Heading into Saturday night’s Shore Conference Tournament final, the Middletown High School South boys basketball team had every reason to believe it was ready to beat top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, and end the Colts’ 41-game winning streak against Shore teams.
Though they certainly don’t have the championship pedigree of their opponents, the second-seeded Eagles were familiar with the Colts (having lost to them twice during the regular season — 50-47 on Jan. 5 and 49-39 on Jan. 29), and entered the game playing their best basketball of the season. And while the Colts remained the favorite to win their second straight SCT title, and their 16th overall, Middletown South proved a worthy adversary.
In fact, through the first half of play, the Eagles were in control, using their match-up zone defense to slow the pace of the game and keep the Colts’ top offensive weapons in check. As a result, Middletown South, which had not reached an SCT final since 1979, had a 26-22 lead at the half and was exactly where it needed to be in pursuit of its SCT title.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, CBA came out of the break looking like the best team in the Shore once again, and put together a championship-caliber run that propelled them to a 60-44 victory and their seventh SCT title in the last 11 years.
A big part of CBA’s success this year is its depth, and it was on full display in the second half of Saturday’s final. J.P. Koury and R.J. Hobbie were not the marquee players for head coach Geoff Billett’s squad when the season began, but they were when it mattered most in this contest. Koury scored nine of his 17 points and Hobbie hit seven of his 15 during a decisive 23-8 run in the third quarter that saw the Colts pick up the tempo of the game and attack the Eagles on the defensive end of the floor. And by making a pair of quick three-pointers, Hobbie forced the Eagles to abandon their match-up zone.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were struggling to score, getting only six points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, then watching the Colts go on a 10-0 run to close out the third stanza. At that point, CBA was firmly in control of the game, and they cruised to the title, outscoring the Eagles 15-10 in a fourth quarter that was never close.
While Koury and Hobbie set the tone in the third, the Colts also got big performances from junior center Matt Mc- Mullen (16 points and seven rebounds) and senior point guard Roy Mabrey (12 points, five assists and four steals). Middletown South was led by Kyle Cancilleri, who scored 13 points, while Pat O’Connell chipped in with 11 and Will Siegfried dropped in 10.
CBA (22-3) advanced to the final by knocking off Manasquan, 53-44, in the semifinals, thanks in large part to the efforts of Koury. While doing a superb defensive job against Manasquan’s Matt Vadas, one of the top offensive players in the state, Koury also found time to lead the Colts with 18 points.
Mabrey and McMullen each added 14 points while Hobbie scored seven points.
Vadas finished the game with 25 points, including 21 in the second half, but by holding him to just four points in the first half, Koury helped his team build a 10-point lead. Manasquan fought back to get within four to start the fourth quarter, and eventually tied it at 38-38, but CBA was the fresher team down the stretch, putting together another signature championship caliber 15-6 run to close out the game.
As for the Eagles, they advanced to the final with an impressive 47-37 win over Monsignor Donovan High School in the semifinals. Jake Brodsky and Pat O’Connell took control of a close game down the stretch to will their team to the win. Brodsky finished the game with 10 points, including seven in the final five minutes of the game, while O’Connell led the way with 17. Cancilleri also played well throughout, scoring eight points, while Siegfried added nine.
Both the Colts and the Eagles will now prepare for the state tournament, slated to begin this week. The Colts are the fifth seed in the Non-Public South A bracket, and were set to face a somewhat familiar foe in the first round when Red Bank Catholic came to Lincroft yesterday. The winner of yesterday’s game will face fourth-seeded St. Joseph’s High School of Metuchen tomorrow in Metuchen. CBA and St. Joseph’s played a spirited game a year ago, so should they meet again, it will be a battle.
With the emergence of Koury and Hobbie as legitimate offensive threats to complement the likes of McMullen and Mabrey, CBA is certainly capable of winning this section, though they’ll likely have to get by top-seeded Camden Catholic to do it. The sectional final is set for next Wednesday night at Jackson Memorial.
Returning players like Mabrey and Mc- Mullen still feel the sting of last year’s loss to Immaculata in the Non-Public A final and have been anxiously awaiting their shot at redemption in this postseason. Last year the Colts were the favorite, with a 27-2 mark heading into the final. This year they will take on the role of underdog in search of their first group title in 14 years.
Middletown South is the third seed in a Central Jersey Group III bracket that is loaded with Shore Conference teams. The Eagles were scheduled to open tournament play against Hopewell Valley, the 13th seed, on Monday. With a win, South would have earned a shot at the winner of the Ocean Township-Princeton game last night. The sectional semifinals are scheduled for tomorrow night, with the final to be played on Monday. Freehold Borough is the top seed in this bracket. The Eagles beat Freehold Borough in a non-division encounter last month.