HOLMDEL - Few teams at the Shore and around the state rely on one player for offense as much as the Jackson Liberty boys basketball team relies on senior Daniel Sofield.

Conventional wisdom might then have it that Sofield needed to light up the scoreboard for his team to have a chance to beat St. John Vianney Wednesday to earn the program's first Shore Conference Tournament win.

Instead, the Lions senior took all of seven shots from the field but also helped get his teammates involved, led a strong defensive effort and deferred to one of his senior teammates in a historic, 53-41 win for the 17th-seeded Lions over the No. 16 Lancers.

"We have been on a nice little run lately, for the most part," Sofield said. "We're feeling good coming off winning the division and now winning a first-round game for the first time in school history. It feels really good."

Jackson Liberty senior Daniel Sofield. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Jackson Liberty senior Daniel Sofield. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior Miles Neal scored 19 and Sofield added 17 to lead Jackson Liberty, which buried St. John Vianney with a 15-0 run during a stretch of nearly six minutes in the fourth quarter.

"We have better chemistry that any team I have ever played on," Neal said. "I feel like we are the underdog so we have really come out and tried to show people that we can play with the top teams in the area."

St. John Vianney senior Justin Steuerer hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to put the Lancers up, 38-36, with 6:43 left. Jackson Liberty responded with 15 unanswered points, with Neal scoring the tying basket off a pass from Sofield and later driving for the go-ahead score.

Sofield then came up with a steal and converted a three-point play to push the lead to 43-38. Junior Manny Clay converted a layup off a feed from junior Jimmy Celentano, which preceded six made free throws to cap the run. Neal scored nine of the 15 points during the run, including 5-for-6 from the free-throw line.

"I have the utmost confidence in my teammates, especially him (Neal)," Sofield said. "I have been playing with him for five years now and he has all my trust. No matter what, if I'm not able to take a shot, I will always find the open man. If it's him or someone else underneath for a layup or just somewhere on the outside, I have the utmost trust in our guys to make the right play."

Sofield shot just 6-for-12 from the free-throw line and made four of his seven attempts from the floor in the game while finishing nearly 12 points below his season average of 28.7 points per game.


"The key is to get everyone involved and he (Sofield) looks to get everyone involved," Neal said. "We all have to have confidence to make shots and do our jobs and the great thing about (Sofield) is he has that trust and that confidence in us."

Despite the slow scoring night, Sofield did grab seven rebounds, hand out three assists and man the paint for a Jackson Liberty defense that controlled inside on both ends during the second half.

St. John Vianney leading scorer James Rapley spent most of the third quarter on the bench in foul trouble and upon his return, did not find the form that led him to score eight of his 10 points and grab six of his eight rebounds in the first half. Junior Kevin Greene led the Lancers with 13 points.

"I felt like there was definitely a momentum shift in the third quarter when (Rapley) went to the bench," Sofield said. "He did a good job rebounding and getting into the paint for them in the first half and we were able to make them settle for more jumpers and hold them to one shot in the second half."

Jackson Liberty started the season 2-6 and has gone 10-2 since, capturing its first ever Shore Conference Class B South championship prior to Wednesday's landmark win. Since opening night, senior guard Takai Anderson has returned to the lineup to help steady the ship and sophomore Dubem Emenuga has emerged in recent weeks as a starting forward who gives the Lions some energy on both ends. Emenuga scored six points to go with six rebounds on Wednesday.

"I think everybody bought into their role," Sofield said. "It took us a little while for everyone to figure out what their job needed to be and I think as the season has gone one, guys have gotten more and more comfortable in their roles and tonight you saw guys step up and make plays just by trying to do their job on this team."

After making program history on Wednesday, Jackson Liberty will try to send shock waves through the state Thursday when the Lions travel to play top-seeded Ranney. Jackson Liberty is 0-2 against teams seeded in the top 10 of the Shore Conference Tournament and its more recent of the games was a 75-30 loss to No. 2 Manasquan.

Ranney will present Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis their McDonald's All-American jerseys prior to the game and once the game tips off, Jackson Liberty will hope to stay with the state's No. 1 squad and the defending SCT champs.

"We're going to do what we do every game and that's show up ready to win," Sofield said. "I have seen those guys play a lot and I know exactly what we're up against but you have to go there ready to compete and that's all we can do."

"Those guys have to tie their shoe laces just like we do," Neal said. "It's a basketball game. You never know what can happen so you just gotta go play hard."


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