Pinelands Regional Boys Basketball Teams Bounced in Sectional Quarterfinals

Mar 06, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional’s Andrew Schulz scores during the fourth quarter of the Wildcats’ 61-54 loss to Timber Creek in the NJSIAA Souh Jersey Group III quarterfinals on Feb. 28.

High school basketball careers end every year about this time. For the seven seniors on the Pinelands Regional boys hoops team, that final moment occurred a little sooner than they had hoped.

“Our basketball program is indebted to those seniors,” said head coach Fred Johnson, after his Wildcats were bounced from the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament during a 61-54 quarterfinals loss to Timber Creek on Feb. 28. “I’m tremendously thankful to have been able to coach them. Every last one of them is a great person and has made great contributions to our program, both on and off the floor. I’m excited to see what their futures hold.”

Unfortunately, their futures didn’t include another state tourney contest. The Chargers grabbed control of the contest midway through the first quarter and never relinquished the lead, relying on a mixture of transition points and timely outside shooting to create the separation they needed to advance to the semifinals.

“We have to give Timber Creek a ton of credit,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say we lost this game; they truly won it. We expected them to play aggressively, whether full-court or half-court, and I thought we were prepared for that. But their size was a problem, and they shot the ball well. We just got beat today.”

The Wildcats (18-7) and Chargers (16-11) played a back-and-forth game through the first five minutes, but Timber Creek got a three-pointer from Justin Bladen to give it the lead, 13-9 with 3:03 left in the first, then a short bucket from Demetrius Paynter soon after to finish a little 5-0 spurt that catapulted the Chargers.

Trailing 18-12 by the end of the first quarter, fourth-seeded Pinelands had already made a switch from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone in an attempt to force Timber Creek to shoot more from outside and create better rebounding chances for its defense. Despite the zone, the Chargers pushed ahead.

After a trey from Eric Benjamin, Timber Creek had a six-point lead, 22-16, midway through the second. But as Pinelands went a little cold from the field, the next trifecta from Bladen with 3:28 left in the half set off an 8-2 run from which the Wildcats never recovered. Senior Andrew Schulz scored on a putback at the buzzer to edge Pinelands a bit closer, but it was behind 34-22 at the half.

Fifth-seeded Timber Creek maintained much of that lead through the first six minutes of the third quarter, but Pinelands began mounting a comeback as the fourth quarter drew closer. Down 41-32, Schulz dropped a pair of foul shots with 1:34 left before senior Garrett Brown drilled a three-pointer just over a minute later to make it a 43-37 game going into the final eight minutes.

The Wildcats pulled with three, 45-42, with 6:35 to go when Schulz snagged an offensive rebound, scored the putback and drew a foul, then buried the subsequent free throw.

“I never have to question how hard our guys are going to work and play,” Johnson said. “They don’t quit on anything. They’ve set a standard here for our program on what it takes to just be in a game, never mind a position to win it. They know how hard they have to play, for 32 minutes or however long it’s going to take, and I expected our guys to come back the way they did.”

Despite the comeback effort, Timber Creek found a way to thwart it. A questionable foul call on senior Anthony Diaz with 4:58 left didn’t help Pinelands, as it delivered their floor general to the bench for the duration of the contest. The Chargers pushed the gas pedal at that point, immediately shoving the lead back to eight, 50-42, with four minutes to go.

Schulz, who finished with 21 points and scored 12 in the fourth, did his best to keep Pinelands in the game, but Timber Creek stayed in a full-court press during the final minutes to ensure victory.

Sean Miller led the Chargers with 20 points, which included six successful free throws during the final minutes, while Paynter added 12 points, eight of which were scored in the second half. For Pinelands, Diaz ended up with 10 points, while senior Luke Wiatrowski managed seven points and Brown ended with six.

Two days earlier, Pinelands knocked off 13th-seeded Woodrow Wilson, 58-49, in the first round. Schulz led the way with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Diaz tallied 15 points, and Wiatrowski added 10 points. The other seniors on the squad include Arpit Gainder, Ricky O’Brien and Kevin Cameron.

Now, with the seniors on the way out, the program rests in the hands of juniors Andrew Bartlett and Ryan Skeie and a handful of underclassmen.

“Two years ago, when a lot of these seniors came in as sophomores, nothing changed from how we as coaches were expecting to progress as a program,” Johnson said. “And nothing’s going to change as these guys graduate. We’re going to prepare the way we have been, and we’re going to work hard during the off-season to get better.”

Also on Feb. 26, the 11th-seeded Pinelands girls basketball team had it season ended following a 44-29 loss to sixth-seeded Toms River South in the first round of the sectional tournament. The Indians took an 18-8, first-quarter lead and pressed on from there, all but sealing the victory with a 13-6 third-quarter run. Senior Alyssa Vitiello led the Wildcats with 11 points.

— David Biggy

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