31 May

Middletown’s girls basketball teams are gearing up for the postseason

first_imgThe Middletown High School South and Middletown High School North girls basketball teams are both enjoying winning seasons and have clinched postseason berths. They head into the Shore Conference Tournament this week with well-founded hopes of advancing far.Middletown South, unbeaten and having clinched a second straight Shore Conference A North Division championship in an unbeaten division season with one game left, plays at home at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 as the No. 4 seed against the winner of the Red Bank Regional High School vs. Freehold High School game. The Eagles (17-2) have won their last four games.Middletown North, nestled in third place in A North, draws the No. 12 seed and plays host to No. 21 seed Toms River High School South on Feb. 12, with the winner playing at No. 5 seed Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School on Feb. 14. Middletown North is 12-5, including victory No. 400 for head coach Ed Jones last month in the Delsea High School Coaches vs. Cancer showcase against the host team.In the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III tournament, Middletown South takes on Hightstown High School and Middletown North plays Allentown High School later this month.Both Middletown teams will lose important contributors to their success. Middletown South may be without Kiera Gannon for the short term while she continues having tough luck with injuries this season. Middletown North has lost forward Courtney Davis with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.Middletown South’s last loss came convincingly, 66-41, to state ranked Point Pleasant Borough High School before its four-game win streak.“We didn’t do a good job of getting our kids ‘amped down,’ ” coach Tom Brennan said of that loss. “We should’ve been more level.”While Middletown South maintains wellbalanced scoring, its defense has to do a better job on the opposing team’s best scorer, which hurt in the Freehold loss after an 11-0 start, as well as the most recent loss.“We definitely have to score,” Brennan said of the upcoming tournaments, as freshman Stephanie Karcz leads the way at 10.8 points per game and four other players average from nine to 10 points a game. “We need somebody to put in a couple of more baskets than usual and we have to find a way to shut down the other teams’ prolific scorers.”Jackie Dluhi, headed to Wagner College, is part of that balanced scoring, averaging just over nine points a game.“Not many girls doing that with less than 10 points a game have [a NCAA Division I] scholarship to Wagner, but there are so many things [Dluhi] does, averaging nine rebounds and six assists a game,” Brennan said. “The way she plays, it’s rarified air.” Carissa Gray has been a steadying influence with her play at point guard and Lauren VanExter has performed reliably.Middletown South played only one game last week and comes off a 46-45 victory over Marlboro High School on Feb. 6, as Christiana Rutkowski sank the front end of a one-and-one with a half-second left for the deciding margin and finished with 13 points. Dluhi added 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.“Those are the kinds of games you want to win in early February,” Brennan said.“You want to be challenged [and] to be pushed to get ready for the tournaments.” “We’re all gelling at the right time,” Dluhi said. “We’re all playing for each other as we have been all season. Chemistry is No. 1. When we’re clicking, no one can beat us.”Middletown South was scheduled to play crosstown rival Middletown North on Feb. 8, but the game was postponed to an undetermined date because of the snowstorm.Brennan said the groundwork for this season began after the end of last season.“The end of the year, we lost to Rancocas Valley [in the state tournament] and felt we were in a different league,” Brennan said. “That’s when our [returning] players committed to the weight room and went three, four days a week religiously. I feel we’re stronger, not as tired and we’ll see how that plays out. I can’t be more proud of the commitment the players have made to this season.”“Losing the way we did showed us there was another level we needed to get to — a level more physical and faster,” Dluhi said. “Everyone locked in [to the idea] and got on board with their weight room. We’re not tired like last year.”Jones laments Middletown North losing the opportunity to play Middletown South last week after the Lions came off their most impressive victory of the season, 40-32, over Freehold, which came in with a No. 20 state ranking and a top 10 ranking in the Shore. In that game, Mia Ehling scored 16 points, while 6-foot-1 center Emily Lavin grabbed a dozen rebounds and blocked eight shots. Megan De- Grushe held down Freehold’s leading scorers.Prior to that, Middletown North suffered a tough 1-point loss to Colts Neck High School, but Jones remains optimistic about the Shore Conference Tournament. Lavin and forward Nicole Tollevsen continue their consistent scoring like they did last season on the Lions’ 16-9 team.“I feel good about this team right now,” Jones said. “I think for tournament play, we have to play defense to stop them from scoring and, No. 2, to control the boards while limiting teams to one shot. The [third] thing is to protect the ball. We can’t give away possessions and we have to shoot more free throws.”Jones said his team is capable of doing all that, which would continue its season well into March. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img

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