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NJSIAA Tournament Sectional Finals

Central Jersey Group III

No. 2 Robbinsville (20-7) at No. 1 Manasquan (24-5), 7 p.m. - Watch Live

Based on the names on the front of jerseys in this Central Jersey Group III championship game, it will be a championship novice taking on a two-time defending sectional champion and a program that has emerged as one of the state’s top public school programs over the past four years.

In reality, though, the actual players on the court Tuesday night in Manasquan will all be new to the sectional championship setting. For as many big games as Manasquan has played in over the last four seasons, its starting lineup of four underclassmen and senior Matt Solomon have championship experience limited to conference play, with this year’s team reaching the Shore Conference Tournament final and Solomon and sophomore Ryan Frauenheim playing in and winning last year’s Shore Conference postseason as bench players.

Manasquan senior Matt Solomon guarded by Ranney senior Charles Anyichie. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan senior Matt Solomon guarded by Ranney senior Charles Anyichie. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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As for Manasquan’s last sectional title in 2020, the only connection these Warriors have to that team is senior Ben Roy, who has been dressed in street clothes all year due to a torn ACL he suffered in October. The Warriors will be going for their third sectional championship in four years with a group of players who will all be playing in their first sectional championship game.

As previously mentioned, Solomon and Frauenheim have experience from last year’s 12-0 season and both at important positions – Solomon as a low-post player and Frauenheim as Manasquan’s point guard. Sophomore Alex Konov joined the team after playing at Wildwood Catholic as a freshman, while freshman Darius Adams and Griffin Linstra have made major impacts right away.

The bench has also been reliable, even for some scoring lately. Juniors Quinn Peters and Jack Dettlinger and senior Dan Hyland will play important minutes backing up the young group of starters, giving the Warriors six players in the rotation who are due back for at least one more year. Whatever happens over the remainder of the week, Manasquan is set up to get even better after this year’s run.

Manasquan freshman Darius Adams. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan freshman Darius Adams. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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On other side, Robbinsville is actually playing in its first sectional final as a program after pulling out a 40-39 win over Brick Memorial. Senior Brian Herbert is one of the top players in this section and he is surrounded by a solid group of role players who defend and move the ball well. It is the sort of team that is built to play any opponent close, which Robbinsville was able to do for just about the entirety of a 59-49 home loss to Shore Conference champion Marlboro in January. Marlboro just so happened to beat Manasquan by a 16-point margin in the Shore Conference Tournament final, so Robbinsville can look at that comparison and like their chances.

As the home team with major program pedigree, Manasquan is the decided favorite, but don’t write off a well-coached, together team like the one the Ravens will put on the court Tuesday night. Manasquan has played exceedingly well for the last month-plus, but they’ll have to earn it.

The Pick: Manasquan, 52-45

 

Central Jersey Group I

No. 2 Keyport (19-6) at No. 1 Burlington City (20-6), 6 p.m. - Watch Live

In some respects, the Central Group I championship has the look of a David-vs.-Goliath matchup. Burlington City has lived in the late rounds of the sectional playoffs in recent year and is a two-time defending sectional champion heading into Tuesday night. The Blue Devils are also the home team and have already racked up 20 wins heading into play Tuesday night.

On the other side, Keyport has not been in a sectional final since winning Central Jersey Group I in 2004. Furthermore, when the Red Raiders played New Egypt Saturday in the sectional semifinals, it was the first time they made it even that far since 2010. It is an experienced group, with three seniors who have been varsity regulars since they were freshmen, but they missed out on valuable experience last year when the NJSIAA Tournament was canceled.

Keyport senior D.J. Thomson. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Keyport senior D.J. Thomson. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Keyport is not the only team in this game that lost a great deal in 2021. The Red Raiders missed out on a chance to compete in the state tournament, but so did every team in the state. At least Keyport got to play a shortened season. Burlington City did not play one at all, and as a result, the Blue Devils lost players. Twins Jamaal and Jameel Morris left Burlington City for Trenton Catholic and are now starring for a Top 20 team in the state and the favorite to reach the Non-Public B final.

So where does that leave us now? Burlington City and coach Bryan Warrick have successfully reloaded enough to get back to the Central Group I final after earning the No. 1 seed in the bracket with a sufficiently challenging schedule for a Group I team.

Senior DeJuan Hunter has gone from averaging under five points per game as a sophomore to putting up 14.6 this season despite missing out on his junior year, while classmate and point guard Izaiah Johnson has also emerged as a scorer and creator for the Blue Devils. Johnson entered the State Tournament averaging 12.5 points per game and has averaged 26 over the first four games of the Central Group I playoffs – including a career-high 32 points in a quarterfinal win vs. Point Beach.

For Keyport, its senior core has not so much honored a winning tradition as much as it has created a new one. D.J. Thomson, George Mitchell and Anthony Longo have been key players since they were freshman, with Thomson and Longo four-year starters. Thomson is the Shore’s top scorer and Keyport’s second leading scorer in program history, while Mitchell has emerged as a legitimate all-around threat as a scorer, passer, rebounder, rim-protector and versatile defender.

Keyport senior George Mitchell. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Keyport senior George Mitchell. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Keyport’s role players have also stepped up late in the season, with senior Zyaire Treadwell bringing steady play to the backcourt, freshman Nahsirr Hart playing his way into a starting job and junior Tarrek Mimes providing scoring and energy off the bench. The Red Raider now have some depth to the lineup and Burlington City will have a lot of weapons to cover.

The two x-factors for Keyport will be how Burlington City’s program experience manifests itself in its home gym with a title on the line, as well as how well Keyport’s defense travels. The Red Raiders have the firepower to score against Burlington City but it will take a next-level defensive effort to beat Burlington City and end an 18-year title drought in Keyport.

The Pick: Burlington City, 66-62