Red Bank’s Stunning Comeback vs. CBA Sets Up Epic Championship Friday Around the Shore
George Sourlis was a big-game coach during his 30 years coaching the Rumson-Fair Haven girls program, but three letters he never saw on the front of any opponents' jersey before Wednesday night were "CBA."
In fact, the Red Bank Regional boys program -- which Sourlis now leads as its first-year head coach -- had not played Christian Brothers Academy in nearly 18 years until the two teams met in the 2021 Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic at Red Bank Regional last December.
Although the recent history between the two nearby schools is limited and CBA is one of the Shore's two most decorated boys basketball programs over the last 40 years, it is a rivalry that has brought the best out of Red Bank and it sure brought the best out of the Bucs on Wednesday night.
Facing an early 13-point lead and a 12-point halftime deficit against the top-seeded Colts in the Buc Classic semifinals, Red Bank took complete control of the game in the second half and pulled off a 44-41 upset over the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
The victory marks the first time Red Bank has defeated CBA since the 2004 Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, which were also held at Red Bank Regional. That was the last time the two teams met until last December, when CBA held off the Bucs, 50-43, in the first round of the Buc Classic on the way to winning the tournament.
Red Bank's last Shore Conference Tournament championship run also ended with the Bucs -- then led by current Ranney head coach Tahj Holden -- defeating CBA in the 1999 championship game.
On Wednesday night, junior Braydon Kirkpatrick scored six of his team-high 12 points during the pivotal third quarter. Kirkpatrick also contributed five rebounds and four assists while helping to key a 12-0 fourth quarter run that erased a 25-13 halftime deficit and suffocated CBA for seven scoreless minutes before the Colts finally scored with 59 seconds left in the quarter to go back up, 27-25.
Senior Nick Valentino added nine points, seven rebounds and three steals, with the senior converting two key baskets inside the paint in the final 1:30 to help Red Bank put the game on ice. Senior Collin Teter also scored nine points, including a pair of free throws that gave Red Bank the lead for good at 35-34 early in the third quarter, as well as a baseline jumper that extended the Bucs' lead to 39-34.
Juniors Jameson Ackerman and Liam Stack each added six points for Red Bank, with Ackerman dishing out three assists and Stack pulling in five rebounds. Ackerman scored his six points on a pair of three-pointers, the second of which gave Red Bank its first lead since the first quarter, 33-32, early in the fourth.
Senior Will Bradley led CBA with a game-high 14 points, including a three-pointer that pulled the Colts within 42-41 with 57 seconds left. Red Bank opened the door for CBA by missing the front-end of a one-and-one, but the Colts turned the ball over with 25 seconds left and Valentino scored after the Bucs broke CBA's full-court press.
Bradley missed another potential game-tying three with eight seconds left and after another missed free throw by Red Bank, a half-court heave by freshman Connor Andree missed the mark to end the game.
Sophomore Justin Fuerbacher added 10 points and seven rebounds for CBA, which will play Notre Dame Friday in the third-place game.
CBA turned an 8-6 lead into a 19-6 stranglehold with an 11-0 run that lasted 7:32 of the clock. While Red Bank's offense struggled to get into gear for nearly eight minutes, the Bucs defense did not let CBA run away with the win in the first half and got even better in after halftime when it held the Colts scoreless for seven minutes.
Red Bank will have an even taller task on Friday, when the Bucs take on unbeaten St. Rose, which currently sits at the top of the Shore Sports Network rankings thanks to its impressive home win over Manasquan on Dec. 22. The Purple Roses earned a shot at the Buc Classic title by handling Long Branch in the first round and beating Notre Dame, 58-37, Wednesday behind 23 points by 6-foot-8 junior standout Matt Hodge.
While facing a 6-0 St. Rose team with two standout talents in Matt Hodge and freshman brother Jayden Hodge and a capable supporting cast, Red Bank can look to spirited efforts from Red Bank Catholic, Matawan and Wall -- all of which kept St. Rose from completely blowing the game open in those matchups.
In Red Bank Catholic's case, the Caseys had a chance to win with a three-point attempt at the buzzer, but it missed and St. Rose pulled out a 42-40 win on opening night. With its win over CBA fresh in their minds, Red Bank's players will be taking the floor with confidence that the blueprint works.
Toms River East Crashes the WOBM Party
Had the 2022 WOBM Christmas Classic been seeded as a 16-team tournament -- as it was in recent years before this year's Classis was broken up into two separate brackets with two separate champions -- Toms River East would have been the No. 13 seed and one of the true longshots in what has become a highly-competitive annual field.
Throw in a 0-4 record heading into the tournament and Toms River East did not seem to be on the radar as a threat to make it to championship Friday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, but the charm of tournament time is there is always the chance of an underdog story.
This year, Toms River East is that underdog story, with the Raiders shaking off a four-game losing streak to open the season by taking out both St. John Vianney and defending WOBM Classic and Shore Conference Tournament champion Marlboro in back-to-back rounds.
Although the Raiders may be a scrappy underdog story based on the seeding and record, they are a senior-led team with varsity experience and a senior standout who has been the clear best player on the floor in both of their wins.
Dylan Russell overwhelmed Marlboro Wednesday night with a dominant performance on both ends that included 20 points and 18 rebounds -- both game highs in Toms River East's 58-53 win over the Mustangs.
Senior Jacob Mathus scored nine of his 13 points in the second half Wednesday and junior Steven Scorsone scored six of his 11 points on back-to-back three-pointers to open the third quarter.
Those two offensive performances complemented Russell's overall game and helped Toms River East take over the game after trailing, 25-24, at halftime. By the early part of the fourth quarter, the Raiders had built a 51-35 lead and while turnovers and missed free throws allowed Marlboro to close the gap to four, the cushion was enough for Toms River East to secure the win.
To the surprise of just about nobody, Manasquan will be the team awaiting the Raiders in the Jim Ruhnke Bracket championship game Friday at 9 p.m. at the arena. The Warriors dismantled Toms River South in Monday's first round and did the same to Brick Memorial -- the fourth seed in the bracket and No. 5 team in the most recent Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- on Wednesday, 76-42.
Sophomore Darius Adams caught fire early and finished with 29 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, including six three-pointers. Classmate Griffin Linstra was the only other Manasquan player in double-figure scoring with 12 points.
Toms River East will have its hands full just trying to keep the game close, but the Raiders will come out of the WOBM Christmas Classic riding the wave of its deep run and hoping those two wins over St. John Vianney and Marlboro changed the course of their season.
Spotlight on Freehold Twp. and Jackson Memorial Friday Night
Between the scheduled 9 p.m. start time and the mismatch on paper, the Manasquan-Toms River East championship game may be the second game listed on the marquee Friday night in Toms River. Jackson Memorial and Freehold Township will be play for the Steve Gepp Bracket championship in the first game of the boys double-header and there could be more than just a holiday championship in play.
Freehold Township is off to a 5-0 start to the season, with the Patriots needing a come-from-behind win to beat Donovan Catholic in Monday's first round before bouncing back with an impressive all-around performance in Wednesday's 67-48, semifinal win over previously-unbeaten Colts Neck.
Jackson Memorial, meanwhile, shook off a Class A South divisional loss to Toms River North on Dec. 22 and a slow start in Monday's WOBM opener to rout Wall and handle Red Bank Catholic in its two WOBM Classic games.
That sets up a championship game between an unbeaten team ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and a one-loss team that opened the season ranked No. 4. While there is a long way to go before the Shore Conference Tournament is seeded on the first weekend of February, Friday's game between the Patriots and the Jaguars could have major seeding implications as both teams eye a top-four seed come SCT time.
As for the matchup on the court, Jackson Memorial will have to contend with 6-6 senior Jayden Holmes-Cotter, who has posted a double-double in each of his team's five games this season while averaging 23.4 points and 11.8 rebounds during that span. In posting 16 points, 13 rebounds and four steals in Wednesday's win over Colts Neck, Holmes-Cotter scored fewer than 23 points for the first time this season.
Freehold Township also relies on four-year varsity contributor Malachi Harris to run the offense, which he did to the tune of 18 points and four assists on Wednesday. The Patriots have gotten good early returns from the supporting cast, with sophomore Nick Cardone providing multi-level scoring and senior James McCarthy offering some size and versatility at 6-4.
Jackson Memorial will counter with its senior guard trio of Respect Tyleek, Samir Padilla and Keith Adame -- all of who made a mark on the Jaguars' 59-48 win over Red Bank Catholic on Wednesday. Adame led the way with 21 points, while Padilla scored 16 to go with four assists and six steals and shook his team out of a funk with four key points at the end of the first half that kept the Jaguars within one of RBC heading to the locker room.
Tyleek scored only seven points, but remained disruptive on the defensive end and facilitated on offense in finishing with six rebounds and five assists.
Around the Shore...
In addition to Toms River and Red Bank, four other Shore-area venues will host a tournament championship game on Friday.
The biggest matchup will be at the Husky Holiday Classic at Matawan, and while it will not involve a Shore team, it should be worth the price of admission. Seton Hall Prep and St. Thomas Aquinas are both state-ranked teams and each has steamrolled its way into the championship game at Matawan High School at 3:15 p.m.
Holmdel will face Old Bridge in the third place game, while Matawan and Manalapan also play in consolation games earlier in the day.
Southern Regional's Score at the Shore Tournament also closes with an intriguing championship game between out-of-area teams. Defending South Jersey Group IV champion Lenape will clash with Group III contender Mainland in the SATS final, with Howell facing Holy Spirit for third place and Southern taking on West Windsor-Plainsboro South in the fifth-place game.
The Neptune Holiday Jubilee closes its 2022 Tournament with a championship game between Mercer County foes Allentown and Ewing. Neptune, meanwhile, will look to salvage a third-place finish when it tips off against the Patrick School in the third-place game.
Finally, Shore Regional's Second Annual Jack DuBois Memorial Tournament will pit a 4-0 Shore squad against a senior-led Lacey team coming off a double-overtime win against Monmouth Regional. Monmouth will take on triple-double machine Kevin Burns and Point Pleasant Beach in the consolation game.