Tag: Championship

INSTANT REPLAY: SCT Boys’ Final – #1 Rutgers Prep 69, #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 67

Cameron Piggee’s and-one with 2.9 seconds to go gave Rutgers Prep its first lead of the game, and after a half-court heave missed, the top-seeded Argonauts knocked off defending champion and second-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s in the Somerset County Tournament Boys’ Championship Game, to take their second-ever county title.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas call all the action from Montgomery High School on February 18, 2023 on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

INSTANT REPLAY: SCT Girls’ Final – #1 Rutgers Prep 64, #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 39

The top-seeded Rutgers Prep Lady Argonauts won their third straight Somerset County Tournament title, beating second-seed Gill St. Bernard’s 64-39, behind a career-high 21 points for Zahra Alexander, who led her team in scoring for the first time in her scholastic career.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas call all the action from Montgomery High School on February 18, 2023 on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Another war on tap in SCT Boys’ Final as Rutgers Prep and Gill St. Bernard’s will rematch

Last year’s Somerset County Tournament title win for Gill St. Bernard’s was a blowout over Rutgers Prep.

This year, Gill won a regular-season matchup with the Argonauts at the buzzer, then Prep turned it around at home and handled the Knights, who were in it, but never really threatened.

What’s next today?

You never know what can happen when Rutgers Prep and Gill St. Bernard’s meet, and today at Montgomery High School will be no exception when the top-seeded Argonauts take on the second-seeded Knights in the SCT title game, which you can hear on Central Jersey Sports Radio as part of a girls’/boys’ doubleheader.

Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas will call all the action, starting with pregame at 12:45 pm for the 1:00 girls game – also between top-seed Prep and second-seed Gill – then with the boys’ final starting at 3 pm. Click here to listen to the live broadcast for free.

Here’s a complete preview of the championship game, with audio from both coaches, analysis, stats, and more.

#1 Rutgers Prep (19-7) vs. #2 Gill St. Bernard’s (18-6)
When: Saturday, February 18 at 3 pm
Where: Montgomery High School
Listen Live: Central Jersey Sports Radio, pregame begins at 2:45 pm

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)

#1 Rutgers Prep
Head Coach: Matt Bloom – 6th season, 111-32)

Having just played an all-out battle with Franklin on Thursday night, with a quick turnaround to Saturday, Bloom says his players will have watched film on the day in between, and go through some walk-throughs in an hour-long practice. Mental and physical healing is needed after an all-out banger against the Warriors, which literally drew blood; point guard Jordan Atkins had to come out of the game briefly after getting hit, and came back with a bandage in the area above his eye.

Expect much of the same Saturday afternoon. Atkins runs the point so well, even to the point of a play that won’t show up in the box score. Against the Warriors, after Jake Novielli hit back-to-back threes to get his team back in the game, Atkins got a pass on a drive and quickly realized the better play was to kick it back out. He did so, to Johnny Nsenkyire on the wing, and he hit a three-ball to stop the Franklin win. It was a critical moment. But the fact is, those moments also don’t happen without the offensive finish. Jadin Collins is one of those guys, leading in every scoring category, and he’s the team’s top rebounder, too. He can play defense, to boot, with a team-leading 105 steals. John Kelly has been playing great defense for the Argonauts, and Cameron Piggee has been nailing it from downtown since his return from injury.

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Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Jordan Atkins (6-0, Sr): 8.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 140 assists
  • G Cameron Piggee (6-2, Sr): 14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 50 treys
  • G Franklin Jones (6-5, Sr): 8.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 27 blocks
  • G Jadin Collins (6-1, Jr): 20.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 105 steals
  • F John Kelly (6-7, Jr): 11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Coach’s Interview:

SCT History (1-5):

1988 – #1 Bridgewater-Raritan West beat #2 Rutgers Prep 94-66
2011 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #2 Rutgers Prep 68-59
2017 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #3 Rutgers Prep 71-61
2018 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #2 Rutgers Prep 56-54
2020 – #1 Rutgers Prep beat #3 Watchung Hills 71-57
2022 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat Rutgers Prep 84-63

Gill St. Bernard’s head coach Mergin Sina talks to his team before a matchup at Rutgers Prep on January 24, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

#2 Gill St. Bernard’s
Head Coach: Mergin Sina – 13th season, 272-69

Head coach Mergin Sina was working with a completely new lineup in the preseason, and as it was coming together, it took another blow, the return of Jon Ismaijli to his native Serbia. Back to the drawing board, sort of. The results have been typical Gill St. Bernard’s, even without household names like Mackenzie Mgbako and Naas Cunningham, who transferred after last year.

Senior Mario Castro-Sanchez has shouldered the burden of the scoring this year, also leading the team in the three-point department, and can dish the ball to people like fellow senior Nick Losada, who hit the game winning three as time expired in the first meeting with Rutgers Prep, in Gladstone in early January. Freshman Dorsett Mulcahy can run the point, too, and looks more and more like his older brother on the court than than off it, with great moves off the dribble-drive. But he’s not the only Rutgers connection; Scarlet Knight head coach Steve Pikiell’s son, Kevin, also is on the team.

Projected Starting Five:

  • G Mario Castro-Sanchez (6-1, Sr): 22.5 ppg, 68 assists, 95 treys
  • G Andy Hearn (6-1, Sr): 4.6 ppg, 8 treys
  • G Nick Losada (6-2, Jr): 14.3 ppg, 47 steals, 46 treys
  • G Luke Ruggerio (6-3, Sr): 2.1 ppg
  • F/C Ebrahim Kaba (6-8, Jr): 9.2 ppg, 17 treys

Coach’s Interview:

Gill St. Bernard’ Head Coach Mergin Sina

SCT History (8-2):

2011 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #2 Rutgers Prep 68-59
2012 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #2 Bridgewater-Raritan 88-72
2013 – #1 Ridge beat #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 69-56
2014 – #3 Hillsborough beat #1 Gill St. Bernard’s 53-52
2015 – #3 Gill St. Bernard’s beat (1) Ridge 48-39
2016 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #3 Somerville 66-51
2017 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #3 Rutgers Prep 71-61
2018 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #2 Rutgers Prep 56-54
2019 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat #3 Watching Hills 73-53
2022 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s beat Rutgers Prep 84-63

St. Thomas Aquinas boys win back-and-forth GMC Tournament final to complete the three-peat

In a game that saw 18 lead changes – ten in the third quarter – and neither team lead by more than six, No. 1 seed St. Thomas Aquinas got by No. 7 seed South Brunswick 53-50 to win the GMC Tournament Boys’ Championship, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio Friday night from Monroe Township High School, presented by Dayton Toyota Service and Dayton Collision.

South Brunswick (17-6) had been vying to be the lowest seeded team to win the title, which has never been won by any lower than a sixth-seed.

Instead, the Trojans (24-3) now have won three full GMC Tournament Championships in a row, and – coupled with their girls’ 49-42 win over Colonia earlier in the evening – you can make it three straight sweeps by the Aquinas girls’ and boys. No other school has done that.

Deuce Jones led Aquinas with 21 points; the Trenton Catholic transfer had two thunderous jams that brought Monroe’s gym to its feet.

South Brunswick led after each of the first three quarters, even though the third was back and forth. St. Thomas Aquinas – which only led by as many as two until taking the lead late in the fourth quarter, was up two with 34.9 seconds to go when Jones – shooting only 5 of 10 from the line at that point, strode to the foul line and hit two free throws to put Aquinas up by four.

South Brunswick senior Harmehar Chhabra scored on a drive to cut it to two, and after an Arshvir Singh foul sent Jaden Kelly to the line and he split a pair, the Vikings had it with 14.9 seconds to go, down 53-50.

South called time out, and on the ensuing inbound, Chhabra got the ball up the floor, but the play designed in the huddle by head coach Joe Hoehman seemed to not materialize. Stuck, Chhabra threw up a three from right of the key with just one foot on the hardwood. It hit the back iron, the rebound tipped around, time expired, and the Trojans had their championship.

Kalani Antoine of South Brunswick had game-high honores, with 23, including three treys, and two big ones in the third quarter when the game was back-and-forth.

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Click below for postgame reaction sponsored by SportsPlex at Metuchen:

St. Thomas Aquinas junior Michael “Deuce” Jones
St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco

Rutgers Prep seeking third straight SCT girls’ title is a huge mountain to climb for Gill St. Bernard’s

The Rutgers Prep girls’ basketball team has been dominating the Skyland Conference for years, but for the last few, the Lady Argonauts have stood alone. They’ve won two straight Somerset County Championships by an average of almost 28 points, sandwiched around a one-off Skyland Blue Pod Championship in the COVID-shortened season by another 28 points.

In their last 108 wins – dating back to the start of the start of the 2017-18 season – only eight of them have come by fewer than ten points.

That’s the challenge Gill St. Bernard’s will face when they bring they’re very good basketball team to Montgomery High School Saturday afternoon for the Somerset County Tournament Championship Game. Sure, they have some scorers, and some balance, and some depth, too. But can they crack Rutgers Prep, which has beaten them by more than 31 points a game – none closer than 28 – in their last four meetings

You can hear Saturday’s entire SCT Championship Doubleheader presented on Central Jersey Sports Radio, as Mike Pavlichko and Chris Tsakonas call all the action. The girls game starts at 1:00 with pregame at 12:45; the boys’ final starts at 3 pm with the same teams. Click here to listen to the live broadcast for free.

Here’s a complete preview of the championship game, with audio from both coaches, analysis, stats, notes, nuggets and more.

#1 Rutgers Prep (19-4) vs. #2 Gill St. Bernard’s (17-6)
When: Saturday, February 18 at 1 pm
Where: Montgomery High School
Listen Live: Central Jersey Sports Radio, pregame begins at 12:45 pm

The Rutgers Prep girls’ basketball team hosts Gill St. Bernard’s on January 24, 2023 in Somerset. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

#1 Rutgers Prep
Head Coach: Mary Klinger – 39th season, 652-247)
2021-22 NFHS Coach of the Year

Though her team wound up winning big yet again, 67-38 in the semifinals of the SCT Thursday night against Franklin, Klinger was less than satisfied with the defensive effort, particularly in the half-court. It didn’t help that the shots weren’t falling early on either for the Argonauts. But defense is what you can control, it’s what Klinger preaches, and what they will have been working on to straighten up for Saturday’s SCT final against Gill. That said, they’ve had an excellent season, challenging themselves with stiff out-of-conference competition, only taking two losses to New Jersey opponents this year: Paul VI and Morris Catholic.

Junior phenom Mikayla Blakes runs the show; she’s the team’s top scorer and leads in assists and steals, as well as three-pointers made, with 55 on the year for a team that has hit 148 in just 23 games. Katie Ledden is a veteran steadying presence, the only senior in the starting lineup, a scary proposition down the road once she heads off to Rhode Island next year. Freshman GiGi Battle has been a starter since she set foot on the Rutgers Prep campus, and fellow freshman Ava LaMonica is contributing, too. Zahra Alexander and Chloe Escanillas are key parts as well. This team is so deep and talented, they’re the team to beat until someone does. No one in Somerset County has really come that close in quite some time.

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Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Mikayla Blakes (5-8, Jr): 22.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 55 treys, 81 assists, 73 steals
  • G/F Katie Ledden (6-1, Sr): 14.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 26 treys, 43 blocks, 45 steals
  • G/F Gigi Battle (6-0, Fr): 9.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 13 treys, 30 steals
  • G/F Zahra Alexander (5-8, Jr): 7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 52 assists
  • F/C Alex DeIasi (6-0, Jr): 2.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg

Coach’s Interview:

Rutgers Prep Head Coach Mary Klinger

SCT History (7-5):

2005 – #1 Hillsborough 40, #3 Rutgers Prep 29
2006 – #5 Hillsborough 51, #2 Rutgers Prep 45
2008 – #1 Rutgers Prep 38, #2 Watchung Hills 34
2011 – #1 Rutgers Prep 62, #6 Bridgewater-Raritan 56
2012 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s 57, #6 Rutgers Prep 45
2015 – Rutgers Prep 52, Franklin 46
2016 – Rutgers Prep 41, Gill St. Bernard’s 28
2017 – Rutgers Prep 62, Gill St. Bernard’s 35
2018 – Franklin 68, Rutgers Prep 49
2019 – Franklin 63, Rutgers Prep 45
2020 – Rutgers Prep 60, Watchung Hills 34
2022 – #1 Rutgers Prep 64, #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 35

How they win: They can still win easily otherwise, and they often do, but getting out of the gate hot will make life a whole lot easier for Rutgers Prep. Don’t let Gill hang around. Get out early with the full-court press, force turnovers, and turn them into buckets.

Past Coverage:

Gill st Bernard’s takes on Watchung Hills in the Somerset County Tournament semifinals in Gladstone on February 16, 2023. (Photo: Chris Tsakonas)

#2 Gill St. Bernard’s
Head Coach: Mark Gnapp – 5th season, 80-36

There’s no secret who the star is for Gill St. Bernard’s: Brooke Baisley makes the offense go. The junior had a fantastic sophomore campaign and hasn’t disappointed in her junior season, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, three point shooting and steals, so she can play offense and defense. There is some balance, though on the rest of the team, from second-leading scorer and sophomore Maya Abramson – who contributed on a young team as a freshman last year – and fellow sophomore Sydney Quinn, the top scorer in the Knights’ semifinal win over Watchung Hills.

From Abranmson down to the third player off the bench, they range in scoring from 9 to 5.1 points per game. That’s good ball distribution, and good sharing. They’ll just need to take care of the ball against Rutgers Prep, something that’s easier said than done. They have some height, with 6-5 Gandy Malou-Mamel – another sophomore – in the middle and on the blocks, a matchup problem for Rutgers Prep, which has no one in the starting lineup taller than Katie Ledden, at 6-1.

Projected Starting Five:

  • G Brooke Baisley (5-10, Jr): 13.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 30 treys, 57 assists, 64 steals
  • G Tessa Lozner (5-3, Soph): 5.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 80 assists, 11 treys
  • G Jennah Johnson (5-9, Jr): 7.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 10 treys
  • F Sidney Quinn (Soph, 6-1): 8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6 treys
  • F/C Gandy Malou-Mamel (6-5, Soph): 6.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 48 blocks

Coach’s Interview:

Gill St. Bernard’s Head Coach Mark Gnapp

SCT History (5-3):

2009 – #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 57, #4 Somerville 55
2010 – #2 Gill St. Bernard’s 64, #1 Bridgewater-Raritan 44
2012 – #1 Gill St. Bernard’s 57, #6 Rutgers Prep 45
2013 – Gill St. Bernard’s 63, Franklin 57
2014 – Gill St. Bernard’s 55, Franklin 51
2016 – Rutgers Prep 41, Gill St. Bernard’s 28
2017 – Rutgers Prep 62, Gill St. Bernard’s 35
2022 – Rutgers Prep 64, Gill St. Bernard’s 35

How they win: Gill will have to bring it’s A++ game. Take care of the basketball, and if you can get Rutgers Prep miscues, take advantage. Don’t fall behind early; it’s extremely tough to come back against the Argos, especially when they run that relentless full-court pressure that can swing the score or build a lead in the blink of an eye. Using their size advantage with Malou-Mamel would be a plus, too.

Dominant, peaking, scary-good Aquinas to battle smart, quick South Brunswick for GMC Tournament boys’ title

The St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ basketball team has to be feeling pretty good about itself after Wednesday night’s performance in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament semifinals at Monroe High School.

In just two minutes and change, they opened up with a 15-0 run that saw them hit five of their first six shots from downtown.

The South Brunswick boys’ basketball team has to feel pretty good about what it accomplished, too, on Wednesday night: beating a South River team that had looked unbeatable for most of the year. They frazzled the Rams, and beat them at their own game, handing them just their third loss this season.

The two come together tonight – top-seeded St. Thomas and seventh-seed South Brunswick – one more time in Monroe, this time for the GMC Tournament title.

You can hear Friday night’s entire Championship Doubleheader presented by Dayton Toyota Service and Dayton Collision of South Brunswick on Central Jersey Sports Radio, as Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino call all the action.

The boys’ game is scheduled for an 8 pm start, immediately follow the girls’ final, which starts at 6 pm, with pregame coverage starting at 5:45 for the top-seed Aquinas and 3rd-seed Colonia girls. Click here to listen to the live broadcast for free.

Here’s a complete preview of the championship game, with audio from both coaches, analysis, stats, notes, nuggets and more.

#1 St. Thomas Aquinas (23-3) vs. #7 South Brunswick (17-5)
When: Friday, February 17 at 8 pm
Where: Monroe Township High School
Listen Live: Central Jersey Sports Radio, pregame begins approximately 7:45 pm

The St. Thomas Aquinas Trojans with their 2022 GMC Tournament Championship banner. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

#1 St. Thomas Aquinas
Head Coach: Bob Turco – 5th season, 101-22
(345-100 overall, including 148-46 in 7 years at Notre Dame, and 97-42 in 5 years at Monroe)

What else can be said about St. Thomas Aquinas at this point? Coaches want their teams playing their bast basketball at this point of the season, and the display we saw in the first two-and-a-half minutes against St. Joe’s in the semifinals Wednesday night was out of this world. Five of six from the floor, all from downtown, and killer defense, staking the Trojans to a 15-0 lead. What could Bob Turco have said during the time out? “Nice shot,” is what he said to Deuce Jones after he missed one of those threes. That’s because his team is laser-focused right now. He could see it in his team’s eyes as they warmed up, a moment when a coach knows he need not say anything, or even that anything he might say may not matter. His team is going to do what it’s going to do. And what it did was blow the Falcons out of the water 91-49 en route to a third straight GMC Tournament finals appearance.

Perhaps what’s been most impressive about St. Thomas is how well a player like Jones has been able to integrate with this bunch. It was a very tight-knit group last year, and the face of the program – the glue – Adam Silas is now off at Wofford. With a solid group of returnees like Terrell Pitts, Kamal Lee, Jaden Kelly, Samir Thomas, Jalen Pichardo and more, who knew how a knew point guard would fit in. Well, he fit in like the last jigsaw puzzle piece. And Aquinas is at a completely different level now than the rest of the GMC. St. Joe’s had played the Trojans to seven- and eight- point games in the regular season. This time, when it mattered most, Aquinas won by 42.

Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Michael “Deuce” Jones (6-3, 175, Jr): 16.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 33 treys, 6.5 apg, 81 steals
  • G Kamal Lee (6-0, 165, Sr): 9.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 43 treys
  • G Jaden Kelly (6-3, 185, Jr): 10.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 49 treys, 17 blocks
  • G/F Terrell Pitts (6-4, 195, Sr): 12.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 16 treys
  • G/F Jalen Pichardo (6-7, 215, Sr): 9.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5 treys

Coach’s Interview:

St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Bob Turco

GMC Tournament History (4-0 overall: 1-0 in MCT, 3-0 in GMCT):

1982 – #6 St. Thomas Aquinas 49, #6 St. Joseph 47 (MCT)
1992 – #1 Bishop Ahr 61, #2 St. Joseph 47
2020 – #2 St. Thomas Aquinas 63, #4 South Brunswick 52
2022: #1 St. Thomas Aquinas 69, #3 Colonia 53

Believe it or not, a win by St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night would put them in a three-way tie with Perth Amboy and the long-closed St. Peter’s in New Brunswick for most consecutive GMC Tournament wins. The Panthers won the first three GMC Tournament titles from 1965 to 1967, while the Cardinals won three straight from 1983 to 1985. Though St. Joseph-Metuchen had an amazing run in the 2000s, winning nine of ten, that was broken into two strings of four and five straight. Five is the record, which was done from 2010 to 2014, culminating in the Falcons’ Tournament of Champions title season with the trio of Karl Towns, Marques Townes and Wade Baldwin. This program, with players like Jones, Kelly, and Thomas back – and we’re sure some newcomers – could very well challenge that mark.

How they win: Keep on keepin’ on. The same formula they’ve used all year long is what will bring them the title: great defense, steals, score in transition, hit from the arc. Why mess with a good thing.

Past Coverage:

South Brunswick’s Harmehar Chhabra goes up for a shot against South River’s Laz Rodriguez in the GMC Tournament semifinals on February 15, 2023. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

#1 South Brunswick Vikings
Head Coach: Joe Hoehman – 16th season, 223-156

Hoehman has been at this a long time in South Brunswick, and this may be one of his better teams yet. To look at the seeds and say Wednesday’s semifinal win over South River was an upset wouldn’t be doing justice to the Vikings, who – as a seven-seed – are still 16-5, with four of those losses coming to teams “on the board” as they say in the GMC Tournament seeding meeting: teams above them in the standings. That means two losses to Colonia – both by a single possession – as well as a three-point loss to St. Joe’s and a 26 point loss to Aquinas. Well, the Falcons are out of the tournament, and the Vikings too it upon themselves to emphatically knock out Colonia in the quarterfinals, by 20 points, after three- and a two-point losses in the regular season.

How many teams do you know have a forward who leads their squad in assists and blocks? Harmehar Chhabra is just that player, with a team leading 95 on the year, while also registering 42 blocks. The senior can rise, and when he drives the paint it’s like he can see above the clouds, and then dishes out to the wings or the corners where the Vikings can get an open look. It’s a talent and a skill, and Chhabra’s got it. He’s also smart, and it’s a treat to watch him without the ball in his hands, directing traffic around him like a 5th Avenue Blue in Manhattan at rush hour. Fellow senior Kalani Antoine may be responsible for the greatest chunk of the offense at 18.6 points a game, but with Chhabra’s 20-point effort the other night, Antoine didn’t need a ton of points; he only had 11. But that’s ok. Chhabra says he knows that’s his turn to pick it up, and pick it up he did.

Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Arshvir Singh (6-1, Sr): 6.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 15 treys, 41 assists, 25 steals
  • G Kalani Antoine (5-7, Sr): 18.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 40 treys, 51 steals
  • G Bryce Muniz (5-10, Sr): 4.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 16 treys, 46 assists, 22 steals
  • F Daniel Swirad (6-3, Jr): 9.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
  • F Harmehar Chhabra (6-6, Sr): 13.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 95 assists, 42 blocks

Coach’s Interview:

GMC Tournament History (0-3):

1993 – #3 St. Joseph 57, #4 South Brunswick 54 (OT)
2016 – #1 St. Joseph 56, #2 South Brunswick 48
2020 – #2 St. Thomas Aquinas 63, #4 South Brunswick 52

Though the Vikings have made few appearances in the GMC Tournament finals, this is their second appearance in the title game in the last three full tournaments. This is the lowest seed they’ve ever been – seventh – when reaching the final.

How they win: Much as we are impressed with South Brunswick, beating St. Thomas Aquinas is going to be a Herculean task, not just for the Vikes, but maybe for anyone in the state right now. Nothing is ever impossible, mind you, but the challenge in front of them is this: don’t get frazzled by the Trojans’ defense. Finding a good shot is going to take a lot of hard work. St. Thomas has the better physical matchup, so Joe Hoehman will have to outcoach Bob Turco. To put it in baseball parlance, Aquinas blows the high heater right by you. South Brunswick needs to be the wily veteran who doesn’t have the flamethrower for an arm, but can put some wicked movement on the ball.

Past Coverage:

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Red Division Dominance: Some say there’s always been a Red Division bias to the seeding of the county tournament. We’re not here to take a side either way, but what the numbers bear out is that the Red Division has won 22 titles in the history of the GMC, and it’s sure to add one more to that total this year since both finalists are from the Red Division.

Turcos for Titles: Bob Turco is one of 13 coaches in MCT/GMCT history who have won multiple titles. The list includes some legendary names, like Perth Amboy’s Bill Buglovsky and St. Peter’s John Somogyi, but also Turco’s brother, Dave, who won seven titles at St. Joseph and one at Carteret. Oh, and they’re the only brother combo to have won GMC Tournament titles.

Gone, Gone, Gone… Did you know that there are only two active GMC coaches who have won GMC titles? Bob Turco is one, of course. The only other active GMC boys’ coach to have won a GMC title is Ed Breheney, who’s now in his 33rd season with the Raiders. They won in 1997 as the fifth-seed, upsetting second-seed St. Joe’s. They’ve only reached the finals one other time, in 2012, losing to the Falcons.

Will Someone Top Silas??  In last year’s final, Adam Silas of Aquinas poured in 37 points.  It was the second highest scoring total in a GMC Tournament final, behind Keith Hughes of Carteret, who scored 40 in the very first GMC title game in 1986.  Only two other players have ever scored more than them in a county final, both coming in the MCT title game:  Gary Brokaw of New Brunswick (46, 1971) and John Somogyi of St. Peter’s (49, 1968).

Records Are Made To Be Broken:  The 15 threes by St. Thomas Aquinas in Wednesday’s semifinal win over St. Joe’s were the most in a game in the Bob Turco era.  If they can duplicate that effort in the finals, they would shatter the GMC Tournament record for most threes in a GMC Tournament final, currently ten.  Three teams have done it, most recently North Brunswick in 2012.  St. Joseph did it in 2010, and South Plainfield turned the trick in 2005.  The record for threes by an individual player is Darren Smith of South Plainfield, who hit six in 2005.

Two To Go, Please:  Should Aquinas win in the finals, they would tie for third on the list of most consecutive titles won.  Perth Amboy won three from 1965 to 1967, and St. Peter’s in New Brunswick won three from 1983-1985.  Two teams have won four:  Perth Amboy from 1972-75 and St. Joseph-Metuchen from 2016 to 2019.  They lost in 2015 to Colonia, or else they would have won ten straight.  Instead, they had to settle for nine of ten, including five in a row – the record – from 2010 to 2014, the last year being their TOC title year with Karl-Anthony Towns.

St. Thomas Aquinas seeks fourth straight, while Colonia girls vie for first-ever GMC Tournament Championship

It never gets old for Joe Whalen’s St. Thomas Aquinas Trojans.

“It feels like home,” said sophomore Gianna Chuffo two nights ago.

For a third straight full Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, St. Thomas Aquinas is back in the championship game, and on Friday night will go up against a Colonia program that is making its first-ever appearance in the finals.

You can hear Friday night’s entire Championship Doubleheader presented by Dayton Toyota Service and Dayton Collision of South Brunswick on Central Jersey Sports Radio, as Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino call all the action. Pregame begins at 5:45 for the 6:00 girls title tilt between top Seed St. Thomas and third-seed Colonia.

That will be followed by the Boys’ final at 8:00 with top-seed Aquinas taking on seventh-seed South Brunswick. Click here to listen to the live broadcast for free.

Here’s a complete preview of the championship game, with audio from both coaches, analysis, stats, notes, nuggets and more.

#1 St. Thomas Aquinas (20-6) vs. #3 Colonia (14-10)
When: Friday, February 17 at 6 pm
Where: Monroe Township High School
Listen Live: Central Jersey Sports Radio, pregame begins at 5:45 pm

The St. Thomas Aquinas girls basketball team with its 2022 Championship Banner. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

St. Thomas Aquinas
Head Coach: Joe Whalen – 3rd season, 49-16

The Trojans are in the finals of the GMC’s postseason for a fourth straight year. The run started in 2019, before the school’s name changed from Bishop Ahr to it’s original moniker, St. Thomas Aquinas. As the top-seed, they beat second-seed Edison 47-32 under head coach Brittney Griffin. The next year, they had a new name, and Griffin’s squad again was the top seed, and beat third-seed Monroe, 64-41. In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic results in a delayed, shortened season, with no full tournament – and no state tournament – just a series of four-game postseason pods. Under first-year head coach Joe Whalen, Aquinas made it to the final, but lost to Monroe in North Edison. They came back as the top-seed last year in the full tourney, and beat seven-seed South Brunswick 64-58.

One could say this is an experienced bunch, led by two D1-committed seniors in the front court: All Red-Division standout Jessica Cooper is headed to Albany, and Nia Clemons is headed to Caldwell. The rest of their starting lineup features two sophomores and one junior, but they’ve been here before – last year, to be exact. The third-year standout who played in the COVID pod final is Leah Crosby, a regular threat for a double-double who leads the team in steals. The two sophs are guard Gianna Chuffo – who had 21 points on seven treys in a 67-39 semifinal win over fourth-seed Monroe, and point guard Amarillis Shubick, who has given up some scoring pressure to me more of a distributor this year. She’s the “priority of every team we play,” says Whalen.

Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Amarillis Shubick (5-5, Jr): 8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 4.92 apg, 30 treys
  • G Gianna Chuffo (5-4, Soph): 10.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 76 treys
  • F Leah Crosby (6-2, Soph): 11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 22 blocks, 65 FTM
  • F Jessica Cooper: 12.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 47 steals, 65 FTM
  • F Nia Clemons (6-0, Sr): 9.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 10 treys

Coach’s Interview:

St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Joe Whalen

GMC Tournament History:

1984 – #1 Bishop Ahr 52, #2 St. Peter’s 49 (MCT)
1985 – #1 St. Peter’s 40, #2 Bishop Ahr 21 (MCT)
1986 – #1 Hoffman 55, #2 Bishop Ahr 52
1987 – #1 Hoffman 74, #2 Bishop Ahr 46
1994 – #2 Bishop Ahr 51, #1 East Brunswick, 36
1996 – #2 East Brunswick 50, #5 Bishop Ahr 43
2001 – #5 Bishop Ahr 55, #2 East Brunswick 43
2014 – #2 Piscataway 50, #12 Bishop Ahr 45
2019 – #1 Bishop Ahr 47, #2 Edison 32
2020 – #1 St. Thomas Aquinas 64, #3 Monroe 41
2022 – #1 St. Thomas Aquinas 64, #7 South Brunswick 58

Aquinas is tied with four other teams from three other schools for most consecutive titles won, with three. In addition to the Trojans COVID-interrupted three-tournament run including titles in 2019, 2020 and 2022, Piscataway won three straight twice, from 2009 to 2011 and again from 2013 to 2015. JP Stevens won three in a row from 2003 to 2005, and Hoffman won the first three GMC Tournament titles from 1986 to 1988.

How they win: St. Thomas is battle-tested and clicking on all cylinders. They need to keep playing the great defense they’ve been all season long, and if they can keep another All-Red Division pick by the coaches, Taylor Derkack, from going off like they did in their last regular season meeting – she only had four going into the fourth quarter, when the game was long ago decided – they’ll be in great shape.

Past Coverage:

Colonia’s Mattison Chiera (l) and Taylor Derkack lead the way for the Patriots. (submitted photo)

Colonia Patriots
Head Coach: Sandi Chiera – 4th season, 57-36

The Patriots took a big step forward in 2021-22 and had a program year, setting a program record for wins with 25 and going 14-0 in the GMC White to win its first-ever divisional title of any kind. But their run ended in disappointment, getting upset by seventh-seed South Brunswick in the GMC Tournament semifinals. They made it to the Central Jersey Group 3 final, but lost to Ewing 69-46. This year’s team was hoping to take a step forward, but didn’t – at least in the win column. Part of that was moving up to the GMC Red Division, and facing tougher opposition. In six divisional losses, not counting two to Aquinas, Colonia dropped four division games to East Brunswick, Old Bridge, Monroe and South Brunswick by the sum total of 22 points, and lost none of those games by more than seven. They also split with all four teams. They learned how to make adjustments by getting revenge wins against the Knights and Vikings, but also dropped rematches to East Brunswick and Monroe.

There’s no secret that it’s junior Taylor Derkack and senior Matti Chiera – the coach’s daughter – who make the team go, accounting for 36.3 of the team’s 46.6 point per game average. Derkack does it all, leading in all but one major offensive category, socring 21.5 points per game, grabbing 12.2 rebounds, and adding 75 assists, 46 blocks, and 93 steals. She’s even made 139 free throws on the season, accounting for 26-percent of her points. She’s hit 34 treys, the only category she doesn’t lead; Chiera has 41. But the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t have the numbers scoring numbers. Beyond overall points, the duo has made 75 of the team’s 78 treys on the year. What’s been an enigma is this: Where has Colonia lost games? Even in defeats, Chiera and Derkack get their points, in general. It’s a matter of how hard they have to work.

Projected Starting Five:

  • PG Taylor Derkack (6-0, Jr): 21.5 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 75 assists, 46 blocks, 93 steals, 34 treys, 134 FTM
  • G Mattison Chiera (5-7, Sr): 14.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 41 treys, 50 steals
  • G Sarah Genoni (5-5, Sr): 1.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1 trey, 10 steals
  • F Isabel Gidado (Soph): 4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 27 steals
  • F Amani Moore (5-10, Sr): 2.7 ppg, 5 rpg

Coach’s Interview:

Colonia Head Coach Sandi Chiera

GMC Tournament History:

Last year was Colonia’s first-ever appearance in the county tournament semifinals, MCT or GMC. It ended there, with a loss to South Brunswick, making this the Patriots’ first-ever county tourney finals appearance.

How they win: St. Thomas did a number on Colonia defensively in their last meeting. Colonia hung in, but was gassed by halftime. Down just 17-11 after one quarter, Aquinas ratcheted things up in the next eight minutes and led 47-14 at the half, and won 83-33. The first meeting was a 29-point loss. It’s hard to say Derkack and Chiera need to step up any more than they already do, so it falls upon the supporting cast to set screens and give the due the best looks possible. Draw defenders down and kick out. Move the ball, and value it.

Past Coverage:

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Top Seeds Rule: More often than not, the No. 1 seed wins the GMC. Including MCT play (1975-1985) the top-seed has won 28 titles, while the three-seed has won only seven. Even the No. 2 seed has won only nine. The five-, seven-, and 13-seeds have each won one apiece. Overall, the No. 1 seed is 28-12 in the championship game, while third-seeds are 7-7. But third-seeds have also done fairly well against the top-seeds considering. The combo has happened 13 times, with the top seed only prevailing in seven of them. The most recent to do so was in 2011, when third-seed Piscataway beat top-seed Cardinal McCarrick, 67-45, in the South Amboy school’s final appearance in the GMCT final before closing after the 2014-15 school year.

Big Loss: One other reason for Colonia’s struggles this year was the loss of Mya Patino. The junior guard suffered a season-ending knee injury in a scrimmage against Hillsborough. She averaged 5.1 points per game and 2.4 rebounds last year, and was expected to make a significant contribution this year. She’ll be back next season, but not before the Patriots lose Matti Chiera to graduation.

Aquinas Success: Going back to the start of the 2017-18 season, St. Thomas has won 71 of 84 GMC divisional games – and 43 straight – whether in the White or the Red, which they’ve been in for two seasons now.

Ahr/Aquinas Success Against Colonia: The last win for Colonia against the school now known as St. Thomas Aquinas came when they were still known as Bishop Ahr, on February 1st, 2014, a 52-35 Patriots win. Since then, Ahr/Aquinas has won 15 straight in the series, including twice this season. 58-29 on January 12th, and 83-33 on February second on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Halftime Leads: When St. Thomas Aquinas leads at the half, they don’t look back. Their last loss when going into the locker room with a lead was a 46-41 defeat at the hands of Monroe in the Somogyi Family Pod to end the 2021 COVID-shortened season.

Instant Replay: Middlesex beats Point Beach 2-1 for CJ1 title, heads to state semis

The strong suit of the Middlesex Blue Jays in the NJSIAA playoffs has been pitching.

Not that the hitting hasn’t been good, but the pitching has been stellar.

Middlesex got both Friday afternoon, as the top-seeded Blue Jays beat 6th-seed Point Pleasant Beach for the third straight time in the Central Jersey Group 1 finals to win the section for the fourth straight season, and the fifth time in six seasons under head coach Justin Nastasi.

Middlesex got two on in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied at one, then Stephen Young was walked intentionally to load the bases.

Point appeared to get what it wanted: a chopper hit to second base by Anthony Long with the infield in. But a wide throw home on the force out attempt let Mark Geist come in to score, giving the Blue Jays a 2-1 walkoff win.

Not a lot of hits. Timely hits.

The win gives Middlesex a shot at a fourth straight trip to the statewide Group One finals. They won in 2017 and 2018, but lost in the Group One semifinals to Glassboro in 2019.

Click below to hear the complete game broadcast of Middlesex vs. Point Pleasant Beach in the Central Jersey Group 1 championship game: