Defense fueled Braves’

run to state playoffs

Garretson’s Braves fall

in CJ IV quarterfinals

to East Brunswick

By tim morris

I

t didn’t take very long for Rick Garretson and his Manalapan Braves to realize what their strength was this year — defense.

"We saw that we were struggling offensively and if we were going to do, we were going to have to play defense," he said.

At times it meant winning ugly, but it was winning. Despite an offense that never really broke out, Manalapan rode its defense into the state tournament and then to a first round upset in the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, 55-46 over Piscataway.

The Braves, who looked to be on the outside looking in at the state playoffs in mid-January, extended their season to the sectional quarterfinals where they fell last Wednesday night at No. 3 seed, East Brunswick, 59-45.

"We’ve had great chemistry on defense all year," said Garretson of his Braves, who were seeded 11th in their section. "We’ve played great team defense. The kids work well together. Our goal is to give a team one shot and hit the boards.

"Because of the trouble we’ve had scoring, the kids know they can’t relax on defense; they have to play hard on every possession," he added. "We’ve played a little bit of everything; man-to-man, 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 zone trap. The kids have a good understanding of what works and why."

Entering the state playoffs, Manalapan had held the last four teams it had played under 33 points. To survive and advance in the state tournament, especially when you’re the No. 11 seed playing on the road, playing good defense is a great way to start. But you still need to score more than 40 points a game if you expect to continue.

Manalapan’s offensive strategy has been pretty simple – get the ball to the hot hand. Fortunately, among Matt Kandrach and Doug Saunders inside, and Mark Lax, Ryan Sheridan and Chris Caiola hitting from the outside, the Braves usually had at least one person step up each game to give the offense a lift.

On Feb. 28 in Piscataway, the strategy worked to perfection. Lax had the hot hand beyond the arc and the Braves kept getting him the ball. He nailed three three-pointers in the second quarter alone to help Manalapan forge a 29-21 lead.

Playing with the lead is just what Manalapan wanted to do on the road. It enabled them to control the tempo of the game and with Lax hitting 6 threes and Kandrach playing big inside, the Braves were able to hold the Chiefs in check in the second, and prevail 55-46.

Lax would score a game-high 18 (all on threes) while Kandrach added 12 along with 13 rebounds. Saunders chipped in with 12. He and Lax helped Manalapan jump out to a 14-6 lead after one quarter.

The Braves were looking for a repeat performance on the road last Wednesday against a strong East Brunswick five. For one quarter, the Braves quieted the home crowd as they played to an 8-7 advantage. But the Bears erupted in the second quarter, clawing the Braves 23-5 as Brett Godette led the way with seven.

The lead would swell to more than 20 in the third quarter, but somehow the gritty Braves managed to make the Bears sweat a little in the fourth quarter. With 2:20 remaining, Manalapan had cut the gap to 50-42 when Saunders blocked a shot by the Bears’ Maxx Johnson, but no one could get a handle on the ball and it found its way into Godette’s hands under the basket. His layup was the final nail in the Braves’ playoff coffin.

Sheridan led Manalapan’s second-half comeback scoring all 12 of his points. Kandrach had 10 and Caiola nine. It was a rare four-point play by Caiola that started the Manalapan comeback.

Godette led the Bears (20-4) with 16. Point guard Bob Henning had 15 and Johnson 11.

Manalapan finished its season 14-10. What Garretson will remember most is the way the players were able to put their egos aside for the team. Their team play enabled them to be greater than the sum of their parts and overachieve.

"I never had to worry about selfishness on this team," Garretson explained. "This was a very unselfish team. All the kids cared about was winning. It didn’t make a difference who was doing the scoring. They weren’t worried about shots, just winning. It was a fun team to coach."

M

analapan was the only boys team to get past the first round of the sectional. Like the Braves, Freehold Borough and Howell were hot teams at the end of February, but couldn’t carry it over for 32 minutes in their playoff game.

Freehold Borough (16-9) wasted a 37-27 half-time lead at New Brunswick (17-7) in Group II. A 19-9 third quarter pulled New Brunswick even, and an 18-13 fourth quarter edge led to a 64-59 victory for the eighth-seeded Zebras.

Rohn Schutsky (20) and Richard Harrell (16) combined for 36 points in their career finales for the ninth-seeded Colonials. Schutsky’s six threes had helped the Colonials jump out to the early lead.

For Freehold Borough, it was a hard way to end such a positive season. The team won the Kuhnert Memorial Holiday Basketball Tournament, named for the Colonials late coach, and had a winning record for the first time in three years. Still, they would have liked to have made some noise in the state playoffs.

Back in CJ Group IV, the Rebels, the ninth seed, were even more giving. They had led by eight, 40-32, going into the fourth quarter against No. 8 New Brunswick. Howell had come back from a 14-7 first quarter deficit to tie it at 21-21 at intermission. A 19-11 third quarter edge put Howell in control entering the fourth quarter.

But the final eight minutes would be a nightmare as the Vikings took no prisoners. Ricky Tyus poured in 14 of his game-high 27 as the Vikings outscored the Rebels 33-19 to roll to a 65-59 victory.

Tom Coleman, who sank five treys, led Howell (13-12) with 20 points while Chris Brown had 16 and Chris Hurley, 10.

Despite the setback, the Rebels can look to a learning season in which they won 13 games and made the state playoffs. All of Howell’s key players, Brown, Coleman, Hurley and Charles Skinner, are returning. The Rebels have a lot to look forward to in 2001.

Cougars winners out of the gate on hardwood

By tim morris

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Kim Wild of Colts Neck High School looks to get a shot off against South Amboy’s Reyon Rone in the first quarter of a Central Jersey Group I tournament game last week.

"At first, teams took us lightly; they didn’t think we’d amount to much," said Colts Neck High School junior Kelly Cardamone. "Then we started winning games and teams took notice of us."

When the Colts Neck girls’ basketball season ended in the Central Jersey Group I semifinals at the hands of Rumson-Fair Haven, teams were indeed taking notice of what the first-year Cougars were doing.

With everyone from the coaching staff down uncertain what to expect, the Cougars went 15-7 in their first varsity season and won two games in the state playoffs. A remarkable beginning.

"No one ever expected this including myself," said Coach Bill Shaughnessy. "We’re still on cloud nine. The kids were just happy to get as far as they did.

"What was so great was to hear them on the bus ride back to school saying they can’t wait until next year," he added. "They’re already looking ahead. They are very competitive kids."

And after what the Cougars did in March, why not?

It was achievement enough for Colts Neck to qualify for the state playoffs, but add two big wins and a trip to the sectional semifinals and the Cougars went far beyond expectations.

Colts Neck gave its fans (and there were plenty) an exciting ride last week beginning with the Feb. 29 home game against Middlesex. A buzzer-beater by Becky Piper was the difference in a 51-49 win. In their first game, the Cougars gave supporters the kind of win some programs take years to get.

What made the win so satisfying for the Cougars was the way they came back after surrendering a 12-point first-half lead.

Amy Kolasa’s basket put Colts Neck up 49-47, but Middlesex would come back to tie the game with 21.8 seconds left on Rachel Ryan’s two free throws.

In the final seconds of the game, Kolasa pulled down the rebound of a missed free throw and headed up court where she found a wide open Piper under the basket. Kolasa beat the Middlesex defense with her perfect pass and Piper laid the ball in off the glass just before the buzzer, setting off a celebration in Colts Neck.

"We were all so happy," said Cardamone, who led the Cougars with 11 points. "We’ve gotten a lot of support from the students and parents and that helped us a lot."

Shaughnessy appreciated the resolve his Cougars had shown after falling behind 35-34 in the fourth quarter.

"I thought the kids showed a lot for a first-year team," said Shaughnessy. "Our kids really reached down deep inside and pulled it out themselves."

It was fitting, he added, that Kolasa made the big play.

"She’s our emotional leader on the court and she made the right play," he noted.

Kolasa added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists to the Cougar cause while Alana Nikola had 10 points and nine rebounds.

From the buzzer-beater against Middlesex, the Cougars took to the road, backed by two bus loads of Colts Neck fans, where the sixth seed took on No. 3 South Amboy on Thursday. It was never a contest.

"We played a near-perfect game," Shaughnessy said of Colts Neck’s 60-18 win.

Cardamone (15) and Kolasa (12) teamed up for 27 in the romp as Shaughnessy got to play everyone often.

That set up the semifinal with Rumson-Fair Haven, one of the Top 10 teams in the state. The Bulldogs showed the Cougars what it’s like at the next level.

"Our lack of experience showed," said Shaughnessy. "The girls never saw that kind of pressure before. Rumson is a superior team."

The 51-18 loss to Rumson did not spoil what Colts Neck accomplished this winter.

"The way the kids responded from the first day has been exciting," said Shaughnessy. "We really didn’t know who we were when the season started.

"After we beat Howell, the ball started rolling," he added. "It woke them up as to how good they can be. They are a great group of kids."

Cardamone, a junior, is a clear leader in that group.

"We kept working hard on defense all year," she said. "Coach Shaughnessy worked us hard. He’s really into it. He had us watching tapes to prepare for teams.

"We all worked pretty well together as a team," she added. "We rebounded well, shot the ball well and pushed it up the floor when we could."

Cardamone and Nikola gave the Cougars two players who were among the leaders in the Shore.

Cardamone led the team, averaging better than 14 points a game, while Nikola averaged 10 rebounds per contest.

Cardamone, a junior who plays soccer, basketball and softball, saw playing time as a freshman at Marlboro before moving to Colts Neck for her sophomore year. She is enjoying the experience.

"We have gotten so much support from the school, parents and the students," she explained. "That has given us a big boost. It’s been great being able to start a tradition and be the first do things."

The Cougars have raised the bar high and will no doubt have the attention of the Shore Conference when they join it next year.

Freehold Township, which has been the standard by which all Freehold District teams have been measured, was the only other district team to enjoy a state playoff win last week.

The Lady Patriots began the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs on the road at Hillsborough where they overcame an 18-12 halftime deficit, to score a 41-36 win. Sophomore Melissa Elsbree led the Pats with 16 points including nine in the fourth quarter when Township outscored Hillsborough 16-8 to grab the win.

Freehold Township’s reward for that first-round win was a date in the semifinals with the No. 1 seed, Trenton Central. The Pats (13-13) hung tough with the 22-3 Tornadoes, trailing by just 25-22 at intermission. Trenton would pull away to a 56-39 win in the second half.

Jackie Reiman led the Pats with 16 points.

Manalapan and Marlboro lost first-round games on the road.

Ashley Silsbe, one of the new members of the 1,000 career point club, added 19 points to her total in Manalapan’s 44-34 loss at Edison. The Braves closed their best season in five years at 12-9.

West-Windsor Plainsboro beat Marlboro, 67-47. Seniors Trish Grohowski (18) and Nicki Adornetto (15) went out with strong games. Marlboro finished the year at 9-14, slumping after qualifying for the postseason in early February.

Gallo takes mile title at Eastern States

O’Rourke second, White third in meet at Armory in NYC

Lindsey Gallo

"It’s good to know that I’m back," Howell’s Lindsey Gallo declared after winning the one-mile run at the Eastern States Indoor Track and Field Championships on Feb. 29 at the Armory in New York City. "This is a really good win for me. I was fifth here last year and I ran faster this year on just a month of training."

For those who may have made the mistake of counting Gallo out after her losses at the state meets last month, think again.

Displaying all of the command and late race kick that has been her trademark, Gallo ran away from the best high school milers on the East Coast, turning in the fastest mile in the state this winter, 5:08.11, in capturing the biggest indoor title of her stellar career.

The race couldn’t have gone any better for the Rebel, who is getting sharper and sharper with each race.

"I planned to stay behind in the beginning and make my run in the last quarter," noted Gallo. "I ran a 2:32 for the first 800 behind Kim Pereira (Parsippany).

"The third quarter was the real key for me," she added. "It’s the hardest part of the race and I felt strong."

The third quarter is where Gallo’s lack of conditioning had shown at both the State Group IV and Meet of Champions. She didn’t have enough strength to stay with the front-runners at that time and ended up settling for third place in both races.

But with another week of training under her belt, a stronger, more race-tested Gallo was able to cover everyone’s moves and when it came time to strike, just as in the old days, no one was able to match her speed.

"I kicked with 600 meters to go which was too soon," recalled Gallo. "I thought there were two laps to go. But I was able to hold on.

"It was such a good feeling on the last lap knowing I was going to win," she added. "This makes up for some of the bad races early in the season. That wasn’t me."

Pereira (MOC) and Hillsborough’s Kristen Meyer (Group IV) who had beaten Gallo in those state meets succumbed to her late-race kick.

The Eastern States title was a vindication for Gallo, who missed the first half of the season recovering from shin splints. Some doubted she could come back.

"People were telling me that I should take the indoor season off and build for outdoor," she noted. "I felt that I could get back. I felt I had time to get in shape. I stayed focused on my goal which was to be ready for the nationals."

Gallo’s win was especially pleasing because she has been running for her grandmother Teresa Gallo, who has been ill in the hospital, this season. Now, she has a gold medal to show her.

Gallo will be back at the Armory on Saturday to run in the National Scholastic Championships. She ran fifth last year in a Shore Conference indoor record 4:59.60. She’ll be joined at the Nationals by two other Freehold District athletes who were outstanding at the Easterns as well.

Freehold Borough’s Dave O’Rourke was second again to Bayonne’s Glenn DiGiorgio in the shot put. It was the same order of finish as at the New Jersey Indoor Meet of Champions. DiGiorgio’s 59-5 1/2 topped O’Rourke’s 57-11.

This weekend’s Nationals will be O’Rourke’s last chance to top his Bayonne rival before the outdoor season. The Colonial was fifth at the Nationals last year.

Manalapan high jumper Jennifer White is becoming quite comfortable clearing 5-6 and jumping with the best.

At the MOC on Feb. 23, the Manalapan senior cleared her personal best and a school record 5-6 for the first time. She would go on to place second.

At the Eastern States, White again propelled herself over the bar at 5-6 and the effort was good enough to get her a third-place bronze medal. White was able to break through a log jam at 5-6 (seven other jumpers cleared that height) because she had made every height on her first jump up to 5-8.

"I didn’t want any early misses," she explained. "Because of the competition, I knew it was important to do my jumps on the first try."

After getting over 5-6 on her first attempt, White had her first-ever tries at 5-8.

"I’ve never even tried 5-8 in practice," she said. "It made me a little nervous in my jumps and I didn’t run as fast on my approach as I should have."

White will be very busy this weekend at the Nationals. On Friday she’ll compete in the high jump and on Saturday, will compete in her first pentathlon.

White has been one of the most versatile track athletes in the Freehold District and she’ll have the opportunity to show her all-around talents in the pentathlon. The five-even pentathlon consists of the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and the 800 meters.

Last summer, White did her first multi-event competition, the heptathlon which is the 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put, javelin, long jump, 400 meters and 800 meters.

This week White will be picking up the shot and working on what is her weakest event in the pentathlon. With the hurdles and high jump leading the competition off, she knows she’ll be getting off to a good start.

"It’s important to focus on one event at a time," said White of her experience at the heptathlon.

White would like to score somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 points in her first pentathlon. She scored 3,569 in the seven-event heptathlon last summer.

— Tim Morris

Cunliffe, Morello lead Super-Region qualifiers

Meadowlands

one-step away

for local wrestlers

JERRY WOLKOWITZ

Zach Cunliffe of Howell High School controls Rumson-Fair Haven’s Bryan Heller in the Region VI bout at Brick Memorial High School on Saturday. Cunliffe went on to finish second in the region.

Z

ach Cunliffe was called the best freshman to ever wrestle at Howell High School by no less an authority than his Coach John Gagliano, himself one of the Rebels’ all-time greats. From his first tournament win, the Neptune Classic back in December, to his District 21 championship, Cunliffe has proven his coach to be a superb prognosticator.

With his second-place finish at the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association Region VI Championships at Brick Memorial over the weekend, Cunliffe is going where no other Rebel freshman has before. He was in action at Red Bank Regional High School at the Super Region last night where he was one win away from the Meadowlands, the site of this year’s state wrestling championships and the goal of every high school wrestler.

Cunliffe’s 7-3 loss in the 103 final to top-seeded Marc Rosenfeld of Brick Memorial was just his second of the year and the first at 103 (he lost in a dual meet when he moved up in weight). With his two wins over the weekend, Cunliffe is now 29-2 in his freshman year and well on his way to what could be a memorable career.

Cunliffe was seeded No. 2 in his weight class and in his semifinal had to dispose of Manalapan’s Mike Cassiliano, 9-1, for the fifth time this year. The two had wrestled the previous week for the District 21 championship, won by the Rebel.

Cunliffe was not the only Freehold District wrestler to get through to a final on Saturday. Freehold Township’s Rob Morello didn’t let his lack of matches get in the way, advancing to the 130-pound final where he fell to Jack Deaver of Lacey, 9-5.

Morello, a transfer from Red Bank Catholic, missed the first 30 days of the wrestling season waiting for his eligibility. He only had just 12 matches under his belt when the District championships began, and was a sort of forgotten wrestler seeded No. 3. But his win in the District final announced that he had never gone anywhere.

Despite his District win, Morello was only seeded sixth in his weight division. He went out and won by a major decision over No. 3 seed Andy Semprivivo of Pinelands, 10-1, in the quarterfinal. In the semifinals, he ran into No. 2 Charlie Wiggins of Christian Brothers Academy, who had beaten him during the regular season. The rematch went to Morello, 8-4.

One wrestler that Morello couldn’t get through was the top-seeded Deaver.

Morello said that his goal was to prove that he belonged and he has certainly achieved that adding a second-place in the Region to his District 21 title. He is 13-5.

Third place finishers at the Region VI tournament were winners as well, as they advanced to the Super Region, too.

Cassiliano rallied from his semifinal loss to Cunliffe to outscore Frank Pontoriero of Toms River East, 17-11 in the consolation. His teammate Alex Pal, the District 21 112 champion, also punched his ticket to Red Bank edging Brick’s Brian LoBue, 13-11 in overtime for third place. Pal is 24-4 and Cassiliano is 21-7.

Lou Giordano extended his marvelous season by winning a rematch of the District 21 title tilt over Manalapan’s Derek Thompson. Giordano’s 4-2 win gave him the bronze medal and the trip to the Super Region. He was seeded No. 2 but lost his semifinal match to Point Pleasant Beach’s Jake Butler, the three seed, by a technical fall, 16-0. He came back to beat Thompson for the third time this year. Giordano improved to 25-4 with his consolation win.

Also going to Red Bank is Manalapan’s Jordan Nice, who did it the hard way. A District runner-up, he had to wrestle in a preliminary match on Feb. 29 just to get to the quarterfinals on Friday. Two more wins put him in third place and to the Super Region.

In the semifinals, Nice ran into his District 21 nemesis, the undefeated Nick Vinciguerra. The Jaguar ended dreams Nice may have had of rolling to the Region title, pinning him in the semi’s. Nice then won by forfeit in the consolation match to extend his season. He’s 18-10.

Howell’s Dave Olson lost his third-place consolation match to a familiar foe, Phil Lewis of Jackson.

The week before with the District 21 title on the line, Olson stunned Lewis with a reversal and near fall in the final 30 seconds to beat the returning champion, 7-5.

On Saturday, the stakes were for third place and the continuation of their seasons. Lewis gained his revenge with an 8-4 decision. Olson ended the season with a fine 27-4 record.

The Super Region will combine Regions V and VI. All Region champions will receive first-round byes while the second and third-place finishers will square off in the preliminaries. That will be followed by the first round.

Everyone who gets to the first round will go to the Meadowlands where the state championships will be held on Friday and Saturday.