South Hunterdon

Eagles cruise in state opener

By James Evans

In front of roaring home fans and a raucous opposing crowd, the South Hunterdon Eagles got the win over the Academy Charter Panthers, 57-28, Tuesday night. Led by player of the game Tyler Frazee, who had 13 points, five rebounds and two steals, the Eagles improved to 19-6 on the year.

Both crowds were going crazy at the start of the game, with the Panther fans traveling very well to see their team play. Parents, students, even cheerleaders showed up to combat the rowdy “Blue Crew” from South Hunterdon. And in the first quarter, it looked like the Panther fans could be cheering for a first-round upset. An 8-7 South first quarter was “lowlighted” by senior guard Jake Whitaker going 0 for 3 shooting. Finishing with only two points on 0 for 9 shooting from the floor, Whitaker talked about his performance after the game: “It was good to get my first state win, actually everyone’s first state win, despite the performance I had tonight.” That win was secured in the second quarter, as the Eagles led 28-13 at the half, inspired by a 10-0 run to open the second quarter.

At the half, three Eagles had five or more rebounds, as Frazee, John Conlon (six) and Clay Hope (seven) all played well in finding the missed shots. Postgame, Hope, who also had six points in the contest, talked about how he was “worn out from practice this week after a hard loss at Bound Brook.”

To open the second half, the Eagles had a 7-0 run to effectively ice the game, with senior guard Daniel Begg playing great in the run. When asked about his night (six points), Begg said it was an “electric feel to the game with both fans going nuts for their team” and that it “was truly fun to see.”

In hopes for a second-round win and their second 20-win season in three years, the Eagles will play South River tomorrow night as part of a doubleheader at home. The Eagles will need to contain star senior Matt Martinez, who had 38 points in South River’s opening-round game against Henry Hudson. The girls’ team will open its state run against Shore at 6 p.m. and the boys will play at 8 p.m.

Eagles shine on Senior Night

By James Evans

The South Hunterdon seniors led the Eagles to a 76-34 win over the Belvidere County Seeders on Thursday night to improve to 17-6 on the season. With all four seniors shining brightly on the night that honored them, South’s evening was keyed by so many great moments, both on and off the court.

Here at South Hunterdon, Senior Night takes on two different forms. For one, the senior athletes are honored, with Devon Troutman, Jake Whitaker, Daniel Begg and John Conlon all being celebrated before the contest.

However, Senior Night also takes time to honor the senior citizens who support the basketball team and the community so greatly. One of the most special moments from the night was the moment of silence held for one of these avid senior citizens who unfortunately passed away this past week.

Jason Fuhr, a visitor at almost every event South has to offer, from athletics to clubs, was honored with a moment of silence, which culminated in his signature root beer barrel hard candies being tossed onto the court in his honor. Troutman said postgame, “Having seen Jason a lot from football and basketball the past few years, it was awesome to have honored him tonight. As cliche as it may sound, this game was for him.”

Troutman, who had 10 points in the contest, played well in the night’s rout over the County Seeders. Altogether, the four senior combined for 31 points and 19 rebounds on the night, playing limited minutes in the blowout win. Postgame, center Conlon (eight points, nine rebounds) talked about the emotions of the night: “It felt great coming out tonight to play a great game for such a great fan. Getting the win at home with all the emotion made it that much sweeter.”

Yet, emotions aside, the South Hunterdon Eagles are on pace for their second 20-win season in the past three years, with two regular season games left against North Plainfield on Saturday and Bound Brook on Tuesday. Whitaker, who had nine points, six rebounds and seven assists on the night, spoke of the potential for the 20-win season, saying, “I know that we can make a deep state run after getting these last two regular season games. We just have to start preparing.”

This Saturday, the Eagles will go for win No. 18 on the road, which Begg (four points, two rebounds on the night) said “is a must win game to ready ourselves before states.” With a tough game looming this Tuesday against archrival Bound Brook, the Eagles are in full focus mode for the season’s final stretch.

Eagles soar in opening round

By James Evans

In their first game of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Tournament, the South Hunterdon Eagles (15-4) won handily over the Vernon Vikings, 73-39. The game, which was close throughout the first half, looked like it had all the elements of a first-round upset for the Eagles. However, led by strong play from senior guard Jake Whitaker, who had a season-high 25 points, South was able to run away with the game in the second half.

At the half, the Eagles were up 34-30 in a close game. What most teams would take as an advantage going into the half is a nightmare for the Eagles. In three of their four losses, the Eagles have effectively buried themselves in the third quarter, a major struggle for them this year. That, in conjunction with half of their points coming from Whitaker in the first half, was not a good sign for the team.

However, coach Jason Miller would not have any of it. “He ripped into us at halftime and was unusually heated,” said Whitaker, who added six steals and two rebounds in the contest. And it looks like Miller should do that more often, as his team went out and outscored the Vikings, 39-9, in the final half, absolutely executing on both sides of the court.

When asked postgame how he felt about his performance, Whitaker smiled and said that he “felt great tonight” and that “was certainly the return that I was looking for.” Also playing well in the contest was senior center John Conlon, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in the contest. When asked postgame about his performance, Conlon gawked at the stat sheet in shock that he was a mere basket from his second season double-double. “I absolutely had not idea I was that close,” Conlon said. “We all just played like a team tonight and we need to execute if we want to move onto the next round.”

The Eagles, in the meantime, will play on the road against North Plainfield this Thursday, having a few days off after a tough stretch of basketball. Their next Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex game will be Saturday at home against either North Hunterdon or High Point.

Eagles drop another to Del Val

By James Evans

The South Hunterdon Eagles lost their third game in the past six, as they dropped to 13-4 following a 62-57 loss to the Del Val Terriers (9-6) on Tuesday. It was another poor third quarter by the Eagles that hurt them in the second half in a game that was close throughout.

In three of their four losses this season, the Eagles have lost their lead or tie game in the third quarter. Tuesday, with the game tied after the first quarter (8-8) and again at the half (26-26), the Eagles were down by nine in the final minute of the third quarter. However, the early troubles for South began well before the game even started. Guard Daniel Begg remarked postgame that he was worried that “some of the guys are playing with their heads down” and that “the recent struggles have affected the team.” Junior guard Josh Phillips echoed the senior captain’s thoughts after the loss: “We need to pick our heads up for the final third of our season, no question.”

The goal for the night was to contain Terriers forward Josh Christ, who had 22 points in the team’s first contest on Jan. 7. In the rematch, the Terriers hoped to exact revenge for the 62-54 loss, and did so in front of a raucous home crowd. Christ was not as contained as he was in the first contest, greatly swinging the game in the final minutes, hitting two clutch free throws to seal it. However, this game did not look like the Eagles to win from the start.

Junior guard Brennan Carey, who had a team-high 19 points in the first contest, had five turnovers in the first half and shot poorly from the field, so personifying much of South’s early basketball. As trite as it may be “the shots were not falling tonight,” which was certainly reflected in the Eagles’ low shooting percentage. Yet, the game, despite the abysmal third quarter and the early shooting, was within two with 1:01 left to play in the fourth. However, like they have all season, the Eagles lost the game on two critical foul shots in the final minutes. One, a 1-1 opportunity for senior guard Devon Troutman, was missed, along with two shots to keep it a one possession game by Jake Whitaker.

Due to snow, the Eagles will have a back-to-back this Thursday/Friday against Manville and then either Belvidere or Vernon. The latter game will be the opening of the Eagles’ Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County tournament. If the Eagles hope to have any success at the season’s end, these two games are needed to build the confidence back up and lift the heads high.

Eagles lose heartbreaker at home

By James Evans

The South Hunterdon Eagles fell to 12-3 on the season on Thursday night with a tough loss against the Bound Brook Crusaders, 54-51. The game featured two of the Skyland Conference’s top teams, and the game did not disappoint.

A low-scoring first quarter was spurred by both teams playing tough defense against each other. That tough defense would allow for a little extracurricular after the whistles, and was one of several controversies on the night. Other controversies included both coaches being asked to not step out too far onto the court, overhead music being played while the Crusaders had possession and a last-second finish that looked to have warranted a call.

At halftime, the Eagles led 22-18, spurred by early great play by Jake Whitaker (nine points and two steals in the first half) and Tyler Frazee (four points, three steals and two blocks in the first half). However, a constant theme this season is that the Eagles have lost games in the third quarter, with Thursday being no different. A 20-13 Bound Brook third quarter put the Eagles down three going into the final quarter.

Down by as much as seven points in the fourth, the Eagles rallied back to within one in the final two minutes, yet could not hit clutch free throws down the stretch. Two key one-and-one’s were missed by South, which could have allowed for a closer game in the final seconds. Down three with 25 seconds left, the Eagles could not find an open man, and had Frazee attempt a three that fell short with time expiring. However, the Bound Brook players, who had been asked once before when on the bench to not come out onto the court, rushed out with time still left on the clock. The referees looked bewildered, and decided to allow the storming of the court to be allowed, with the Bound Brook players celebrating.

Bound Brook coach Anthony Melesurgo wanted a call in the second when supposed noise was being played on the loudspeakers of the home gym. He wanted to retain possession after a team turnover because of the alleged interference. However, with a few seconds left in the game, the no-call on the bench players on the court was happily taken, as the Crusaders took home the win. According to NJSIAA rules, a technical should have been assessed in those final seconds, with the Eagles being allowed to shoot two free throws and attempt a final shot with about two or three seconds remaining. Yet, the call did not take place and the Eagles were handed an ugly loss.

South coach Jason Miller after the game was asked about the brighter spots of his team’s night: “Tyler Frazee played his best basketball all season tonight. He played awesome on defense for us and was a key stopper.” Frazee finished with nine points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks in the contest. Asked after the game about his great night, Frazee said he just “let his game do the talking” and that he “just went out there and played.”

The South Hunterdon Eagles look to end this short losing pattern (2-2 in their past four games) Saturday on the road against another conference rival in Belvidere (3-9). The Eagles will need to shake off this loss, as tough as it may be, and focus or an upset could be in order.

Blue Jays snap Eagles’ streak

By James Evans

In a game that ended the South Hunterdon Eagles’ seven-game winning streak, the Middlesex Blue Jays triumphed, 53-44, in Mount Airy. Struggling to adjust with the addition of senior guard Jake Whitaker, the Eagles committed 15 turnovers in the loss.

Falling behind early, the Eagles were down by 11 at the half, their largest halftime deficit all season. The Eagles, who are typically a first-half team, were run off the floor in the first half, mustering only 18 points. Junior guard Brennan Carey struggled early, going 0-3 in the first half with four turnovers. The long, athletic Blue Jays lineup was able to create havoc with the Eagles lineup, running their starting five off the floor.

However, in the third quarter, the Eagles were able to gain some momentum. The home crowd and some generous calls were able to play the Eagles within eight at the end of the third quarter, anchored by solid shooting by Carey, who adjusted well at halftime. He finished the game with nine points, four rebounds and two steals. Yet, the first-half lead was too much to overcome as the game looked over with a 6-0 Middlesex run to lead off the fourth.

Losses have been atypical for the Eagles this season, and this game certainly looked like a lesson game. Senior center John Conlon said that the lesson was “that we just need to be more aggressive and push the ball.” When asked if the missed shots and turnovers were evidence of the aggressive play, Conlon disagreed: “The turnovers and missed shots will fix themselves. With a team like this we just need to push the pace, no matter what.” Carey mirrored this thought: “The memo for today was to push the pace, no matter what.”

In his first starting role since his injury, Whitaker played well as the Eagles’ leading scorer. With 11 points, three boards and four assists on the night, Whitaker looked up and down in the start. He admitted that he “was really tired” and “need[ed] to get his legs back,” and that he really forced some shots in the second quarter. Whitaker struggled to adapt to the team basketball the Eagles have been playing of late, wanting to take many of the big shots to play them back into the game.

The Eagles will have a chance to bounce back against Belvidere this Tuesday night on the road. Hopefully, the team can cut back on the turnovers and the missed shots to put them in position to get back on the winning path.

Eagles cruise to win over Mountaineers

By James Evans

In a sleeper of a game (and not in a good way), the South Hunterdon Eagles triumphed over the Bernards Mountaineers (3-5), 40-24, Thursday night. The Eagles, who improved to 10-1 (with seven straight wins), were led by senior guard Daniel Begg (nine points and four rebounds).

However, the true storyline of the night was the return of senior guard Jake Whitaker. Whitaker, who was injured on Dec. 27 in a game against Riverside, had four points (0-2 from the floor, 1-2 from three, 1-2 from the line) in limited minutes. Announced as “The Big Ticket” for the game, Whitaker smiled when asked how it was to come back. “It clearly feels good to return tonight,” he said.

Along with his four points, Whitaker had three turnovers and two cringes from coach Jason Miller. After the game, Miller said that he “was happy to have Jake back because he was just champing at the bit” to get in the game.

The 40 points were the lowest output for the Eagles this season, much due to the tightly officiated game and the Mountaineers running a half-court offense. South did, however, show some success hitting several three-pointers. Assistant coach Frank Schermerhorn attributed the success to having his outside shooters adjust their shots for the Coriolis Effect. “Our court runs east and west,” said Schermerhorn, “so it’s important that our outside shooters know the Coriolis Effect will impact their long-range shots. It’s a scientific fact.”

Clay Hope (two points and four rebounds), who jawed much of the game with the Mountaineer centers, was asked postgame what was happening out there. A short laugh from Hope was followed by a “no comment” and a quick smile. Only when further prodded and asked to give the “PG version of the jawing,” Hope responded that he “just knows how to get to some people” and left it at that.

Begg, who was the leading scorer for the second game in a row, said he was “just focused the past two games” and that he just “feels locked in right now.” Thursday was also one of the few times both sophomore Elijah Davis and Whitaker were out on the court at the same time. In fact, Whitaker’s only three was from a Davis pass after he drew a double team leaving Whitaker wide open in the corner. When asked how it is to play with two extremely athletic guards at the same time, he said, “To have the two of them out there is awesome. They are both super athletic, great passers and great defenders. It’s just a treat.”

This Saturday the Eagles will continue their homestand against the Middlesex Blue Jays (5-3) in what is sure to be a contentious matchup. With Jake “The Big Ticket” Whitaker starting for the first time in almost three weeks, a rowdy Eagles crowd and a pivotal game for both teams, it surely will be a good one this Saturday at South Hunterdon.

Eagles hang on, keep streak alive

By James Evans

Despite a miserable second half, the South Hunterdon Eagles (9-1) were able to hang on for a 60-54 win over the North Plainfield Canucks (3-4) on Tuesday night. Led by guards Daniel Begg (13 points, 5-6 from the floor) and Brennan Carey (13 points and four steals), the Eagles were able to build up enough of a lead from their fast start to get their sixth straight win.

Facing a very young North Plainfield team, which had six freshmen on the varsity roster, the Eagles were able to take advantage of their inexperience in the first half, playing solid team basketball. Every single active player for the Eagles had at least two points at the half, en route to a 36-18 margin. However, much like what happened against the Del Val Terriers and the Voorhees Vikings, the Eagles laid an egg in the second half.

The Eagles, during their six-game winning streak, have been outscored in half of those games’ third quarters, while winning by an average of 24 points a game. The trend is certainly peculiar. Both assistant coaches, Trevor Johnson and Frank Schermerhorn, were asked about this recent trend. Johnson, a South Hunterdon basketball alum, put it flatly: “If we were to know what the problem was, we would fix it. It’ll just take time to find.” However, Schermerhorn had a different take and blamed much of Tuesday night’s poor shooting on the full moon, citing what he called “a lunar gravitational pull” on the ball. “Everyone knows that shooting percentage decreases when there’s a full moon,” said Schermerhorn after the game. “It’s a scientific fact.”

The third-quarter trend has hampered the Eagles despite the recent win streak, allowing many teams to play themselves back after an early first-half deficit. Senior center John Conlon mirrored the thoughts of Shermerhorn: “We can’t play passive basketball. Not even for a moment.” And Conlon certainly showed the need for heads-up basketball on Tuesday.

On a fastbreak for the Canucks in the second quarter, Conlon played back on defense, only to have a possible steal slip through his legs. However, Conlon was able to rotate perfectly after the ball reached a Canuck freshman, Ka-Ron Dock, and swat his shot attempt solidly out of bounds. The play helped to energize his teammates, leading Conlon to six points and five rebounds on the night.

After a third quarter where the Eagles were outscored by seven points, they continued to struggle in the fourth, barely hanging on for the win. Senior guard Devon Troutman’s three-point shooting did not help the cause, going 0-3 on the night. In the Eagles’ past seven games, Troutman is shooting below 30 percent from three-point range. The key factor is that those past seven games have been without fellow senior guard Jake Whitaker. His slash-and-kick style has been missing for Troutman, who said after the game, “Although we all miss Whitaker being active, my three-point shot is something I just need to work on.”

The Eagles hope to continue their winning ways against the Bernards Mountaineers (3-4). With a loss to Del Val earlier this season, the Mountaineers will have to hope to capitalize in the second half and press the Eagles if they want any shot to win this Thursday night at South Hunterdon.

Eagles win handily over George School

By James Evans

After a controversial ending to last year’s loss, the South Hunterdon boys’ team exacted revenge against the George School Cougars, 54-21, Saturday night. The Eagles, who improved to 8-1 on the season, were led by senior guard Devon Troutman (12 points and three rebounds) and their two centers against a long, athletic Cougar lineup.

In last year’s game, South coach Jason Miller was ejected and given several technicals in the heated contest between the two teams. And without their coach, the Eagles lost a nine-point lead in an upset. This week, the Eagle players were certainly excited to settle the score.

The tallest player on the Eagles squad is senior center John Conlon, who stands 6’3”. Conlon is the only Eagle in the starting lineup to even eclipse the six-foot mark. The Cougars, however, had every player in their starting five over six feet in height, with center Jibri Loving topping out at 6’7”. The matchups looked awful for South on paper. However, if games were decided on paper, there would be no use in playing. Because this one wasn’t close from the opening minutes.

An opening 12-1 run by South in the game’s opening minutes was spurred by Conlon’s first four points of the ballgame. When asked about the matchup issues, Conlon recalled a game against Pope John last year. “They had two guys who were 6’10”-6’11”, and we got blown off the court,” Conlon said. “Tonight, we just went out there and made sure their big guys didn’t get easy points off of rebounds and that we rotated the basketball as good as possible.” Conlon finished with five points, two boards and two assists in the contest.

The other “big” man for the Eagles was 6’2” center Clay Hope, who had 10 points and two boards. Solid play in the second half by Hope was limited as he fouled out with 5 minutes left in the fourth. Struggling early in the first half with four turnovers and three fouls, Hope said that he “started to pick up the zone defense they were running in the second half, and from there, it was much easier to be in the right position.” When asked how it is to play against such bigger players, Hope’s face lit up: “It challenges you to go out there and scrap, try and draw fouls, and talk back and forth all game.”

This is the fifth-straight win for the Eagles since their last loss, Dec. 28 against New Hope-Solebury. Senior captain Daniel Begg said he “is very impressed with the hot start this season, especially with the absence of last year’s leading scorer, Jake Whitaker.” With contributions coming in from all players, the Eagles have played excellent team ball in the past five games, winning by an average of 27 in that span. South hopes to continue its winning ways against the North Plainfield Canucks on Tuesday at home.

Eagles win it from the line

By James Evans

In a game that saw more than 40 personal fouls, the South Hunterdon Eagles (6-1) prevailed over the Del Val Terriers (0-4), 62-54, on Tuesday night. With a bevy of points coming from the foul line, junior Brennan Carey led the way with 19 points (9-12 free throws), and senior Devon Troutman added 12 points (6-8 FTs).

The Eagles jumped out to a 29-22 lead after one half, with Carey scoring nine in the opening 16 minutes. However, the Eagles were not able to match a much quicker scoring pace in the second half, which was started with a combined 14 points in the opening 90 seconds after the break. This enabled the Terriers to pull within a 38-37 margin at the end of the third quarter. However, the Eagles, who had every one of their active players shoot free throws, shot a combined 60 percent (26-43) to pull them to a victory.

Averaging out to almost five free throws per active player, the Eagles needed to stay focused to get the win. Carey remarked on his “same foul shot routine” and jokingly said that he focuses “solely on trying not to airball it.” And with free throws always comes opportunities for boards, and four South players had more than five rebounds apiece.

Senior center John Conlon has averaged nearly six boards per game during the Eagles’ recent three-game winning streak. He had eight Tuesday. When asked about his recent uptick in performance, Conlon said, “We just need to stay physical as individuals and as a basketball team. Team efforts are what get rebounds.”

Second to Conlon in rebounds in the win was junior Tyler Frazee, who had four points and seven boards, playing some of his best basketball all season. “I just don’t let them push me around out there and I stay as physical as I can,” said Frazee, who could be measured 6-feet tall if someone was awfully generous. But the height difference didn’t stop the guard, as he outrebounded some of the Terriers’ players who stood five or six inches taller than he.

One of those long, tall players for Del Val was forward Josh Christ, who is the Terriers’ predominant scorer this season. Junior guard Josh Phillips was tasked to contain the athletic Christ, and Phillips collected five boards and four steals in his efforts. “I play with my feet and not my hands,” said Phillips on his defensive play.

Improving to 3-1 in the absence of senior guard Jake Whitaker, the Eagles look to get their predominant scorer back on Saturday against the George School at home. Until then, they will play at least one more game without him, as the Eagles will take on the Manville Mustangs (2-2) on Thursday night to complete their three-game road stand.

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