Pinelands Regional Boys Basketball Team Takes Lead in B South Race

Jan 30, 2019
File photo.

The Pinelands Regional High School boys basketball team is sitting on top of the world. Well, at least on top of the Shore Conference B South Division.

Pinelands’ record is now 12-3 after a 57-38 win over Jackson Liberty on Monday evening. More importantly, the Wildcats are now 9-2 in B South play while their win dropped Jackson Liberty’s divisional record to 8-3, which ties the Lions with Donovan Catholic for second place.

The ’Cats have only three B South games left on their schedule, visiting a 6-10 (3-7 B South) Point Pleasant Borough squad on Thursday and a 10-7 (5-6) Lacey team on Feb. 5 before hosting 6-11 (5-6) Barnegat on Feb. 8. They’re done with Jackson Liberty and Donovan Catholic, meaning the B South crown is theirs if they can avoid a letdown. Letdowns can happen – witness Pinelands’ 35-38 home loss to Point Pleasant Borough back on Jan. 8. Still, unlike the rest of the teams in the division, the Wildcats don’t need help to end up with a title; they just have to take care of their own business.

That is certainly what Pinelands did on Monday. The team had fallen to Jackson Liberty, 51-56, back on Jan. 3. But that game, of course, was played in Jackson. This time around it was played in front of a raucous home crowd.

The ’Cats were ready to tame the Lions – they were armed, mentally, with whips and stools – and they did so quickly, jumping out to a 16-11 lead at the end of the first quarter and extending that lead to 35-25 at halftime.

Just a couple of minutes into the third quarter, however, Pinelands lost its slick dribbling senior guard, Anthony Diaz, who was ejected from the game after a skirmish with a Jackson Liberty guard who was also ejected. The home fans thought it was a one-sided affair with the JL player being the offender; Pinelands head coach Fred Johnson pleaded Diaz’s case with the refs, but to no avail.

The ’Cats didn’t miss a beat and led 47-35 after three quarters of play. With just over two minutes left in the game, Pinelands had a 57-38 lead, emptied its bench and ran out the clock, despite some fans urging subs to take a shot.

It was a dominating performance.

Jackson Liberty had two players – a starter and another who recorded significant playing time – who had a 3- to 5-inch height advantage over their Pinelands opponents. Yet the Wildcats held their own on the boards.

Jackson Liberty senior Daniel Sofield topped all scorers, with 24 points. The balanced Pinelands attack was led, as usual, by senior swingman Andrew Schulz, who recorded 16 points (his 10- to 15-foot jumpers from the left baseline are as good as money in the bank), followed by senior guard Luke Wiatrowski, who had 13, Diaz, who contributed a dozen points in his limited minutes, junior forward Ryan Skeie with seven and senior guard Garrett Brown with six.

The Pinelands balance didn’t stop with scoring. Schulz, for example, added five assists, five steals and four rebounds to his line while Brown had six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Indeed, Pinelands’ play making was impressive, with guards threading the needle with laser-like passes resulting in lay-ups, and all players employing bounce passes in heavy under-the-hoop traffic that produced easy 2-foot shots. Even more impressive than the passing was the catching – Pinelands players showed soft hands and heads-up alertness so lightning passes didn’t go to waste.

This team, with a core of seniors who have been playing together for three years now, has meshed beautifully, with players seemingly able to read each other’s minds, anticipating cuts, knowing if they move without the ball they stand a great chance of being rewarded.

Hopefully the high school gym, which was supposed to be opened at the beginning of January, will be ready for occupancy soon, because building basketball excitement at Pinelands will soon attract far too many fans for the already-crowded junior high gymnasium. It would be a shame to leave some rooters literally in the cold as the regular season progresses and tournament season arrives.

Rick Mellerup

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