Shore Sports Network logo
Get our free mobile app

MIDDLETOWN -- It has been almost 30 years since St. Rose coach Brian Lynch has been a part of the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, but he remembers one thing from his days as a player at CBA that he believes has remained true over the years.

"The Shore Conference Tournament, when you get to the neutral sites, I don't know about everyone else, but growing up, that's when the lights went on," Lynch said. "Everybody shows up from all over the Shore to watch those games and to see what you're all about."

This St. Rose team is no surprise at this point of the season, but to those getting their first look at the Purple Roses Saturday in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals against Christian Brothers Academy, they saw something resembling St. Rose's A-game.

Junior Matt Hodge played an all-around efficient game to lead the effort and St. Rose sixth man Evan Romano was its leading scorer with 13 points as the second-seeded Purple Roses coasted to a 61-39 win over No. 7 CBA. St. Rose moves on to Tuesday's semifinal at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River against No. 11 Ranney.

Hodge scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals -- the sort of stat-line that has become commonplace for Hodge. The junior from Belgium once again dominated the game without attempting even 10 shots.

"It always feels like, just having him out there, we're probably going to win," Lynch said of Hodge. "He doesn't need to score. We have an efficiency stat I brought over from coaching in Europe and his efficiency every game is off the charts, but he only scores 10 or 12 points.

"His dad told me from the start, 'He's not a hog, he doesn't hunt shots, he's not an AAU guy, he plays the game the right way,'" said Lynch, who became good friends with Hodge's father while the two played in Europe and has known Matt his entire life. "I was like, 'Great, I love those kind of guys.' The first time I saw him play after he came over here, I was like, 'Oh yeah, I get it.'

St. Rose junior Matt Hodge throws down a dunk vs. CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. (Photo: Tom Smith |
St. Rose junior Matt Hodge throws down a dunk vs. CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. (Photo: Tom Smith |

"The last time I had seen him play was when he was 15 years-old, which is when he was (younger brother) Jayden's age," Lynch said. "He was a lot like his brother is now: just learning how to dunk the ball, wirey, inconsistent, but a nice feel for the game and a good form to his shot. Three years later, he has become so polished: he's a great passer, great defender, he has great timing blocking shots."

One reason Hodge has been in his element is the team around him has multiple players that can carry the scoring load for stretched of the game. Junior Bryan Ebeling scored a couple of baskets during a 9-0 run to start the game, sophomore Peter Mauro scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter, junior Gio Panzini posted eight points and eight rebounds and freshman Jayden Hodge chipped in nine points for St. Rose.

While that covered the St. Rose starting lineup, the team's top scorer Saturday came off the bench. Romano hit a three-pointer for his first points of the game, which put St. Rose ahead, 33-17, late in the second quarter. The sophomore did not score again until the fourth quarter, when he went off for 10 points to help St. Rose put an exclamation point on its win.

CBA took a hit when 6-foot-5 sophomore Justin Fuerbacher left the game with an injury and sat on the end of the bench for the entirety of the second half. Junior Peter Noble led the Colts with 12 points on four three-pointers and senior Joe White chipped in nine in the loss.

Romano, Mauro and Panzini combined for 33 points Saturday, which is not production the Purple Roses were getting when the three sat for the first 30 days of the season as in-state transfers. With them out, St. Rose's three European transfers -- Matt and Jayden Hodge, as well as Ebeling -- set the direction of the team and Hodge's ability to control the game without dominating the ball have helped Lynch and his staff integrate three new players in the middle of the season.

"Those guys are so good offensively, you never know when they're about to really start going," Lynch said. "Pete is the kind of player who can really get into a rhythm and Evan has such a variety of finishes: left-hand, right hand, double-pump stuff. He is so unique to watch."

The win over CBA was the second in eight days for St. Rose, which topped the Colts, 59-51, at CBA on Feb. 4. That game was Lynch's return to his alma mater, where he coached against his friend and former CBA teammate, Geoff Billet -- now in his 16th season as head coach at CBA. The two former local stars led CBA to the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship in 1994-95, with Billet going on to play at Rutgers and jump right into coaching, while Lynch played at Villanova, enjoyed a professional playing and coaching career in Europe, and returned to Monmouth County for good in 2020.

On Saturday, Lynch found himself coaching opposite his alma mater again, this time to lead St. Rose to within one more win of a place the program has never been: the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

"I played many years with Geoff and we won a state championship together," Lynch said. "It's almost like you get buttered up before the game talking to each other because it feels like, 'No way I have to go out there and beat this guy.' I want to have an edge and it still feels like we're teammates. There is just a deep respect I have for CBA and they have a really good team with some good prospects."

To get there, St. Rose will have to beat another familiar foe in Ranney, which the Purple Roses handled twice during the regular season. Ranney has had its own challenges in winning without and acclimating an important transfer, with Patrick School transfer Jahlil Bethea sitting the first 30 days of the season and making a significant impact when he played against St. Rose the second time the two teams played.

When both St. Rose and Ranney were at full strength, St. Rose won, 67-53, on the road, holding Panthers leading scorer Isaac Hester to 12 points and using an 18-7 start during the first quarter to set the tone.


More From Shore Sports Network