By Brian Deakyne
In Central Jersey, Group 1:
Shore Regional High School – No. 2 seed
The outlook: Shore, which finished second to Manasquan High School in A-Central this winter, should have a smooth ride to the sectional final. The Blue Devils will face 15-seeded Manville in the opening round before a potential second-round matchup against Shore Conference foe Keyport.
Teams in the way: Aside from Keyport, Shore will likely have to deal with sixth-seeded South River or seventh-seeded Bound Brook before a probable semifinal matchup against third-seeded South Hunterdon. On the other side of the bracket, Shore could face top-seeded Point Pleasant Beach High School in the final.
The prediction: Shore displays the depth that it showed all season to bowl its way to the final, where it falls to Point Beach in the final. This fall, Shore’s football team reached the sectional final before it fell to Point Beach, so these schools are becoming accustomed to facing each other in big games.
In Central Jersey, Group 2:
Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School – No. 10 seed
The outlook: It’s been an up-and-down season for Rumson, and as expected, it received a middle-of-the-pack seed for the postseason. The Bulldogs opened the season with a big win over Shore, but struggled down the stretch that led to its No. 10 seed. Still, Rumson will have a shot to prove what they can do and if they’re able to pull off a few upsets, they’ll be a tough team to beat, led by senior Jack Herrmann.
Teams in the way: Rumson will be in a big battle to open the tournament against seventh-seeded and Shore Conference opponent Point Pleasant Borough High School, and if they move past that game, it will likely be another in-conference team as Lakewood High School is slated as the two-seed.
The prediction: Rumson finds a way to go on the road and pull off the win against Point Boro, but its luck runs out as it falls to a talented Lakewood team in the second round.
Holmdel High School – No. 13 seed
The outlook: Like Rumson, the odds are stacked high against Holmdel in the state sectional tournament. In a field stacked with Shore Conference teams, Holmdel could see Manchester Township High School before likely top-seed Matawan Regional High School in the semifinal round. But, first, Holmdel will have to hit the road to face fourth-seeded Spotswood in the opening round.
Teams in the way: If Holmdel makes its way past Spotswood to open the tournament, it would likely set up a date with No. 5 Manchester Township in the second round. If the Hornets make it that far, they would face a battle with Matawan with a bid for a trip to the championship on the line.
Prediction: It will be too tall of a task for Holmdel to pull the upset, so it falls to Spotswood in the opening round in a tight one.
In Central Jersey, Group 3:
Middletown High School North – No. 5 seed
The outlook: Middletown North, which has established itself as a power within this section over the past three seasons, has a real shot to make a run at a sectional title this winter. The Lions last won the sectional title in 2012, and will get at least one home game in an effort to win the championship again. Middletown North will open the tournament against 12th-seeded Northern Burlington High School before an opportunity to face top-seeded Ewing High School in the semifinal round.
Teams in the way: If Middletown North beats Northern Burlington at home, it would face the winner of fourth-seeded Hamilton and 13-seeded Allentown before that semifinal matchup against Ewing. On the other side of the bracket, Shore Conference’s Long Branch is favored to reach the final as the No. 2 seed.
The prediction: Middletown North comes close to winning its second sectional title in three years, but falls short in the final. The Lions will edge Northern Burlington in the first round and easily win over Hamilton in the second. The semifinal round will be close, but Middletown North’s tough A-North schedule has provided them with plenty of tough challenges, as it moves on to the final, where Long Branch pulls away late.
Red Bank Regional High School – No. 6 seed
The outlook: Red Bank has surprised plenty of people this year, gunning its way to an impressive record and several big wins. With a six-seed, the Bucs will host an opening round playoff game against John F. Kennedy High School in Iselin, but like many other teams, several Shore Conference teams will stand in its way in an effort to win a sectional title.
Teams in the way: After JFK, the Bucs would have a tough second-round matchup on the road against Neptune. If Red Bank could win those two games, it would face a probably semifinal round matchup against No. 2 Long Branch.
The prediction: Red Bank gets the big home win over Iselin Kennedy, but falls in the second round to Neptune in overtime.
In Central Jersey, Group 4:
Colts Neck High School – No. 13 seed
The outlook: It would be a tough challenge for Colts Neck to make a serious run in such a deep section, but that will likely be on the minds of the Cougars in the coming weeks. Colts Neck will hit the road to face fourth-seeded Hillsborough. If Colts Neck wins that, it could gain some confidence to push them past other favored teams.
Teams in the way: Aside from Hillsborough, Colts Neck could face fifth-seeded East Brunswick before a date with top-seeded Montgomery in the semifinal round.
The prediction: Colts Neck will battle with Hillsborough, but the Cougars fall behind late in the third quarter and are unable to rally.
In Non-Public, South A:
Red Bank Catholic High School – No. 4 seed
The outlook: It has been a strong year for Red Bank Catholic under first-year coach James Catalano, but it received a favorable No. 4 playoff seed. The Caseys, led by sophomore point guard Edward Hahn and senior center Quenton Nelson, will get two home playoff games at Eck Center before likely facing St. Joseph-Metuchen High School, the No. 1 seed, in the semifinal round.
Teams in the way: Red Bank Catholic will host No. 13 Pingry High School in the opening round and could see No. 5 Bishop Eustace High School in the second round before taking on the tall task that is St. Joseph-Metuchen.
The prediction: Red Bank Catholic will use its home court advantage to win its opening two games over Pingry and Bishop Eustace but St. Joseph-Metuchen will prove to be too strong in the semifinal and that’s where the Caseys’ run will end.
Christian Brothers Academy – No. 6 seed
The outlook: Christian Brothers Academy ran away with the A-North title, but it will face much bigger challenges in this tournament, starting with its first game, at home, against No. 11 Bishop Ahr High School.
Teams in the way: If CBA moves past Bishop Ahr in the opening round, it will likely hit the road to take on No. 3 Paul VI High School in the second round. At the bottom of the bracket, CBA would face No. 2 St. Augustine High School if it won its first two games.
The prediction: CBA will win a pair of tight games over Bishop Ahr and Paul VI, but St. Augustine wins fairly easily as it will move on to face St. Joseph-Metuchen in the final.