WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – It was a fitting end to their careers in local competition, an occasion that included both an overflow crowd and an incredibly committed opponent.
Because with second-seeded Manasquan (N.J.) giving the Ranney School (Tinton Falls, N.J.), ranked No. 13 in the Super 25, all it could handle through much of the first half, it was the Florida-bound senior Scottie Lewis who stepped up with 18 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in the first half, powering the Panthers to a 33-27 advantage at the break.
As the second half got underway, it was Villanova-bound guard Bryan Antoine who pushed the action, giving the Panthers breathing room before the rest of the senior class — including guards Alex Klatsky and Ahmadu Sarnor, and forward Chris Autino — put an exclamation point on a storied run at OceanFirst Bank Center.
Now, with a second-straight Shore Conference Tournament title on an already gaudy resume after a 70-60 victory over Manasquan, they head off with one more chapter to write, an NJSIAA Tournament of Champions still on their to-do list.
“They’re all special,” said Red Bank coach Tahj Holden of the title.
“That’s the good thing about our team. When guys are struggling we can typically find one guy who is not struggling, and then when guys get going we find those guys. Ahmadu did a good job in the third and fourth quarters, he got going and took some shots and got some layups, Alex had some opportunities. Chris got some tremendous rebounds and Bryan didn’t score like he traditionally does but he got out in transition and made a couple of jump shots.’
This was a very entertaining high school basketball game, with Manasquan refusing to go away despite Ranney’s relentless pressure, refusing to let the Panthers pull away.
But Lewis finished with 27 points, offsetting a 33-point performance by Manasquan’s Brad McCabe, who was 9-of-10 from 3-point range. Sarnor scored 17 points for Ranney, and Antoine added 17.
“They had a gameplan for us and they attacked it right away,” Lewis said, “and our job was to stick to our game plan and find who was hot and things like that, and we just had to open up the floor and use our athleticism and use our speed in our sets against thier zone.”
It all began four seasons ago with Ranney’s Shore Conference Tournament preliminary round victory over Brick in 2016, as a lineup of freshmen moved on as the eighth seed.
A year later, a potential showdown with rival Mater Dei Prep was derailed in the semifinals when Ranney got knocked off by Marlboro, with Mater Dei Prep winning its second straight SCT title.
Then, a year ago, it was a dominating victory over Mater Dei Prep in the SCT final, with the season eventually ending with a last-second loss to Roselle Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public B final.
Now the program is generally regarded as the best team in the state this season.
“Our goal was to win (the SCT) as freshmen and sophomore year and that is still in our head because we could have possibly won it those years and won three or four,” Lewis said. “So to win it back-to-back means everything to us.”