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As part of the Shore Conference Class A Central division in recent seasons, the Raritan boys basketball team has had some serious competition to face twice per season.

Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic, Holmdel and Rumson-Fair Haven have contended for multiple championships over the past four seasons and Raritan has had to deal with all of them multiple times per year, with the obvious exception of the shortened 2021 season.

Raritan junior Jack O'Leary (12) takes on Holmdel sophomore James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Raritan junior Jack O'Leary (12) takes on Holmdel sophomore James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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More and more, however, it is looking like this year's Raritan team is becoming part of that list of serious contenders thanks to an experienced group with both talent and depth.

All of it was on display Friday night, when Raritan -- ranked No. 9 in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- rode a 41-point second half to beat rival Holmdel, 77-62, to continue its impressive start to the 2021-22 season.

Junior Jack O'Leary continued his breakout season as a varsity player by scoring 22 points, while seniors Justin Rivera and Tayzaya Smith each finished with 16 points while powering the second-half surge.

Raritan senior Justin Rivera shoots over Holmdel freshman Evan Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Raritan senior Justin Rivera shoots over Holmdel freshman Evan Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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O'Leary got Raritan off to a strong start by scoring 15 of his points in the first half, which helped the Rockets establish a 36-33 lead heading into the locker room.

Raritan extended its lead to double-figures by the end of the third, with Rivera catching fire for 10 of his 16 points during a 22-15 quarter for the Rockets, which pushed the lead to 58-48.

Smith then led the close-out quarter with a 10-point quarter of his own, giving him all 16 of his points in the second half.

Raritan senior Tayzaya Smith. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Raritan senior Tayzaya Smith. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Freshman Evan Roman led Holmdel with a game-high 23 points, sophomore Nick Seeloch chipped in 16 and sophomore Ben Kipnis had 11 in the loss.

Raritan has now lost just once this season, which was a 67-52 defeat at the hands of No. 2 Red Bank Catholic after trailing by four at halftime. Another of Raritan's wins was a 54-47 over a Voorhees team that entered the game undefeated.

Holmdel freshman Evan Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Holmdel freshman Evan Romano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Holmdel has not been as consistent, which is understandable considering the Hornets start four sophomores along with the freshman Romano. Still, Holmdel is 5-5 with wins over Hamilton West, Freehold Township, Toms River North and a dramatic one over Shore Regional over the weekend.

Raritan will face an important week upcoming, with a Monday morning game at Jackson Memorial and a home date with No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven on Thursday.

Holmdel sophomore Nick Seeloch guarded by Raritan junior Lucas LaVilla. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Holmdel sophomore Nick Seeloch guarded by Raritan junior Lucas LaVilla. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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