The Skyland Conference Delaware Division is regarded as one of the toughest boys basketball divisions in New Jersey. It has that label with good reason. Five of the six teams have records over .500. It’s the survival of the fittest in Somerset County and Bridgewater-Raritan is currently running under the radar.
“When you play a tough regular season schedule, it can benefit your team in February,” Panthers head coach Gene McAteer said. “It’s a little bit more of survival mode for us. You can’t overlook any team in our division. Our non-conference schedule is pretty darn good too.”
Bridgewater-Raritan currently sits at 6-2 on the season and last week had an impressive victory over the defending Somerset County Tournament champions, Hillsborough.
The Panthers had a lot of question marks heading into the year. They were looking for answers after graduating their three top scorers last spring.
Bridgewater-Raritan had six players who had seen minimal playing time on varsity, but there was no clear athlete who would receive the ball when the game was on the line.
Two players who did not play big roles in last year’s offense, quickly filled the void that Bridgewater-Raritan had. Senior Jared Rappoport and junior Matt Mancuso can be credited for the early season success the Panthers have seen.
“That was the big question heading in,” McAteer said about not knowing who would handle the offense. “Who would really step into the role of scoring on a consistent basis. I called it a mystery. Rappoport or Mancuso were never counted on for a majority of the scoring. Matt and Jared pass the ball well. It was really important for those two players to rise to the occasion.”
While the Panthers picked up a pair of wins last week, their most important game came in the form of a loss where they played undefeated Ridge down to the wire.
The Panthers had a chance to win the contest in the closing seconds, but their shot fell just short as they fell 42-41.
“We drew a lot of positives at our game at ridge,” McAteer said. “Ridge is a quality opponent and they are well coached. We did a good job at sticking to the game plan and slowing it down. We showed we can play with the competition.”
This start to their 2014-2015 campaign comes as a surprise to everyone, except for McAteer and his squad.
They will continue to see tough competition this week against Rutgers Prep, a team off to a strong start so far and is coached by a Bridgewater-Raritan math teacher, Alex Mahony, and a non-conference opponent in East Brunswick.
Games to watch
Bridgewater-Raritan at Rutgers Prep, Tuesday: This game is a tale of two tapes. Rutgers Prep has a ton of veteran players on their squad and they have not disappointed this season. With the emergence of Jared Rappoport and Matt Mancuso, Bridgewater-Raritan have found early season success. This game will show if the Panthers are ready to contend in the Skyland Conference.
Ridge at Hillsborough, Tuesday: Ridge has been the cream of the crop in Somerset County so far while Hillsborough has put a solid start together despite graduating all five of its starters.
Watchung Hills at Immaculata, Thursday: Immaculata has gotten off to an impressive start as Watchung Hills should provide a good test for coach Ryan McKeever’s club.
Staff writer Steven Macri: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Ridge 8-0
2. Gill St. Bernard’s 5-4
3. Rutgers Prep 7-2
4. Union Catholic 7-3
5. Bridgewater-Raritan 6-2
6. Hillsborough 6-2
7. Immaculata 7-2
8. Montgomery 5-3
9. Plainfield 3-5
10. Westfield 4-3