Bengals Top Last Year’s Win Total, Eye Postseason Berth
When Mike Puorro took over as head coach for the Barnegat High School boys varsity basketball team in 2014, he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. After all, the Bengal hoopsters were 8-41 the previous two seasons and began the 2013-14 campaign by losing their first 17 games.
But as of Jan. 24, the Bengals were 10-4 and 5-3 in the Shore Conference B-South division. They have already surpassed last year’s win total by eight.
“We’re in on the cusp of qualifying for the Shore Conference and the state (NJSIAA) playoffs,” said Puorro.
Leading the way for the Bengals are three juniors: guards Mike Ruvello and Carson Francisco and forward Alex Grogan. Ruvello is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.6 assists and 2.5 steals. Francisco is scoring 15.1 per game, and also averages 4.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
Grogan is averaging 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Sean Morris is a presence under the boards, as he leads the team with 33 offensive rebounds. He averages 5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Puorro said he also has gotten production out of sixth man David Orozco, a senior guard who averages 4.7 points per game.
“We have a group of kids who work really hard and believe in each other,” said the coach.
Puorro came to Barnegat from Wall Township, where he was the head varsity coach and also had a daunting scenario. He recalled there had been three head coaches in four years, and the team needed a major rebuilding job. Two years later, Wall became a playoff contender and now looks as strong as ever.
At Barnegat, Puorro replaced Eriz Mazur, who had coached basketball since the school opened in 2004, beginning with the freshman squad, moving up to jayvee the next year and then going varsity in 2006. Puorro coached the Barnegat freshman team for two seasons before going to Wall, where he remains on the faculty as a health and physical education teacher.
“At Barnegat, it was time for a new direction and for a new voice to be heard, one with a lot of youthful enthusiasm,” said Puorro, who was 30 when he took the Bengals job.
Puorro said his first impression of the team was that the players had good athleticism, but were raw in terms of skill development.
“But I could sense they were eager to learn,” said the coach.
He said he stressed the importance of playing hard and putting forth a good effort and energy.
“I can’t worry about what I can’t control,” he said. “But if you play hard and play the game right, you have a chance of being successful.”
Upcoming home games are Gateway Regional High School on Monday, Jan. 30, 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m. against Lacey.
The Bengals wrap up the season on the road against Lakewood on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and Thursday, Feb. 9 against Jackson Liberty. Tip-off for both contests is 6:30 p.m.
“Not only have the players bought into the program, but the community as well,” he said. “We’ve had a great turnout for our home games, and the student section has been very enthusiastic, cheering the boys on. Hopefully, we can get into the postseason and have a chance at attaining the unattainable.”
— Eric Englund