By Brian Deakyne
MIDDLETOWN – Throw out the records throw out the stats.
When the Lions and Eagles meet, nothing matters; it’s always a battle.
That statement held true on Monday night, when Middletown North topped Middletown South, 49-42, in front of a sellout crowd at Middletown High School North.
“The environment was great; the place was packed, it was rocking,” Middletown North head coach Michael Iasparro said. “Both teams had good student sections. The environment was very fun. This is our home court, we don’t like to lose on our home court, and we feel like we have a pretty big advantage playing at home.”
Coming off a Central Jersey Group IV sectional title, the Lions weren’t ready to give anything back to the Eagles, who are enjoying an upstart season.
“Any time we play these guys, it’s a big event in the town and in the school,” Iasparro said. “Both towns get juiced up for it. No matter how the talent level might be shifted either way – whether it’s in their favor or it’s in our favor – the game is always a battle and it’s always a good atmosphere.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Middletown North went on a 7-0 run to create some distance from the Eagles, taking a 16-8 lead.
“It was all about getting defensive stops,” Iasparro said. “We talk about that a lot, we actually talked about that in a timeout right before that [run] of how if we want to make a run and go on a run, we’ve got to get consecutive defensive stops and have good defensive possessions. I thought we did that, which enabled us to get out in transition a little bit and get some easy buckets out in fast break transition opportunities.
“That 7-0 run was a key moment in the game that kind of gave us a little cushion going into halftime.”
The Lions took an eight point lead into halftime, 24-16, and even after a strong run to open the third quarter from Middletown South, they were able to hold onto it and close out the victory.
Senior guard Cody Thompson scored 10 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter for Middletown North and junior guard Brian Esser scored six of his 13 points in the final quarter as the Lions continued to run away from the Eagles.
Middletown South was led by senior guard Tommy DiMeo, who finished with 12 points and played the entire second half with four fouls.
The Eagles were also hampered by foul trouble with junior guard John Whalen, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter and Matt Grey, who also played the entire second half with four fouls.
With DiMeo on the bench, senior forward Mike Diorio scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter, playing a big part in the Eagles outscoring the Lions, 13-7, in that quarter to draw within two points entering the fourth quarter.
Still, South couldn’t make the big basket when they had to, and the Lions were able to make clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the game – a much needed win for Middletown North.
“We knew they were going to make a run, we talked about that. At some point in the third quarter, South was going to come out and make a run,” Iasparro said. “We needed to withstand it, stay together, stay composed and we withstood it and ended up getting ourselves a little [lead]. I wouldn’t say we were comfortably in front, but we had a little bit of a lead and we felt if we had that going into the fourth quarter, we would be OK.”
Senior guard Will Boman added five points for the Lions, along with junior forward Ian Wycoff, who also posted five points.
The Lions entered Monday’s meeting with a slight edge in the division over the Eagles, and the win gave them the opportunity to keep that advantage and attempt to make a late-season divisional run to contest with Colts Neck, Christian Brothers Academy, and Manalapan.
“We talked about how it’s a cross-town rival – it’s a big game in that regard — but more importantly, it’s about the A-North right now,” Iasparro said. “We’re 5-2 in the division and we have an opportunity to make a run at a division championship so that’s really what it’s all about.”
John Whalen and Grey each posted seven points for the Eagles.