HOLMDEL -- The players on the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team knew getting on the bus to Holmdel High School Wednesday that when they got off that bus, they would be doing so with a considerable height advantage over their opponent that night.

Despite that, Rumson's top rebounder did not record a rebound during the first quarter and at halftime, Bulldogs coach Chris Champeau felt the need to point out to his team that, despite that height advantage, Holmdel had blocked more shots than his team had.

For the first quarter of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinal, Rumson-Fair Haven beat Holmdel at its own game. When that stopped working, the third-seeded Bulldogs did it their way.

Four of Rumson's five starters scored in double-figures and its two frontcourt starters combined for 24 points and 24 rebounds to key a 60-37 Bulldogs road rout over second-seeded Holmdel that propels Rumson into the sectional final for the second time in the last three seasons.

Rumson-Fair Haven senior Nick Rigby. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Nick Rigby. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Senior guard Nick Rigby led Rumson with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals, but it was Rumson's two imposing forwards that were the deciding factors in helping the Bulldogs blow the game open.

Sophomore Luke Cruz scored 13 points while grabbing eight rebounds, including three three-pointers. Senior Andrew Goodes, meanwhile, scored all 11 of his points in the second half and finished with 16 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.

"We are sneaky big," Champeau said. "Andrew Goodes missed two weeks with a strained Achilles. We had some big games in those two weeks. Cruz missed five games at one point. Two have them both healthy gives us an edge and they both played so well."

Rumson-Fair Haven senior Andrew Goodes. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Andrew Goodes. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

"When we walked on the court, I'm looking around and looking at Cruz and I'm thinking we should get everything down there," Goodes said.

The 6-foot-8 Cruz came out firing, hitting two of Rumson's five three-pointers during the first quarter, which came on 5-for-7 shooting. Junior Riley Gill also hit two threes in the first and Nick Rigby buried a double-clutch three at the buzzer to give Rumson a 19-9 lead heading into the second quarter.

"In the first quarter, they went 2-3 (zone) and we took advantage of that," Rigby said. "We just kept hitting the middle and kicking out. Then, they went to man in the second quarter and we had a hard time adjusting to that but eventually, we adjusted pretty well."

Although Rumson stormed out of the gate in the first quarter, it was a quiet eight minutes for Goodes, who did not post a point or a rebound in the quarter. Holmdel put a body on the 6-6 center, while Rigby and Cruz picked up the slack.

"Our guard physicality is very helpful for Andrew and Cruz because when they in there getting boxed-out by two or three guys, it's nice to have the guards be able to get down there and get rebounds too," Rigby said.

Goodes did not score in the second quarter either, but he pulled down five rebounds while his team struggled from the field. Holmdel held Rumson scoreless for the first 5:30 of the second, but only scored six points of its own during that stretch. The Bulldogs took a 24-17 lead into the halftime locker room.

"I thought the second quarter was a disaster, but we were still up seven, so I switched my tune a little," Champeau said. "We were turning the ball over trying to do the high-low, so I said we're going to switch that up. We’re going to look for the high-low, swing it, seal, and then try to get that going."

In the third, Rumson took over on the glass and pulled away. Goodes scored nine points and inhaled seven rebounds in the quarter to push the Bulldogs lead to 43-28. Holmdel scored the first points of the third quarter, but 43-30 was as close as the Hornets would get the rest of the way.

"(Assistant) Coach Logan (Singleton) was like, 'You've got to be bigger in there,'" Goodes said. "'You can't let these little guys block your shots and block you out. You've got to impose your will.' We were making every shot, which helps. But the ones we were missing, I wanted to have the mindset that I was getting all of them."

Gill led the defensive effort that kept Holmdel's three standout seniors -- James Vallillo, Ben Kipnis and Nick Seeloch -- in check at a combined 26 points. Seeloch scored a hard-earned 16 points while being guarded by Rigby, while Gill held Kipnis to six.

"I have some strong, big guards too," Champeau said. "They are all like six-two. Rigby is a football player and one of the most important players on the team who doesn’t get as much credit as everybody else does is Riley Gill. Every team’s best player, he guards them and he does a great job."

Rumson put one of its big men on the 6-3 Vallillo -- Holmdel's tallest player -- while sagging off of him. Vallillo impacted the game with six rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots, but scored only four points.

"Any time you play a Sean Devaney team – I think he’s the best coach in the Shore Conference – you’re going to get back-cuts and all that stuff," Champeau said, referencing his counterpart on Wednesday night. "My thing was, with rebounding and on defense, I’m going to put my two big guys in there and it eliminates the back-cuts and eliminates all that stuff so we can just focus on locking down their shooters on the outside. It was like a triangle-and-two, Rollie Massimino junk defense."

Rumson-Fair Haven junior David Carr drives on Holmdel senior James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Rumson-Fair Haven junior David Carr drives on Holmdel senior James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Junior David Carr rounded out Rumson's double-figure scorers with 10 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Rumson's unsung hero, meanwhile, was senior Sean Trinder, who provided an equipment assist to his fellow senior and football standout Rigby.

"My shoes ripped in warm-ups and he gave me his shoes," Rigby said. "So, shoutout Sean Trinder. We have the best bench in the Shore."

Holmdel's bright spot Wednesday was its nine blocked shots. In addition to three from Vallillo, Kipnis and sophomore Luke Schneider (two points, five rebounds) each blocked two, while sophomore Jack Vallillo (three points) and junior C.J. Karis each blocked one. Junior Daxx Corneiro also scored seven points in the loss.

Rumson-Fair Haven sophomore Luke Cruz challenges a drive by Holmdel senior Nick Seeloch. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Rumson-Fair Haven sophomore Luke Cruz (34) and senior John Goodes challenge a drive by Holmdel senior Nick Seeloch. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

With the win on Wednesday, Rumson advances to the Central Jersey Group II final for the fifth time since 2014, which places the Bulldogs in exactly half of the 10 tournaments played since that season (there was no NJSIAA Tournament during the COVID-shortened 2021 season). The Bulldogs won the Central Group II championship two seasons ago, but got almost no regular contributions from any player on this year's team outside of some quality minutes off the bench from Rigby.

"Everyone knows that's our captain," Goodes said of Rigby. "We just play through him and emotionally through him as well. He has been in a lot of big games so we always look to him in games like this."

On Friday, the Bulldogs will head south to take on top-seeded Manasquan in the sectional championship, with the Warriors looking for their fifth straight sectional title. Manasquan was moved to Group III for the 2021-22 season, when both the Warriors and Bulldogs won sectional titles.

"This whole section is like an old-school A Central tour," Champeau said. "We haven’t been to Holmdel in years and we haven’t been to Manasquan in a long time, which I haven’t missed. I’m fired up to go in there, though. A couple of hometown, local teams battling each other – refreshing."

The two teams have developed a heated rivalry under their current head coaches, but have not played one another as frequently as they did when both played in the Class A Central division. They last played in last year's Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal, which Manasquan dominated, 57-30, and the last meeting between the two in the Central Group III Tournament went similarly: a 61-39 win for Manasquan in the 2020 sectional quarterfinals.

Manasquan owns a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Rumson in state-tournament games in the last seven state tournaments, with Manasquan beating Rumson in the 2016 sectional semifinals in Manasquan and Rumson winning the 2018 semifinal in Rumson on the way to its second consecutive sectional title. Friday will mark the first time the two Shore Conference rivals will meet in the sectional final.

"(Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau) obviously does a phenomenal job," Champeau said. "You know the numbers with all their wins and championships. I think it’s going to have an old-school vibe, like Brendan Barry vs. the Jensens rather than the teams of the last five years. Manasquan’s record speaks for itself, that’s a crazy crowd, so we’re just going to give it a shot and see what happens."

More From Shore Sports Network