Southern Regional Wins OT Thriller at Manchester, Builds Jersey Shore Playoff Case
During its seven-game winning streak heading into Monday's game at Manchester, Southern consistently found ways to put teams away, even if not always pretty.
On Monday, the Rams faced their swallowing their first loss since opening night, but when Manchester left the proverbial door open a crack, Southern found new way to win during the 2021 season and it did not lack for excitement.
Senior Jay Silva capped a strong game with a go-ahead layup with six seconds left off a feed from junior Jaden Anthony and the Rams pulled out a thrilling 55-53, double-overtime victory at Manchester to run their winning streak to eight in a row.
The win also puts Southern in position to make a serious bid for one of the eight spots in the championship pod of the Shore Conference Playoffs next week as long as the Rams can defeat Toms River East (1-8) in their two games prior to the playoff seeding.
Southern (8-1) needed two clutch three-pointers late - one in regulation and the other during the first overtime period - to stay alive, with senior Luke Infurna hitting one with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 43-43 and Anthony burying one with 32 seconds left in the first overtime to tie it at 51-51.
Silva led the way for Southern with 18 points and six rebounds while also limiting Manchester junior center Wyatt Haselbauer to two points on no field goals. Infurna added 14 points and Anthony chipped in seven points, six rebounds and nine assists in the win, while senior Jake Barbierri also threw in 10 points to aide the Southern cause.
Junior Savon Myers carried Manchester (5-2) with 25 points while senior Gavin Clark helped out with 10.
Manchester attempted 21 free throws during the fourth quarter and overtime and ultimately missed two too many, shooting 13-for-21 (62 percent) during that stretch. Josh Glenn missed a pair to open the door for Infurna in the fourth quarter, Myers missed the second of two just before Anthony tied it in overtime and Myers missed a pair on the possession prior to Silva's go-ahead score to win it.
Southern also struggled from the free-throw line (5-for-10) in the fourth and overtime but made up for it with its timely three-point makes.
The Rams may need some help in order to convince the playoff seeding committee they are worthy of one of the eight spots in the top playoff pod - likely to be the No. 8 seed should Southern make the cut. The locks to make it would figure to be Manasquan (6-0), Ranney (7-0), Christian Brothers Academy (7-3), Marlboro (6-3), Red Bank Catholic (6-0) and Holmdel (6-0), while Neptune (2-3), Wall (4-6), Rumson-Fair Haven (4-3), Mater Dei Prep (6-3) and Southern appear to be the contenders for the last spot.
Southern has not played a team ranked in either the Shore Sports Network Top 10 or the state Top 20 as all of the other contenders for the final two spots have. Southern, however, has the best overall record of that group by a wide margin, has not lost since a competitive opening-night defeat at Toms River North, and has proved itself the most worthy contender out of Ocean County - all factors that could convince the coaches on the committee to include Southern.
Further enhancing Southern's chances to join the top eight is the situation at Ranney. Multiple sources who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that Ranney is in the process of contact tracing following a positive COVID-19 test by a member of its team. The school is determining if the team needs to shut down and, if so, for how long and if the quarantine period lasts beyond Sunday, the Panthers will be unable to enter the Shore Conference postseason.
Ranney athletic director Natalie Gorman and coach Tahj Holden declined comment as of Monday night.
If Ranney cannot participate, that opens up what would have been an occupied spot, meaning three of the five above contenders would find themselves in the field, assuming those are indeed the foremost candidates. Neptune and Wall have played two of the Shore's tougher schedules and might benefit from their strength of schedule, but Southern is the lone team in the bunch to not endure a shutdown of any kind and to be on track for 10 wins before the tournament even starts.