White, Lonnay lead Rockets to best season ever

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Nick Torres of Raritan High School gets by Somerville’s Tom Malafronte for two of his 18 points on Friday night in a Central Jersey Group II tournament game. The Pioneers escaped Hazlet with a 55-53 victory.

Even with a loss against Somerville in the state tournament, the Raritan High School boys basketball team has a solid season to look back on.

"It was an excellent year," Coach Charles Buzzi said. "I know the kids are disappointed, but it was. This team had the most victories (18) in the history of the school. David White became just the fourth player in school history to score 1,000 points and George Lonnay broke the school assist record."

The Rockets did all that, and reached the second round of the Shore Conference Tournament as well, despite losing Matt Wisniewski to injury.

The abilities of White and Lonnay, who are both graduating, and sophomore standout Nick Torres had a lot to do with the Hazlet team’s success.

"He’s only 15 years old and he’s dedicated himself to basketball," Buzzi said. "He’s playing year-round and he’s only going to get bigger and better. He has to be one of the five best sophomores in the Shore Conference."

While White, Lonnay and Torres carried the load for the Rockets, Buzzi got important contributions from a number of other players.

The only thing disappointing to Buzzi about Charles Randall, a senior in his first year with the team, was that he did not come out sooner and will not be returning.

"He did a great job for us," the Coach said. "He averaged about seven points a game after he took over for Matt Wisniewski when he couldn’t play."

Randall played a big part in the Rockets’ dramatic comeback against Somerville in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey Group II semifinal last Wednesday.

The Rockets trailed 48-27 going into the fourth quarter and mounted a furious comeback as Torres scored 12 of his 18 points.

Randall’s ball-hawking ability led to a 53-53 tie with under a minute remaining. Pressuring Somerville’s Ray Bateman, Randall made a clean steal and was fouled while hitting the layup. His subsequent free throw knotted the game and he finished with nine points.

Bateman would later get to the line and sink a pair of free throws to give Somerville the victory as Raritan couldn’t take advantage of its final opportunities.

Randall was not the only player to emerge for the Rockets this season.

"John Kirby (a sophomore) played a couple of nice games when he got his chance to play, and Sean Collier (also a sophomore) really improved this year. He was great for us on the junior varsity and he saw some time with us on the varsity. I think he’s really going to surprise people next year."

The 6-8 Collier will give Torres a real ally in the post and Kirby has exhibited a solid touch from the perimeter that should keep teams from collapsing on the inside game.

With White’s graduation there is no doubt that Collier will have a bigger role.

Buzzi noted that White is part of the small contingent of multi-sport athletes who manage to excel in two arenas.

His ability on the football field has helped the Rockets gridiron program return to form as one of the best in the Shore, and reaching the 1,000-point plateau while playing with a team-first approach is a true testament to his abilities.

According to Buzzi, the senior never seemed to be looking for his own shot first and his hard work underneath left him just short of the school’s rebound record.

He is just the fourth Hazlet player to reach the 1,000-point mark.

While White was able to change with the seasons, there was no doubt where Lonnay’s interests lie. He is all about basketball and will not be easily replaced.

Buzzi said he never had to worry about any opponent’s press when Lonnay had the ball in his hands.

His passing was made more effective because teams had to respect his shooting ability both from the outside and on drives to the basket; he rarely made a mistake with the ball.

Opposing guards also were in for a workout when the Raritan senior was on the defensive end.

Replacing him will not be easy, but Buzzi said the senior’s brother could make the switch to the point and Frankie Emsley, a freshman who played the season with the junior varsity, also should be ready to run the Rockets’ offense next season.