Boys Basketball – Starrett’s Big Shot Spoils Special Night for Sofield, Jackson Liberty
JACKSON TWP. - As far as Jackson Liberty junior Daniel Sofield is concerned, Thursday night's game against Brick Memorial went exactly how he planned it.
On his first shot of the game, he drained a three-pointer to become just the second player in the short history of the school to score 1,000 career points and the other one - his older brother, James - joined him along with his parents and teammates for a photo at midcourt to commemorate the accomplishment.
Thirty-one minutes later, Sofield hit his last shot of the game - a fading three-pointer that appeared to tap every inch of the rim before dropping through the net - to give his Lions a two-point lead with 41 seconds left and Sofield his 30th point of the game. It was the kind of lucky bounce that made the night seem made for Sofield and his team.
Then, just like that, it was once again not Jackson Liberty's night.
Brick Memorial senior Kevin Starrett spoiled a near-perfect night for Sofield and Jackson Liberty basketball by burying the game-winning three-pointer with five seconds left and the Mustangs walked out of Jackson Liberty High School with the 57-56 win and the last laugh after watching the home crowd celebrate Sofield 23 seconds into the game.
The ending is one that has become all too familiar for Sofield in his two-plus years at Jackson Liberty, where he started as a freshman. After Thursday's loss, Jackson Liberty is just 14-42 since Sofield's arrival, despite having a versatile, 6-foot-6, swingman who is already a two-time coaches' All-B-South selection and a Division I recruit.
"It was an honor to get (1,000 points) today in front of the home crowd, the fans, and all the family that came out to support me," Sofield said. "It was an honor to have everyone here. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win. I'm proud of my team - we fought hard until the very end and unfortunately, we couldn't pull it out."
While a 20-point scorer on the losing team is not completely out of the ordinary, Sofield is different in that he does not force his shot and almost always makes the right play on offense. On Thursday night, he scored 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting from the field, including 5-for-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots.
"I saw him as a freshman and he has gotten so much better since he was a freshman," first-year Brick Memorial coach Mike Pelkey said. "As a freshman, he forced a lot of stuff and he's so much more under control (now). He's very smooth and I know when we play man-to-man, the problem is he's just going to catch it and go. He can shoot the three, he can go off the dribble, he can finish and he can jump out of the gym. I don't know how you cover him unless you just double him."
Sofield's three with 41 seconds left put Jackson Liberty in position to close out the game with a stop, but Starrett's three off the inbound - his second of the second half - changed the tone of the game.
"He's been knocking down shots for us," Pekley said of Starrett. "He a big shot earlier in the night, so we drew it up, set it up and he just had to execute it and he did. He's been playing very well lately."
Jackson Liberty did have a chance to go the length of the floor to win the game with five seconds left, but Brick Memorial denied Sofield the ball twice - knocking the ball out of bounds with 0.6 seconds left and batting away the inbound pass from underneath the basket to end the game.
Starrett finished with 16 points and junior Matt Bernstein led Brick Memorial with 18 points.
Thursday's loss also marks the fifth straight for Jackson Liberty after a promising 5-2 start under first-year coach Mike Antenucci. The Lions defeated Pinelands, Lacey, Monmouth Regional, Central Regional and Jackson Memorial during the fast start, but have since lost to one-win Manchester and suffered one-sided losses to Point Pleasant Boro, Lakewood and Barnegat.
Thursday was a step in the right direction in that Jackson Liberty found itself leading a quality Brick Memorial team (7-5) for the vast majority of the game. In the end though, the Lions let another game slip away and in doing so, missed an opportunity to get back to a .500 winning percentage.
The 5-2 start made it seem as though this would be the year that Sofield got to show off his ability in the postseason, an opportunity he has not yet had in his high school career. In addition to returning Sofield, the Lions also brought back junior guard Takai Anderson, the team's second-leading scorer last season and an athletic backcourt complement to the 6-6 swingman.
The Lions also welcomed back junior Miles Neal, who played at Jackson Liberty as a freshman, spent his sophomore year at Trenton Catholic and started this school year at Ocean Township before moving back to Jackson just before the season. Neal finished with 15 points in Thursday's loss.
Jackson Liberty now faces an uphill climb to reach the .500 mark in time to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and could find itself scrapping to make the Central Jersey Group III Playoffs as well. It will be a kind of test the program has not faced all that much, if ever, and with the junior core of Sofield, Anderson and Neal in place for the next year-and-a-half, its one that could set the course for the remainder of what will be a record-setting career for Sofield.
"We work hard every day in practice and we fight every night to get a win," Sofield said. "It doesn't matter if we won or lost the last game, we come to work the next day. We're trying to get the wins, we're trying to get into the Shore Conference (Tournament) and states. That's our goal."
Despite his teams struggles in his time at Jackson Liberty, Sofield relishes the opportunity to play for his hometown team, play a role in building a program from the ground up and, perhaps, most importantly, follow in his brother's footsteps.
"That's why I made the decision to come here," Sofield said. "I wanted to play where my brother played and I wanted to be part of the group that brought a winning culture to our hometown team."
James Sofield was a two-sport star at Jackson Liberty from 2011 to 2014, scoring a school-record 1,073 points for the basketball team while also starring as an All-Shore pitcher and shortstop on the baseball team. James is currently a red-shirt junior at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he made 12 appearances as a relief pitcher last season.
Like his older brother, Daniel also plays shortstop on Jackson Liberty's baseball team, but that's where the two brothers start to differ. Daniel may not pitch like his older brother, but according to James, he is a much better basketball player.
"When he was younger, he wasn't usually the best player on the court, but he really wanted to be the best player on the court," James said of his younger brother. "He worked towards it and I give him all the credit in the world, because I didn't have that type of drive when I was playing.
"I was considered very good in high school, but nothing like him. He deserves everything that's coming to him, he put's in all the work and he's a great kid too. Maybe some big brothers would be a little jealous, but I'm his biggest fan, so I think it's awesome."
Even if James were reluctant to admit as much, the growing list of accolades for Daniel Sofield suggests he has taken the mantle as the basketball player in the family whether or not big brother wants to relinquish it. Not only is he now just 45 points away from passing his brother as the school's all-time leading scorer, but he also has Division I offers from the likes of Stony Brook, New Hampshire, Delaware, Hofstra and Loyola, among others.
"It's really special to know that it's just going to be me an my brother up there," Sofield said. "There are no words to describe that. I'm really happy to be up there with him."
Despite growing more and more into the team concept on offense, Sofield's numbers continue to climb. After Thursday's effort, he is averaging career-highs in scoring (21.3 points per game) and field-goal percentage (59 percent), while also grabbing 5.25 rebounds and blocking better than a shot per game.
Once Sofield sets the new scoring record at Jackson Liberty, there will be just one thing left for him to do and it is a task he has been focused on since the summer - make Jackson Liberty a winner.
With his set of skills, his growing basketball aptitude and a disposition that draws praise from his coaches and the coaches of other teams, Sofield could have potentially found his way into a higher-profile program, which might have been the move that many, if not most, players of his ilk who suffered through as much losing as he did as a freshman and sophomore.
"He's a great kid, too," Pelkey said of the player who just put up 30 against his team. "From what I know first-hand and what you hear from everyone who is around him, he's a really great kid."
Twelve games into his junior year, however, Sofield is committed to completing the turnaround at his hometown school. Although the Lions have dug themselves a hole, they have a weapon few teams can boast and would love to get a chance to deploy that weapon in a win-or-go-home game.
"We're not there yet, but we're almost there," Sofield said. "I'm looking forward to finishing out this year strong and next year as well."