TOMS RIVER, N.J. — There were the fluorescent MAX STRONG shirts the Ranney School players wore during warmups, and their fans sported in the stands inside RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on Saturday.
There was the standing ovation from the Panther faithful when coach Tahj Holden, whose 16-month-old son, Max, was diagnosed with Pediatric Neuroblastoma this week, when he walked onto the court prior to the opening tipoff.
Finally, there was the inspired play by Ranney in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game, with its junior-laden lineup giving powerhouse Roselle Catholic, ranked No. 13 in the USA Today Super 25, all it could handle.
And in the end, it was the Panthers falling, 63-61, on a slam dunk by Asbury Park native Nazreon Reid of Roselle Catholic off a lob pass in transition with 6.3 seconds to play, part of a frantic final sequence.
In what had been an emotional week, both on and off the court for the Ranney program, which won its first-ever state sectional crown on Tuesday, players were in stunned disbelief after the game slipped away in the final seconds, consoling each other on the court.
“They have been tough,” Holden said of the past three days, with his son undergoing surgery on Friday. “Tough but good. My little guy is a fighter, he’s strong.
“He pulled through the surgery great. He was in ICU for less than 24 hours, which is pretty incredible, so he’s a strong guy and now we start the long battle now that we’ve gotten the short one out of the way. But it’s been tough.'”
On Sunday morning, the GoFundMe page for the Holden family had raised over $114,000, the outpouring of support showing just how tightly-knit the Shore Conference community is.