Tag: boys' basketball

Spotswood at South River

South River Rams, who enthralled a whole town and a whole league in ’23, are CJSR Boys’ Basketball Team of the Year

First, a disclaimer. For as long as I have been doing this, traditionally, the No. 1 team at the end of any sports season is the team of the year. And usually, the stars align, where that team wins a state championship, goes undefeated, etc.

But one team was so compelling this year, almost from the opening tip-off of the entire season. They captivated the Greater Middlesex Conference – and of course, their community – packing their tiny gym with loud fans that left your ears ringing after you left the joint.

That team was the South River Rams. And while St. Thomas Aquinas was clearly and without dispute the No. 1 team in the final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten – they dominated all year, won the GMC Tournament, and it wasn’t their fault they ran into the state’s No. 1 team, Roselle Catholic, in the sectional semifinals of Non-Public South B – South River was the team of the year.

Part of it was because those teams don’t come around very often. There were some titles in the ’40s and ’50s. There was the era of Kenny Jackson in the late ’70s, even though he would me more widely known for his football exploits, and the 79-80 Group 2 champions. There was the 1990-91 team, the last to win a title, in Central Jersey Group 1.

This team was on a par with them until they ran into another group two juggernaut in Manasquan with a point guard who would not be denied.

But their journey with a 22-point win over Metuchen on opening night, then took a most interesting turn the day after Christmas, when the Rams went up to St. Joe’s – in a Blue vs. Red Division matchup – and beat the Falcons 74-66.

South River’s Alex Grospe drives the lane against St. Joe’s on December 26, 2022. (Image courtesy St. Joe’s Student Media)

Everyone stood up and took notice. Would it be a fluke? Could they keep it up? If they kept winning, could they get a three-seed in the county tournament? All the talk about bias against the Blue and Gold Divisions of the past years meant nothing since those teams often didn’t play up. South River put its money where its mouth was.

They wound up winning their first eleven games before falling to Piscataway, but finished the regular season as Blue Division Champions, still picked up the third-seed in the GMC Tournament, behind St. Thomas and Colonia. St. Joe’s got the four.

Though they got knocked out in the GMC semis by South Brunswick, their next life would begin in the state tournament, as the top-seed in Central Jersey Group 2. They rolled past East Brunswick Magnet and beat Point Pleasant Boro. They filled the place against a damn good Bound Brook and beat them by six.

South River's gym
The stands are filled in South River’s tiny gym during the JV game before the main event, the huge rivalry between Spotswood and the Rams on January 20, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Then came Manasquan.

This was a senior-laden group, and the story after that oh-so-heartbreaking defeat in the Central Jersey Group 2 title game could be told in the lingering crowd thereafter. Family, friends, neighbors. As head coach Brandon Walsh talked to his team, talked, and talked some more, one by one, the seniors would come out.

Roman Santos. Laz Rodriguez. Jeremy Grospe. Kobe Taylor. Isaac Linarez. Gavin Franco.

Each got a round of applause and standing O as they emerged from the locker room.

The Rams didn’t just go 26-4. They drove the student body bonkers every night with long three balls, pesky defense, and transition basketball. They lifted a community’s spirit.

They gave South River a basketball season it will never forget.

That’s why they’re Central Jersey Sports Radio’s 2023 Team of the Year.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with head coach Brandon Walsh and senior Laz Rodriguez:

South River’s Laz Rodriguez looks to make a move against Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group 2 title game in South River on February 28, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Team play, upset wins earn South Brunswick’s Joe Hoehman CJSR Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year honors

They were the upset specials of the GMC and state tournament. But then again, were they really?

It might be hard to notice South Brunswick when the teams finishing above you are St. Thomas Aquinas, Colonia and St. Joseph-Metuchen, the first two of whom only joined the GMC Red Division this year.

But maybe the Vikings didn’t care if anyone was paying attention. They put together a nice regular season with a great young point guard and a center who’s like another coach on the floor, and were primed to do damage come GMC Tournament time.

And that they did. As the 7th-seed, they took care of JP Steven in the first round, then pulled off back-to-back “upsets” en route to the finals, first knocking off 2nd-seed Colonia 63-43, then eliminating Cinderella third-seed South River 53-41 in the semifinals.

They would play top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas to within three-points in a dramatic championship game, with a chance to tie it with under ten seconds left that just didn’t work out. Had they won, they would have been the lowest seed to take home a GMC Tournament trophy.

Then came the states, Central Jersey Group 4. As the sixth-seed, they easily beat Old Bridge in the opening round, then were back to their old tricks. They knocked off rival and third-seed North Brunswick in the quarterfinals 72-46, before getting a surprise home game against 7th-seed Marlboro, which they won by 11. The quest, however, would fall short at top-seed Trenton in the sectional final.

Through it all, the Vikings finished 20-7 and were one of just four boys teams in our coverage area – three from the GMC Red Division – to make it to a sectional title game.

For his efforts in guiding that squad through a challenging schedule, pulling off upsets, and showing how teamwork can build success, South Brunswick head coach Joe Hoehman is our 2023 Central Jersey Sports Radio Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Click below to hear his conversation about the season with Mike Pavlichko:

Falcons’ Josh Ingram finished strong for St. Joseph, earning him CJSR Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year honors

Josh Ingram – like a lot of other basketball players in Middlesex and Somerset Counties – had a very fine 2022-23 season. He averaged 22 points a game, nearly eight rebounds, nearly four assists, and shot just under 60-perccent from the floor, 37-percent from downtown, and a nice 83-percent from the free-throw line.

In the early season, he provided enough offense as St. Joseph-Metuchen – missing some key pieces for various reasons – tried to find itself. Later in the season, with things hanging in the balance, and starter Jeremy Clayville out, Ingram “turned it up to eleven.”

In his final ten games of the season, which included not one, but two wins over Rutgers Prep and a run to the Non-Public South A title game against Union Catholic – the eventual Group A winner – Ingram turned averaged 23.6 points a game, had 33 in the regular season win over the Argonauts, and cracked 30 points four times, including a wild GMC Tournament first-round win over Spotswood, where he notched a career high 38 points.

Those efforts have earned him Central Jersey Sports Radio Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year honors for 2023.

He was virutally unstoppable from the time Clayville went down January 27th to the point that when he returned, it was just gravy.

“It’s been a privilege to coach Josh and watch him grow into the player and person has become,” said Joe’s head coach Jan Cocozziello. “His talent is undeniable, but he’s also a leader with a team mentality. He’s a selfless player who steps up when his team needs him.”

Scroll down for honorable mention selections.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with 2023 Boys’ Player of the Year Josh Ingram of St. Joe’s:


Deuce Jones, St. Thomas Aquinas: There was a lot of talent on the Trojans’ roster this season, but as head coach Bob Turco has said about Jones, “he’s the straw that stirs the drink.” He averaged six assists a game, while still scoring 16.5 points a game for the three-time GMC Tournament Champions. What made it more impressive is that the junior was playing just his first season in North Edison, a transfer from Trenton Catholic. But he fit seamlessly into a solid core that included players like Jalen “Pop” Pichardo, Terrell Pitts, Kamal Lee, and more.

St. Thomas Aquinas junior guard Deuce Jones (right) talks with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Justin Sontupe after a 69-46 win over Colonia in Edison on January 12, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Jadin Collins, Rutgers Prep: An outstanding two-year varsity starter for Matt Bloom’s club, he averaged 19.2 points per game in that span and four-and-a-half assists as the Argonauts’ point guard, while also racking up 224 steals. This year, he averaged 20.5 points per game for 22-8 Prep en route to the Somerset County Tournament Championship, a year after they won the 2022 Non-Public South B title on his then-career-high 33 point effort – kitting key bucket after key bucket down the stretch.

Jordin Collins of Rutgers Prep brings the ball up the floor in the second half against Gill St. Bernard’s on January 24, 2023. Collins finished with a game-high 22 points. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Jordan Summers, Bound Brook: Summers – who just signed on with Caldwell Monday – has been a stalwart from a great recent basketball family in The Brook. Summers finished with 1,456 career points, and scored 690 this year in 27 games, averaging an area-best 25.5 points per game – that’s tops among boys and girls in the CJSR coverage area. But it was the intangibles, leadership and unselfishness that made him most valuable to his team. “I have seen Jordan grow in front of my eyes since he was a kid, says head coach Anthony Melesurgo. “I am so proud of the young man he has become. The sky’s the limit for him!” He’ll also be playing in the North-/South All-Star game this Sunday at 2 pm at Rutgers Prep, the second player in as many years to do so; Quadir Harrell played last year.

Jordan Summers of Bound Brook – surrounded by teammates – signs on for a full scholarship with D2 Caldwell on March 6, 2023. (Photo courtesy Anthony Melesurgo)

Ramapo too much for Colonia down the stretch, as Patriots’ season ends in the Group 3 semis – again

Colonia has now won back-to-back sectional titles in North 2 Group 3, and has taken the title in three of the last four playoff years.

But they just can’t seem to get over that hump, that hump called Ramapo.

For the second year in a row, the Patriots lot to the North 1, Group 3 champions in the Group 3 semifinals out at Phillipsburg High School, last year by ten, this year by four.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

But that was little consolation on Wednesday night out on the State Line, where Colonia – unlike last year – led going into the fourth quarter, albeit by one, thanks to a Jaeden Jones bucket.

But Ramapo got out to a slim lead in the fourth quarter, by two, three, four; never quite enough to seal the deal until the end, but enough to keep the Patriots in catch-up mode.

Colonia ends its season 25-5, while Ramapo goes on to the Group 3 finals at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena Saturday at a time to be determined against Central Group 3 champ Nottingham, which beat South 3 winner Moorestown 56-49 down at Brick Memorial High School Wednesday night.

INSTANT REPLAY: Boys’ Central Jersey Group 2 Final – #2 Manasquan 60, #1 South River 52

The top-seeded South River Rams fell just a win short in their quest for their first state title since 1991, falling 60-52 to second-seed Manasquan in South River. Senior Laz Rodriguez led the Rams with 15 points, while sophomore Alex Grospe had 13 – 10 of which came in the fourth quarter – including three treys.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko call all the action on February 28, 2023 on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

St. Joseph looks to claim first state sectional title since Towns era, battles Union Catholic tonight in South Jersey

Falcons head coach Jan Cocoziello has said more than once this season something to the effect of: “People forget, this isn’t your Karl Towns St. Joe’s.”

And he’s not wrong, of course. Talented as they are, there certainly is no one the caliber of Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Few teams have anyone like that.

But shades of that era – when the Falcons went to back-to-back Tournaments of Champions, and won it all in 2014 after reaching the finals in 2013 – are creeping back into the minds of fans, and likely for the first time into the minds of the Falcon Flock, the loud boisterous student section, even though the oldest of them would have been just nine years old when Towns shook the rims at the Maglio Gymnasium.

The 2022-23 campaign got off to a slow start in the ’22 part of the schedule, by St. Joe’s standards. They lost Game 3 to new Red Division member Colonia – up from the White – by five, then were shocked at home the day after Christmas by South River in Metuchen, 74-66, to send them into the New Year at 3-2.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

But Cocoziello’s squad would challenge itself the rest of the way, with games against the likes of Linden and Seton Hall Prep out of conference, get swept two games by St. Thomas Aquinas, but avenge their December loss to Colonia.

They would also beat Rutgers Prep on February second, the top team in Somerset County at that point, 73-61 in Somerset, a sign this team could be turning the proverbial corner. Just over three weeks later, it proved to be an omen, as Joe’s again topped the Argonauts, this time at home, back on Monday in the Non-Public South A semifinals.

And the 70-66 win came in the most dramatic of ways. The Falcons trailed 21-9 after one quarter. But they chipped away, cutting the deficit to nine at halftime, and three at the end of the third quarter. The gym was jumping the entire second half.

Now, 6th-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen (18-10) takes on fifth-seed Union Catholic (19-9) in the Non-Public South A Championship Game down in South Jersey. Game time is 7 pm at Lenape High School in Medford Lakes. Central Jersey Sports Radio will have complete postgame coverage after the game is over.

The contest will be a rematch of a late January meeting in Scotch Plains, where the Falcons won 60-55 behind 20 points from team leader Josh Ingram, who also had seven rebounds and dished out four assists.

But one key difference from that game will be a new player added to the mix for UC: Chimeziri Okeoma, who wouldn’t become eligible for four more days after the first meeting with Joe’s. All he;s done in a dozen games since sitting due to transfer rules is score 18.9 points per game, while scoring 43 combined in the last two, with wins over Paul VI in the quarterfinals, then top-seed Camden Catholic by eight in the semis.

Then again, Joe’s also missed shooter and creator Jeremy Clayville in that first matchup, who’d been injured and just played his first game back on Monday, chipping in seven points to the effort.

But in the last game, Joe’s also got a huge contribution from Anthony Williams, a senior forward who has stepped in Clayville’s absence, but even with him back in the lineup, led all scorers in Monday night’s game, with 24 points.

Tonight’s South A winner will face the North A winner on Friday night at 5 pm in the Non-Public Group A Championship Game at Jersey Mike’s Arena at Rutgers University in Piscataway. The North A final features 5-seed Bergen Catholic – the defending champ, which beat Rutgers Prep in the Group A final last year at Rutgers – taking on 3rd-seed St. Peter’s Prep out of Jersey City.

Rams fall short in CJ2 title game as Frauenheim threes keep South River at bay

Every time South River threw a punch, many of them from the touch and moves of senior Laz Rodriguez around the rim, Manasquan punched right back, sometimes and then some.

The second-seeded Warriors took the Central Jersey Group 2 title Tuesday night with a 60-52 win in South River over the top-seeded Rams, in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

The Rams were down one with under a minute to go in the first when ‘Squan junior point guard Ryan Frauenheim hit back-to-back threes, the second longer than the first – which was long to begin with – to leave his team up five at the break.

To say they were backbreakers would not quite be true, given that there was still a full second half to play, but they sure took the air out of South River’s sails. Frauenheim finished with 20, including three from beyond the arc, and led all scorers in the game. Sophomore Darius Adams added 15 for Manasquan, which is now 26-4 and will move on to play South 2 champ Middle Township Thursday at Central Regional High School.

South River (26-4) was led by Laz Rodriguez, who had 15 points on some nifty moves around the bucket. Alex Grospe – in foul trouble most of the night with his brother Jeremy, scored 13, ten in the fourth quarter, including a pair of triples in the final eight minutes.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

Click below for postgame reaction sponsored by Sportsplex at Metuchen with South River head coach Brandon Walsh:

Roselle Catholic’s early spurt keeps Aquinas behind the eight ball all night, ends Trojans’ season in sectional semis

St. Thomas Aquinas brought its A game against Roselle Catholic. Or at least its A effort..

But it still wasn’t enough as the fourth-seeded Rams – the No. 1 team in New Jersey – proved why it deserved that ranking with a 90-72 win over top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas – ranked No. 5 in New Jersey – in the Non-Public North B Semifinals in North Edison Monday night, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

The Rams – with several high-level Division 1 college recruits – jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first couple of minutes before Aquinas head coach Bob Turco called a timeout to stop the bleeding. It worked, if only momentarily, as the Trojans got the next two buckets to cut it to 10-4.

But Roselle Catholic went on a 15-9 run from there to close the half with a 25-15 lead, and built their lead by five more points at halftime, taking a 47-32 lead into the break that they could not overcome.

The loss ends the season for Aquinas at 25-4, and ends the scholastic careers of three senior starters, Kamal Lee, Terrell Pitts and Jalen Pichardo. Bench players Chris Santner and Sherief Guinyard also will graduate.

The game had all the hype leading up to it, and it wasn’t even a title game. It was just a semifinal, with the Rams seeded fourth and Aquinas first based on power points, not human rankings, which bore themselves out in the game.

North-Carolina bound Simeon Wilcher led all scorers with 27 for Roselle Catholic, and Mackenzie Mgbako – in his first action since late January, added 13. Michael “Deuce” Jones led the Trojans with 19 in defeat.

Roselle Catholic (20-5) now goes on to the Non-Public North B title game Wednesday night at 5 pm at Franklin, against the winner of second-seed Gill St. Bernard’s and 6th-seed Montclair-Immaculate.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

COMING SOON! Postgame reaction from CJSR’s Justin Sontupe with Aquinas head coach Bob Turco, presented by SportsPlex at Metuchen.

Statewide Top 5 battle on tap in Non-Public North B semis, as St. Thomas Aquinas squares off with Roselle Catholic

It’s a game that’s more befitting a sectional final, a group final, or maybe even a Tournament of Champions final – if they still played it.

But it’s only going to be a trip to a title game on the line Monday night when top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas (25-3) welcomes fourth-seed Roselle Catholic (19-5) into the Trojans’ tiny, sweaty gym in the a Non-Public North B semifinal game at 6 pm, that can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Justin Sontupe and Chris Tsakonas will call all the play-by-play of what is a marquee state matchup, with pregame beginning at 5:45 pm. Click here to listen to the fill broadcast live on Monday night.

Aquinas is the three-time defending Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Champion, and has gone 84-15 over the past four seasons. They’ve got some great players who are household names in the GMC, including Jaden Kelly, Jalen Pichardo, Terrell Pitts, and seamlessly added Trenton Catholic transfer Michael “Deuce” Jones to the mix this year.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

That’s all well and good, but Roselle Catholic – last year’s last-ever TOC winner – is stacked with major D-1 talent. Senior guard Simeon Wilcher is going to the ACC to play for North Carolina. Akil Watson is committed to Arizona State. Mackenzie Mgbako will face Wilcher in the ACC at Duke. Tarik Watson, Akil’s younger brother also is a physical presence.

And even though Mgbako – the transfer from Gill St. Bernard’s – is injured, and hasn’t played since late January, there’s plenty of talent at the ready for the Rams, who count three losses to teams ranked No. 1 nationally – Duncanville (TX), Paul VI (VA) and Montverde (FL) – among their five losses.

In fact, Roselle Catholic hasn’t lost to a New Jersey opponent since dropping its opener last year to Camden, the team it beat to win the Tournament of Champions.

Click below to hear Justin Sontupe talk about the matchup with St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco:

Colonia boys’ seek back-to-back sectional titles when Patriots host Snyder in North 2, Group 3 final

Every year is a different team, but sometimes it’s the same result.

Fans of the Colonia boys’ basketball team hope that’s very much the case this year, as their fourth-seeded Patriots (21-8) will play for a second straight North 2, Group 3 title Monday night at 6:00 when they take on sixth-seed Snyder (17-11) out of Jersey City.

Colonia got there with a semifinal win over top-seed South Plainfield, an upset by seed, but really could have gone either way between two of the top teams in the GMC all year. The Patriots took control of after the Tigers got off to a hot start. Read more on Colonia’s semifinal win here, including postgame interviews by Chris Tsakonas with junior point guard Jaeden Jones and head coach Jose Rodriguez.

And so, here they are, back in the sectional finals for a fourth straight time, having never missed a sectional title tilt under head coach Jose Rodriguez, now in his fifth season.

Follow Sportsplex at Metuchen on Instagram for the latest on open gym sessions on their courts and turf!

The stretch began in 2019 when the blue-and-gold made the finals in Rodriguez’ first season, losing to Irvington. The next year, they came back and beat West Morris 57-33 on the road. Unfortunately, Colonia wouldn’t get a chance at a title the next year during the COVID-shortened season, but won the next-best-thing: the Jay Williams-Karl Anthony Towns GMC pod, a four-game “postseason” allowed by the NJSIAA in lieu of county and state tournaments.

But once the NJSIAA tournament came back last season, Colonia picked up right where it left off: winning a title, beating South Plainfield 56-52 in a double-overtime instant classic.

READ MORE ON THE 2022 CHAMPIONSHIP: Colonia needs double-OT to stave off South Plainfield as Pats take North 2, Group 3 title

So, here are the Patriots, looking for a third straight title in North 2, Group 3. Not to look past, but they hope to take it a step further this year, as the last two times they have been knocked out in the group semifinals, last year by Ramapo, and in 2020 by Irvington.

Junior point guard Jaeden Jones makes it all go, averaging 15 points per game but perhaps more importantly six assists in three state tournament games so far, wins over North Hunterdon, Chatham and South Plainfield. Senior Noah Taylor had a double-double in the quarterfinals against Chatham – 16 points and 10 boards – and though he was held scoreless against the Tigers, he grabbed another ten rebounds, critical in the victory as the Patriots had a 27-19 rebounding edge in the game.

Click below to hear them talk with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko:

The Patriots will be playing for their eighth sectional title in program history. And a win against Snyder would give them three in the last four NJSIAA state tournaments. In addition to the 2019 and 2022 wins, they also won North 2, Group 3 in 2015.

Chris Chiera was the head coach of that 2015 title team, which beat Chatham in a raucus game in Colonia’s gym, 45-43. Colonia had to rally in the fourth quarter, down 35-29 heading into the final eight minutes. The place was rocking that night, and even alum Eric LeGrand was in attendance. One of Chiera’s assistants on that team was Joe LaSala, LeGrand’s childhood friend and football teammate at Colonia, who now is the head football coach at Woodbridge.

That team then lost to Bergenfield in the Group 3 semifinals up at East Orange Campus High School.

Other titles also included a win in North 2, Group 3 in 2007, Central Jersey Group 3 titles in 1994 and 1985, and a Central Jersey Group 4 crown in 1972.

Colonia has never made it to a group final.

As for Snyder, the Tigers got knocked out of the Hudson County Tournament in the quarterfinals, 59-56 by Union City. They’ve not won more than four games in a row this season, and that only happened once: in their first four games, with wins over Lincoln, Columbia, Bayonne and Dickinson.

They have been led all year long senior point guard Ahmad Robertson, averaging 12.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He also averages just over four assists per game to lead the team, and has a Snyder-best 61 steals on the year.

But the key late in the year has been Senior Samir Jordan – a transfer from North Star Academy – who didn’t play until February second. And since then, all he’s done is pour in points. Specifically, he scored 23 against Payne Tech in the semifinals, had a career high 28 against Mendham in the semis, and has averaged 21.2 points in the ten games he’s played since becoming eligible.