As my first year as sports editor at The Two River Times comes to a close, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to cover local sports in a different medium. I spend most of my time behind the lens of a camera at Shore Sports Zone, bringing high definition highlights and features of all Shore Conference sports. The Two River Times allows me to capture moments with great photos and stories about student-athletes in the form of articles and features. I wanted to take this time to thank Jay Cook for his passion in covering local sports and bringing so many great features to our pages in 2016, and the legend, Jim Hintelmann, who is a true historian of Shore Conference sports and is a jewel to the local media. Most of all, a special thanks to Domenic DiPiero, the owner of The Two River Times, who has the vision and support to truly serve our community with this publication, knowing that the stories we tell every week in the sports section are filled with great memories that can be shared by families for generations.
It’s always fun to look back on the year that was. Here’s our version of the Top 10 stories that we covered in 2016:
#1: THE MATER DEI MIRACLES
Don’t ever count Mater Dei Prep out. When an announcement comes that the doors are about to close forever on the Middletown school in 2015, Mater Dei rallied and dollar by dollar figured out a way to continue to exist. The sports teams took that cue, to say the least. In the Shore Conference basketball finals at Monmouth University on Februar y 28, the Seraphs trailed CBA 41-31 with 3:35 left. The doors were about to close on a dream season, but Mater Dei rallied. They scored 19 points in the final 3:35. An unbelievable comeback gives Mater Dei Prep its first ever Shore Conference championship in a 50-43 win over the Colts. One Mater Dei miracle wasn’t enough. The football team had its turn at Kean University on December 4th. Tied at 20 with Holy Spirit, the Seraphs were 11 seconds away from overtime and the possibility of squandering a lead, but a perfectly executed 50-yard hook and ladder from quarterback George Pearson and the wideout tandem of Kyle Devaney and Eddie Lewis was the kind of finish that is written in a Hollywood movie. And who knows, maybe the screenplay is being typed up as we speak. After all, a school that faces extinction and two teams that pulled off a pair of miraculous finishes to win championships for the first time in school history sounds like a box office hit.
#2: CONNOR JAEGER WINS SILVER IN RIO
It was 4,798 miles between Rumson-Fair Haven High School and Rio de Janeiro, but Fair Haven native Connor Jaeger no doubt felt the support of his alma mater and hometown fans as he swam to a silver medal in the 1500 meters in the 2016 Summer Olympics. The special part of this story goes beyond the amazing accomplishment of a world class athlete from our backyard; 16 years earlier, Middletown’s Tom Wilkens claimed a bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics in the 400 meter individual medley. During his celebration following the feat, a young Connor Jaeger was in an elementary school for a Wilkens appearance and the seed was planted that maybe one day he could be an Olympian. Wilkens watched in the RFH auditorium as Jaeger joined the Jersey Shore medal club and couldn’t be prouder.
#3: RFH FOOTBALL FOUR-PEAT AS STATE CHAMPIONS
Winning a state championship is hard. Ask any coach in any sport and they can tell you the trials and tribulations of great teams that had one hiccup, one stroke of bad luck, or one untimely injury that kept them from winning it all. Usually when it happens, you see grown men cry tears of joy and kids fall in a state of shock knowing that they achieved the ultimate. The fact that Rumson-Fair Haven’s current senior class has done nothing but win state championships is truly remarkable. The Bulldogs 27-22 win over South Plainfield at Rutgers High Point Solutions Stadium made their first-year head coach Jerry Schulte cry in the post-game gathering and a group that always knew how to rise to the occasion took pause and realized that many years from now, they’ll still be talking about the group who won it all four times.
#4: SJV GIRLS EARN TOP 10 NATIONAL RANKING
Usually, winning a state championship is the ultimate goal of any high school sports team. For Saint John Vianney, a state title was not enough. The Lady Lancers wanted to win the Tournament of Champions, a true barometer of the best of the best in New Jersey basketball. On March 22, the Lancers ousted Shore Conference rival Manasquan 65-58 in overtime to win the T of C. With a 31-1 record, SJV finished #9 in the USA Today Top 25 national rankings. Their lone loss came in a Florida tournament against another Top 10 USA Today team in triple overtime without their leader, Kelly Campbell who had an injury. The Shore Conference is truly one of the best girls basketball conferences in the country and head coach Dawn Karpell and her team proved it during a special season.
#5: FRANKIE TAGLIAFERRI STARS FOR TEAM USA
Ever y four years, the country gets whipped up into a frenzy as the US Women’s soccer team contends for a World Cup. Carli Lloyd has put the spotlight on the impact of New Jersey natives shining on the world’s stage. Colts Neck’s Frankie Tagliaferri is on that path. She has worn the USA jersey for the better part of two years and in the Under 17 World Cup in Jordan she scored a pair of goals for the red, white and blue. That feat is more than enough to land on this list, but Frankie turned right back around and joined the Lady Cougars mid- season and went on to score a season’s worth of goals (22) in nine games and helped Colts Neck repeat as Shore Conference champions with two magnificent goals in the finals. Next stop for Frankie is Penn State and I have a feeling we’ll be talking about her much more in the coming years.
#6: CBA BASEBALL THREE-PEATS ON DIAMOND IN SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNEY
The Shore Conference baseball tournament represents a unique challenge as it goes hand-in-hand with the state baseball tournament. CBA earned three straight SCT titles at the home of the Lakewood BlueClaws with a 2-0 win over Middletown South on June 9. There’s no question that it took many names on the Colts roster to contribute to the championship, but at the top of the list is the amazing battery of pitcher Luca Dalatri and catcher Brandon Martorano. Dalatri was sensational in his final high school game throwing yet another complete game shutout. In his senior season he went 10-0 with a 0.42 era and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a mind boggling 118 to 4 – he won 30 consecutive starts over the last three years and finishes with a 35-2 high school record and 0.67 ERA. Dalatri and Martorano would get selected in the late rounds of the MLB Draft (Martorano to Arizona, Dalatri to Colorado), but turned down the pros to begin their collegiate baseball career at the University of North Carolina. Their high school careers are just the beginning chapter of what could be many more great moments on the diamond in college and beyond.
#7: PAT ANDREE BECOMES CBA’S ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER
CBA is like the Boston Celtics of New Jersey hoops – so much rich history and so many great players. Watching 6-foot-7 Pat Andree drain three pointers like a guard was a sight to see. His range was almost anything inside half-court. In a program that has such high standards, Andree stands at the very top of the mountain, surpassing names like Bob Roma, Geoff Billet and John Crotty with 1,984 career points. Even more impressive was a superstar who was always in the spotlight and had absolutely no ego. His college basketball career is only a few weeks old, yet Pat Andree is already making a huge impact. He tied a Lehigh record with ten three-pointers in a win against Saint Francis, PA.
#8: NORTH BEATS SOUTH ON GRIDIRON ENDING 16-YEAR DROUGHT
There were some Middletown North alums who thought they may never see another Lions win on Thanksgiving, a credit to the elite program Steve Antonucci has built at Middletown South. But with former Miami Dolphins assistant coach Steve Bush at the helm, Middletown North kept climbing the ladder as a winning team of their own. With one of the best quarterback/receiver tandems in the state, Donald Glenn and Brendan Kube, the Lions took to their home field on Thanksgiving morning thinking that 2016 could be “the year.” And it was. A dominating defensive performance that caused five fumbles and Glenn throwing three first half TD passes was the recipe for a 24-6 win and the end of a 16-year drought. The Eagles were a 7-win team and “B” North Division champs which proved that the Lions win was anything but a fluke. While Middletown Nor th did not complete the storybook ending with a state title, everyone in Lions country has the satisfaction of winning the next best thing.
#9: CBA’S SEBASTIAN RIVERA WINS STATE WRESTLING TITLE IN DRAMATIC FASHION
There are many great stages in New Jersey high school sports, but it’s hard to top the wrestling state championships at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Thousands have their attention on one mat in the middle of the arena. CBA’s Sebastian Rivera was 30 seconds away from heartbreak. Rivera was shut out in the first two periods of his match against Delbarton’s Patrick Glory in the 113-pound final, but rallied for five points in the third period to draw even. With overtime on the horizon, Rivera willed his way to a pinfall with exactly one second on the clock. As the crowd roared, the CBA senior was able to climb into the steep stands and, like a perfect ending to a movie script, hugged his family and supporters. It was CBA’s first wrestling champion since 1969 and delivered one of the most dramatic moments in high school sports in 2016.
#10: ERBIG SETS RECORD AND RETIRES
Middletown South softball coach Tom Erbig became New Jersey’s all-time winningest softball coach during the 2016 season, reaching 722 wins following a 17-7 win at Freehold Township on April 22. Following the Eagles loss in the state finals, he announced his retirement with an incredible 743 wins, 16 sectional titles and 5 state championships in a 35- year career. The numbers and titles are impressive, but the impact Erbig had on generations of Middletown South athletes on and off the field is what should be revered more than anything.
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