True toss-ups are infrequent in high school basketball, but Saturday’s Somerset County Tournament nightcap is one of them.
On paper it’s hard to separate fourth-seeded Hillsborough from top-seeded Ridge, and that should make for great theater when the ball goes up at 6 p.m. at Montgomery.
“It’s just about as close to a 50-50 game as you can get,” Hillsborough coach Ian Progin said. “More often than not, we have a height advantage on teams. In this case we probably won’t. They’re a quick, athletic team and we’re a quick, athletic team. We’re both good defensive teams.”
Neither squad has a dominant scorer. Both rely on balance and depth. They do differ in terms of playing style, though. Hillsborough prefers to attack the paint and go inside-out on offense, and uses a 2-3 zone as its base defense. Ridge’s first preference is to spread the floor with sharpshooters and hit threes, and the Red Devils also look to pressure the ball and score off their defense.
Lately Hillsborough has mixed in more man-to-man, and with success. The Raiders jumped out to a 12-point lead on Gill St. Bernard’s before falling, and switched to man in the SCT second-round game against Watchung Hills, sparking the defensive run.
“We’re different than in years past in that we can play a couple of different defenses and play them fairly well,” said Progin, whose program is making its third straight semifinal appearance. “In the past we didn’t have the footspeed to take charges or play man-to-man.”
It’s rare for the semis to pit foes that did not meet in the regular season, which makes this all the more intriguing.
“I live in Hillsborough so I’ve seen them play six or seven times,” Ridge coach Brian Feath said. “It’s going to be a great game that comes down to whoever executes and makes free throws down the stretch.”
The earlier semifinal is also fascinating, but for different reasons. Third-seeded Bound Brook, the state’s last unbeaten team, is a sizable underdog against two-time defending SCT champ Gill St. Bernard’s in the 4 p.m. contest. The Crusaders are the first Group I team to advance this far since Montgomery in 1998.
“Competing at that kind of level, in that kind of atmosphere, that’s what I am concerned about more than anything,” Bound Brook coach Anthony Melesurgo said. “Those guys (Gill) have played in huge games like this their whole careers. We’re kind of babies and freshmen when it comes to that.”
Whatever happens in this game, it won’t be boring. Both teams push the ball. These are the two most athletic lineups in the county, by a lot. Melesurgo said Bound Brook won’t try to stall.
“We are who we are,” he said. “We’re expecting them to come at us and bring their game, and we’re going to bring ours.”
For more on these games and Saturday’s other county tournament action, visit Jerry Carino’s Hoops Haven blog at http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/hoopshaven/