Buckle your seat belts, because the most wide open Somerset County boys basketball tournament in recent memory is about to shift into high gear. There are four established heavyweights and a sleeper, Bridgewater-Raritan, is waiting in the weeds.
At various times this season the Panthers held fourth-quarter leads over the top three seeds — Montgomery, Hillsborough and Gill St. Bernard’s — before losing. They visit fourth-seeded Ridge, the defending champ, Saturday at 1 p.m. in the marquee quarterfinal matchup.
“It’s those plays to seal the deal at the end of games that we haven’t been able to make,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Gene McAteer said. “Hopefully we can learn from those experiences in the county tournament and state tournament and make those plays.”
The Panthers own a signature win — a 14-point verdict over East Brunswick on Jan. 18. They sport two terrific guards in Vincent Pace (15 ppg) and Ben Miller (13 ppg), plus key role players Griffin Figel, Andrew Wiezcenski, Matt Mancuso, Jared Rappoport and Raymark Agobado.
“I like our shot to compete with the top teams,” McAteer said. “Ridge is a good team and well-coached, but we like our draw. Any of those top five teams can make a run and I don’t think it would be considered surprising.”
Player of the Week
It took some time after transferring from Piscataway last season, but senior Clarence Hoover is hitting his stride for Plainfield. The combo guard erupted for 39 points in an upset of Roselle Catholic, scored 22 in a win over Westfield and netted 14 in a shorthanded loss to Gill St. Bernard’s.
“What separates Clarence is that he plays with such passion and intensity,” Plainfield coach Jeff Lubreski said. “He has a nose for the ball and makes plays in multitudes. He is in a zone right now.”
Hoover said adjusting to the intensity of the Union County Conference was a challenge.
“It was kind of hard — a real big difference,” he said. “Coach always talks about playing defense first, and then offensively it will come to me. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Lata vs. Ville
Archrivals Somerville and Immaculata play for neighborhood pride every year, but the stakes will be raised Wednesday when they meet for an SCT second-rounder.
“It’s an awesome rivalry. I think it’s the best in Somerset County,” said Immaculata coach Ryan McKeever, who also played in the game as a Spartans’ guard in the late 1990s. “The fans love it, the school are close and there’s a lot of history. Everyone raises their game to another level because of the atmosphere.”
Ninth-seeded Immaculata (4-12) is rebuilding in its first year under McKeever, but with victories over Bound Brook and Watchung Hills, the Spartans seem capable of winning at eighth-seeded Somerville (7-7). Tip time is 5 p.m.
“In a game like this you throw the records out,” McKeever said. “We could do down and play it on Mercer Street.”
The victor will visit top-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s in the quarters Saturday at 7 p.m.
Other notable tourney tilts
Bound Brook at Montgomery, Saturday at 2:30 p.m.: This SCT quarter caps an enormous week for Montgomery, which can win the Skyland Conference’s Raritan Division Tuesday at home by completing a sweep of Ridge, then has border rival Hillsborough on tap Thursday in a potential SCT semifinal preview. Bound Brook, the No. 10 seed, is coming off an upset of seventh-seeded Watchung Hills and playing its best basketball right now.
Rutgers Prep at Hillsborough, Saturday at 3 p.m.: Another SCT quarter. Third-seeded Hillsborough beat Rutgers Prep 48-37 at home Dec. 28, holding off a late Argonauts push. Sixth-seeded Rutgers Prep does not match up well in terms of size here, but it has good enough guard play to be a tough out.
North Hunterdon at South Hunterdon, Saturday at 7 p.m.: Interesting collision of worlds in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex quarters. They have one common opponent; both beat Voorhees handily.
Union County seeding
The Union County Tournament gets seeded today. Here is how we would arrange the top eight spots: 1. Linden; 2. Patrick School; 3. Roselle Catholic; 4. Union Catholic; 5. Plainfield; 6. Union; 7. St. Mary-Elizabeth; 8. Summit.
Linden is a lock for No. 1 after going 3-1 against defending county champ Pats and defending state champ Roselle Catholic. Union Catholic and Plainfield seem interchangeable, but the shorthanded Vikings deserve the nod for consistency. It would make for a fun quarterfinal.
Erick Dodd postscript
North Plainfield senior guard Erick Dodd, who has Down syndrome and was featured in Saturday’s Courier News, hit a 3-pointer in Saturday’s SCT second-round loss at Rutgers Prep. He finished the tourney with five points.