Tag: St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Joe’s is the favorite, but here’s how all 16 teams can win the GMC Tournament

No team worth its weight in stirrups and rawhide enters the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament bemoaning its seed and wishing they were someone else.

If you’re picked as one of the top 16 teams in the league and make the “big dance,” there’s reason to think you have a shot, or else why get up in the morning?

The way the tournament is laid out, with enough time for every team’s No. 1 starter to pitch three games – that is, if Mother Nature cooperates on Monday – just about everyone has a shot, since there are so many good No. 1s in the county.

So why should 16th-seed South River have hope like top-seed St. Joe’s or third-seed Middlesex has hope that they can win it all?

Click below to listen to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko break down all 16 teams:

Battling MS, winning the GMCT, Aquinas’ Joe Whalen named CJSR Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year

Winning a GMC Tournament Championship is not an easy feat. Some winners do, but most don’t have a clear road and path to the title.

In the case of St. Thomas Aquinas this year, there were numerous obstacles, like replacing key players, and getting new players to gel.

But for head coach Joe Whalen, the challenge was monumental, and life-changing: dealing with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis that explained so many things the 64-year-old had simply attributed to age and previous sports injuries.

He’d had knew issues years ago, and suffered concussions from his time boxing. But this was different, and it was starting to affect his coaching, even remembering simple plays, or strategies at the end of a game.

Yet, he and his team – players and assistant coaches – overcame it all, and Whalen is the 2021-22 Central Jersey Sports Radio Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Click below to listen to Mike Pavlichko talk with St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Joe Whalen:

Trojans’ Adam Silas named CJSR Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year

Even in a year when St. Thomas Aquinas lost the de facto GMC championship to Colonia, junior Adam Silas was one of the best players on the floor.

In his senior year, he was almost always the best player on the floor. Even on the rare night he didn’t pour in 20-plus points, or have double digits in assists or rebounds, Silas was always doing something to lead and steer his team to new heights, like beating Gill St. Bernard’s in a battle for No. 1 in the Bellamy Top Ten, or holding off Colonia to win the program’s second GMCT title.

READ MORE: CLEAN SWEEP! St. Thomas Aquinas boys win GMC Tourney title, make it two trophies for the Trojans in one night

For that, he is Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season. (Scroll down to see Honorable Mentions, in no particular order.)

Silas went through a lot to get to North Edison. He started his scholastic career four years ago at St. Benedict’s, which turned out not to be the right fit for him. Silas finally thought he found a home at Marist, but the school closed after his sophomore year.

That’s when he found his new home on Tingley Lane.

Silas scored 12 points a game last year in the COVID-shortened season, but upped his game this year, averaging 19 even, and 5.1 assists per game to boot. And yet, it wasn’t just about the numbers.

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco (left) and senior guard Adam Silas are all smiles after a huge win over national power Gill St. Bernard’s on February 12, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

All year, head coach Bob Turco, at least publicly, expected, or maybe just hoped – to have back Jaquan Harris, the Seton Hall-bound point guard who was the leader of the team. He suffered an ACL injury late last basketball season, and missed all of football. But he never came back. And slowly, but surely, the leadership role fell to Silas, who welcomed it with open arms.

Click below to hear CJSR’s Mike Pavlichko talk with 2021-22 Player of the Year Adam Silas of St. Thomas Aquinas:

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order):

  • Saivon Pressley, Colonia
  • Jadin Collins, Rutgers Prep
  • Denver Anglin, Gill St. Bernard’s
  • Mackenzie Mgbako, Gill St. Bernard’s
  • Quadir Harrell, Bound Brook
  • Ethan Simmon, St. Joseph-Metuchen
  • Elijah Lewis, Watchung Hills
  • Ryan Curry, Montgomery
  • Brandon Dean, South Plainfield
  • The Okocha Trio (Jon, Josh and Eli), Monroe

Rutgers Prep girls leave no doubt about it; they’re No. 1 in Bellamy & Son Paving final top ten of the year

When Central Jersey Sports Radio began its coverage of high school basketball last season, in the pandemic-shortened year, Rutgers Prep was the preseason No. 1 team. The went wire-to-wire with it last year, finishing 13-0, winners of the one-off Skyland Conference top pod.

To challenge themselves, they even played Saddle River Day the next day, after winning the pod final, and won that game, too.

They didn’t go undefeated in 2021-22, but they were by far the best girls’ team in the area, again, and once again, have gone wire-to-wire to finish No. 1 in the final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten, to be CJSR’s Team of the Year.

They finished 29-3, going all the way to the Tournament of Champions title game, where they fell for a second time this season to the state’s undisputed No. 1 team, St. John Vianney. Winners of the Somerset County Tournament, the Non-Public South B and the Non-Public Group B state titles, their only other loss came out of state, early in the season, to Westtown (PA).

That’s a run of 17 straight polls where the Lady Argonauts were No. 1, the only team to have that ranking in the entire – albeit brief, so far – existence of Central Jersey Sports Radio.

While Prep was no surprise this year – and would be a safe bet at a preseason No. 1 next year with key players like sophomore Mikayla Blakes and junior Katie Ledden returning – one surprise was Hillsborough.

The Lady Raiders made a late run in 2022, going all the way to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 finals where they lost to eventual Group 4 champion Westfield. They got their first ranking of the season in the final top ten, at No. 4.

Below are the final Bellamy & Son girls’ basketball rankings for the 2021-22 season:

Gill St. Bernard’s boys finish No. 1 in final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten

In the middle of February, St. Thomas Aquinas made a statement with a win over Gill St. Bernard’s in the Hearts 2 Hands Showcase at Roselle Catholic. Key players were missing for both teams, but it established the Trojans as the No. 1 team in the Bellamy & Son Paving Rankings.

But then, Gill beat Rutgers Prep in the Somerset County Tournament Final, and Rutgers Prep beat Aquinas in the Non-Public South A semifinals, en route to a sectional championship.

Aquinas beat Gill, which beat Prep, which beat Aquinas, which beat Gill….

Ultimately, Gill St. Bernard’s will close out the season as the No. 1 team in the final Bellamy & Son Top Ten.

The Knights – with a host of Division 1 players, including Georgetown-bound Denver Anglin and junior Mackenzie Mgbako – finished the season 20-7, with only three of those losses coming to New Jersey schools. They lost to Aquinas, took then-No. 1 Camden to the wire, and lost to eventual Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic in Non-Public North B title game.

Rutgers Prep finished second, going 26-4, and bringing home the program’s first-ever sectional title. They rallied to beat Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public South A title game down at Lenape High School.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the GMC Tournament Champion came in third, at 27-2, also the White Division Champions.

One previously-unranked team made it into the final rankings: South Plainfield. The Tigers finished 23-7, won the Blue Division in the GMC, and made it all the way to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 finals, where they lost to Colonia, 56-52 in double-overtime. They finished seventh in the final rankings, while the Patriots finished fourth.

Below are the full final rankings:

Rutgers Prep boys topple St. Thomas Aquinas in a slugfest, will try and claim program’s first sectional title

The Rutgers Prep Argonauts have made it to a second straight sectional final, knocking off St. Thomas Aquinas 68-59 Monday night in the Non-Public South A semifinals.

It was a stellar defensive effort for 3rd-seeded Prep, which never trailed against the second-seeded Trojans, who got off to a slow start for the fifth-game in a row.

And individually, the Argos kept Adam Silas in check all night. The talented senior wound up scoring 12 points, but was held to just a single point from the foul line until the third quarter.

On the other end, Jadin Collins, Preps leading scorer averaging 16 a game, went off for a career high 32.

It sends Rutgers Prep into Wednesday’s Non-Public South A title game at 7 pm down at Lenape High School just outside of Philly for a rematch with Red Bank Catholic. The top-seeded Caseys were 70-58 winners over 4th-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen Monday night, and beat the Argonauts 90-79 in the Jimmy V Showcase back at Central Regional in Bayville back in late January.

Rutgers Prep is in the South A section for the first time, having played in the smaller South B section since joining the NJSIAA for the 2012-13 season. Now 13-8 all-time in the state playoffs, their eight prior playoff appearances include two trips to the Non-Public B semifinals, and a trip to the finals in the last state tournament played, in 2020. There, they lost to Wildwood Catholic, 80-67, with a team that was led by Trey Patterson, now at Villanova.

Click below for postgame reaction as Mike Pavlichko talks live following Rutgers Prep’s win with the Argos’ Jadin Collins and head coach Matt Bloom:

Aquinas, Rutgers Prep boys square off looking to make history in states

One way or another, St. Thomas Aquinas and Rutgers Prep are battling for a chance at history tonight, in addition to keeping their seasons alive.

When the 2nd-seeded Trojans and 3rd-seeded Argonauts face off in an NJSIAA state tournament Non-Public South A semifinal game tonight in North Edison, the winner will have a chance to do something they’ve never done before: win a sectional championship.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast Monday night’s game live, with pregame beginning at 5:45 pm, and tip-off set for 6:00. Mike Pavlichko will call all the action. Listen live by clicking here.

Aquinas (27-1) already is having a historic season, setting a school record for wins, and winning its second straight GMC Tournament championship (winning in 2020 and 2021; the 2020 season featured eight four-team pods).

The Trojans are led by Adam Silas, a senior who is having a monster year. He has notched five different career highs in scoring this season, capping it off with 37 in the GMC Tournament final, the second highest GMCT scoring effort since the league’s inception in the mid-1980s, second only to the late Keith Hughes of Carteret. It was the fourth-highest scoring total in a final dating back to the Middlesex County Tournament of the 1960s.

READ MORE: CLEAN SWEEP! St. Thomas Aquinas boys win GMC Tourney title, make it two trophies for the Trojans in one night

Silas is averaging 19.3 points per game, and five assists per game, to go along with 61 steals and 53 treys, all team bests.

Aquinas plays stingy, pesky, annoying defense. Junior Terrell Pitts – perhaps the team’s best defender – came back for the team’s quarterfinal win over St. John Vianney, and led the team with 14 points.

FEATURE: The veteran, the leader, and the newcomer: why St. Thomas Aquinas has a shot to win it all

For Rutgers Prep, junior guard Jadin Collins leads the way at 16.7 points per game, while senior point guard Ryan Pettit sets everyone up, averaging over six assists per game; but he plays defense, too, notching 4.3 steals per contest. Then there’s the long Ryan Zan, a 6-7 senior who transferred from Ranney Prep, who could present matchup issues for Aquinas, which is smaller, but plays bigger than it looks.

READ MORE: No. 1 Rutgers Prep girls outdone by national power St. John Vianney, but No 3. Argo boys return the favor

The Argonauts made the last Non-Public South A finals – in 2020 – losing to Wildwood Catholic in the finals, 80-67. Their history in the NJSIAA is short-lived, as the school played a prep schedule until the 2012-13 season, when they began NJSIAA play. They are 12-8 all-time in the state tournament, and have never missed the states in eight years, but are playing in just their third semifinals.

Both teams are ranked in the Top 20 in the state: Aquinas at No. 3 and Rutgers Prep at No. 9.

DID YOU KNOW? Before this season, St. Thomas Aquinas/Bishop Ahr had won only one NJSIAA playoff game in its entire history? That came in 2019, Bob Turco’s first season, a 75-48 home win over Donovan Catholic in the Non-Public South A first round. The Trojans are 2-2 under Turco in state tournament playoff games.

Click below to hear previews of tonight’s game with both coaches:

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco

The veteran, the leader, and the newcomer: why St. Thomas Aquinas has a shot to win it all

Somewhere in the middle of the first full season of high school basketball in three years (2019-20 ended short, ’21 was truncated by design) the St. Thomas Aquinas ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten.

To be precise, it was Week Four, after its first of three wins – the most recent in the GMC Tournament final – against Colonia. Sure, Gill St. Bernard’s was ranked higher in the state, and eventually they would play each other, with Aquinas right behind the Knights in those rankings.

After that Saturday night at Roselle Catholic, the state rankings flipped. The Bellamy rankings stayed the same: Aquinas was still No. 1.

Tonight, – after an opening round bye – the 2nd-seeded Trojans open their state tournament journey against 7th-seed St. John Vianney in the Non-Public South A quarterfinals. A win would put them in the semis against Rutgers Prep, the only one of the other elite teams in Middlesex/Somerset Counties that they haven’t faced.

But one thing at a time.

The journey began prior to the pandemic, before masks and constant sanitization of basketballs were a thing.

This is head coach Bob Turco’s fourth season at the school formerly known as Bishop Ahr (which was also formerly known as St. Thomas Aquinas, for those keeping score at home). He’s now 79-18 in that time, but has had great success at his two other coaching stops: Monroe (97-42) and Notre Dame in Lawrenceville (148-46), not to mention a goodly number of years as an assistant with his younger brother Dave. (You might have heard of him.)

Junior forward Jalen Pichardo goes up for two of his 14 points against Colonia in a GMC White Division game on February 3, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

And that’s where the journey began: with the four-year veteran Samar Abdullah, followed by the team’s undisputed leader now, Adam Silas, and then the newcomer who may very well be one of the faces of the program next year, Jalen Pichardo.

Click below to hear their story:

INSTANT REPLAYS: Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Semifinals and Finals Coverage

The St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ and boys’ basketball teams swept the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament titles this year, becoming the first school ever to sweep in back-to-back tournaments. (A full GMC Tournament was not played in 2021 due to the pandemic, with eight champions crowned out of four-team pods.)

Click below to listen to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s coverage of the 2022 GMC Tournament, including in-person coverage of the girls’ semifinals from Dom Savino, as well as play-by-play of the boys’ semifinals, and both the girls’ and boys’ championship games.

GMC Tournament Girls’ Semifinals:

(1) St. Thomas Aquinas 72, (5) East Brunswick 55: Perez, Crosby guide top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas into yet another GMC Tournament Final

(7) South Brunswick 57, (3) Colonia 49: Cinderella South Brunswick continues its run as Vikings knock off Colonia, head to GMC title game

GMC Tournament Boys’ Semifinals:

(3) Colonia 70, (2) St. Joseph-Metuchen 58

RECAP: Monster game for Pressley propels Patriots to first GMC Tourney final since 2018

(2) St. Thomas Aquinas 62, (4) Monroe 41

RECAP: Top-seed St. Thomas Aquinas punches second straight ticket to GMC Tourney finals with win “at” Monroe

GMC Tournament Finals:

Girls’ Final: (1) St. Thomas Aquinas 64, (7) South Brunswick 58

RECAP: THREE-PEAT! St. Thomas Aquinas girls survive wild South Brunswick comeback to win third straight GMC Tournament title

Boys’ Final: (1) St. Thomas Aquinas 69, (3) Colonia 53

RECAP: CLEAN SWEEP! St. Thomas Aquinas boys win GMC Tourney title, make it two trophies for the Trojans in one night

READ MORE: Aquinas sweep of GMCT not as rare as you might think

Aquinas sweep of GMCT not as rare as you might think

It was a clean sweep of the GMC Tournament titles for St. Thomas Aquinas, in the first full tournament for the league since 2020, due to the COVID pandemic. In fact, they took home both trophies for the second straight year, something no other school has ever done.

And though it’s been a while since it last happened before that, the double-dip is not as rare as it might seem.

To begin with, you have to go back to 2009 for the last time the same team won both the boys’ and girls’ titles. That year, Piscataway had both top seeds.

The Lady Chiefs edged out 2-seed Cardinal McCarrick 56-51 for their third title in the midst of what remains the best multi-year run of any girls’ school in the GMCT. That was the third title in four years – and five straight finals berths – for Piscataway under Pat Mayo. They had lost in 2005, won in 2006 and 2007, lost in 2008, and won again in 2009. They would win two more in a row before failing to make the finals in 2012, but they then won three more in a row, the first two under Corey Floyd, the last under Dave Kosa. That made it eight titles in ten years, and in 11 straight finals appearances.

The 2007 Piscataway teams also swept, the top-seeded girls beating South Plainfield, and the 6th-seeded boys beating 5-seed Cardinal McCarrick in the lowest combination of seeds since the 1982 MCT, which also had a 6- and 5-seed.

In between the Chiefs’ sweeps, Cardinal McCarrick won it all in 2008, with Lynn Ust’s third-seeded girls knocking off top-seed Piscataway in double overtime on a dramatic buzzer beater by Jen Shereyka, while Joe Lewis’ top-seeded boys beat sixth-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen. That was the Falcons’ first appearance in a stretch of 12 straight championship game appearances that ended in 2020, and is a GMC record.

There were two more sweeps in the ’90s. In 1996, the second-seeded East Brunswick girls beat 5-seed Bishop Ahr 50-43, while the top-seeded boys beat 2-seed Piscataway 51-44. The year before, Piscataway again had both top seeds, with the boys and girls both beating East Brunswick, which had both three seeds.

In the Middlesex County Tournament, 1983 saw the now-closed St. Peter’s of New Brunswick win both titles. Ernie Vajda’s Lady Cardinals were the top seed, and crushed 11-seed Piscataway 70-45, while the boys, coached by John Somogyi, were also the top seed, and beat 2nd-seed St. Joe’s 68-54.

The first sweep happened in 1977. Again, Piscataway had both top seeds. The girls beat 3rd-seed South Plainfield in just the third MCT final held on the girls’ side (it started in 1975). The boys edged 6th-seed Carteret 77-74.