lewis finished 7-for-7 from the free-throw line in the game.

The Panthers employed a press after tying the game and Wildwood Catholic picked it apart, with Jahlil White finding fellow 6-6 junior Taj Thweatt for the dunk, plus the foul. Thweatt converted the free throw to push Wildwood Catholic's lead to 47-44.

After turning the ball over, Ranney came up with a big steal of its own, with Sarnor flipping the ball up ahead to Antoine for the dunk. Hopping then hit one of two free throws with 45.3 seconds left to set the stage for Lewis to send the game to overtime.

Wildwood Catholic's struggles on the free throw line (9-for-15) and nine missed layups turned out to be the Crusaders undoing.

The defensive gameplan, on the other hand, nearly served as the catalyst for one of the great wins of the season in New Jersey. Wildwood Catholic defended Ranney with a zone throughout the game, primarily with a 2-3 look. While Ranney has faced zones over the course of the season and teams with length to match Wildwood Catholic's, they had not seen a team combine both as effectively as the Crusaders did on Wednesday.

"They came out played their game and had an excellent gameplan," Holden said. "We just hit a couple more shots than them and that put us where we wanted to be."

While Thweatt and White were disruptive defensively, Ranney kept both junior standouts below their senior scoring averages. Thweatt and Lopez each finished with 11 points and White poured in 10 with Lewis guarding him for most of the night. Thweatt also added 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Ranney extended what it hopes will be a run that lasts three more games and did so by handing Wildwood Catholic a similar bitter pill that Roselle Catholic dealt Ranney last year. With a junior-heavy team, Ranney had Roselle Catholic on the ropes with two minutes to go, only for the Lions to rally and win a thriller, 63-61.

Like last year's Ranney team, Wildwood Catholic is mostly comprised of players who will return next season and had a chance to make a statement against an older team. In the end though, the seniors stepped up and extended their careers by one more game.

Ranney's win is also its 100th of the last four seasons, which coincide with the first four years of Holden's coaching career as well.

"I wrote on the board before the game, 'This will not be the end of our history,'" Lewis said. "Every time we step on the floor, there is history to be made and it's not like that for other teams. Our 100th win, back-to-back sectional championships - we wanted to get to Saturday and we wanted to get to March 17th (for the Tournament of Champions final) but there are a lot of things that have to happen first and winning this game was the beginning of that test."

The Panthers now turn their attention to win No. 101, which would be the biggest of the last four years. Ranney meets Roselle Catholic for the fifth time in the last four years and just beat the Lions for the first time back on Jan. 31 at the Jersey Shore Challenge at Brookdale.

As much as Ranney would like to avenge last year's one-point loss to the Lions, Roselle Catholic's talented squad would love nothing more than to pay Ranney back for a 63-49 loss in January and move on to defend its Tournament of Champions title.

"It's all about how we come out," Lewis said. "That last two games, we came out really strong. This game, we didn't and you saw what kind of dog fight we found ourselves in. We're going to come out confident on Saturday ready to win and ready to do it together."

Box Score

Ranney 54, Wildwood Catholic 50 (OT)

Ranney (28-3)9151212654
Wildwood Catholic (27-2)13111212250

Ranney (54): Ahmadu Sarnor 4 1-2 10, Bryan Antoine 6 2-2 15, Alex Klatsky 1 0-0 3, Phillip Wheeler 1 3-4 6, Scottie Lewis 5 7-7 17, Chris Autino 0 0-0 0, Elijah Perkins 1 1-3 3. Totals: 18 14-18 54

Three-pointers: Sarnor, Antoine, Klatsky, Wheeler

Fouled out: Lewis

Wildwood Catholic (50): Jake McGonigle 1 0-0 2, DeSean Lopez 3 3-3 11, Taj Thweatt 4 2-5 11, Jahlil White 4 2-4 10, Jacob Hopping 5 2-3 14, David Zarfatti 1 0-0 2, Ben Church 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 9-15 50

Three-pointers: Lopez 2, Thweatt, Hopping 2

Fouled out: Lopez, White


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