By Ryan Fennell
Middletown – The remarkable season continues.
The Red Bank Catholic Caseys (23-1) continued to dominate the best the Shore has to offer on Tuesday night when they defeated fourth-seeded Middletown South (19-3), 46-29, in the semifinal of the Shore Conference Tournament at Brookdale Community College.
The top-seeded Caseys will head to Monmouth University this Saturday to take on third-seeded Point Pleasant Borough at 1 pm, who defeated second-seeded Saint John Vianney, 61-58, in the first game of the semifinal round on Tuesday.
The Caseys have not lost to a New Jersey opponent this season, having dropped their only game of the year to Moore Catholic from New York on Jan. 27.
And, so far, the Caseys have rolled through the tournament.
As the top seed RBC earned a bye in the first round and then defeated Jackson Memorial, 57-41, before making easy work of Manasquan winning, 45-31, in the quarterfinal last Saturday. Tuesday’s semifinal win was a decisive 17-point victory over Middletown South; a game in which the Eagles were clearly overmatched.
The Caseys kept South on its heels all game and consistently disrupted any rhythm the Eagles were able to muster.
RBC held Middletown to 7 points in the first quarter, all coming from senior Jackie Dluhi who scored a game-high 15 points, and led by 10 at, 26-16, heading into the locker room at halftime.
Leading by only 4 in the second quarter at, 18-14, the Caseys’ Caroline Corcoran knocked down a pair of three’s and took one around the baseline to extend the Caseys lead to 10.
RBC took off in the second half, again limiting the Eagles to a mere 6 points in the third quarter and jumping out to what proved to be an insurmountable lead at 35-22, heading into the final frame.
A huge key for the Caseys was the offensive assertion junior Grace Fallon displayed in this game. Fallon has primarily showed her strength on defense and handling the ball in pressure situations but has not stepped up as the scorer and offensive force head coach Joe Montano knows she could be. On Tuesday, Fallon added that tool to her arsenal as she poured in 10 points; many coming in key spots that took the little air that was left in the Eagles sails.
“I thought Gracie really drove the ball to the basket,” Montano said. “She’s a tremendous defender and she rebounds for us, but we’ve been after her to play offense and she got to the basket and she got to the foul line and made her free throws. It thought that was real important.
“We’ve played a lot of good teams and we know when you’re playing a good team, in the second half you better finish it or else you’re going to end up getting beat. Our girls have been through that all year.”
The semifinal appearance was the first for Middletown South since 2006 when they faced, and lost to, none other than RBC that year. On top of a smothering defense by the Caseys, any open look or drive to the basket for the Eagles didn’t drop in the matchup, adding to the team’s frustration level.
“You’ve got to give (RBC) all the credit in the world,” Middletown South head coach Tom Brennan said. “They were stronger and took it to us, especially in the second half. It seemed like it was very difficult for us.
“We had adjustments we tried to make. It just seemed like 50/50 balls we’ve been getting to all year long, today other kids in white uniforms were getting there before we were.”
Brennan has stressed to his team all season that the most important thing was not necessarily winning games but playing winning basketball.
“Winning wasn’t the most important part but playing a winning style would be. But, I don’t think our kids are happy with the way we played.
“We had chemistry issues tonight. I think that’s credit directly due to the Caseys. They have abilities to put pressure on the ball and put pressure on the wings that makes you do things that you normally wouldn’t do.
“If anything we learned how hard the journey is.”
Next up for Red Bank Catholic is Point Pleasant Borough in the Shore Conference Tournament Final at Monmouth University at 1 pm on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Pt. Boro earned the third seed in the tournament, earning a first round bye and defeating St. Rose, 75-67, in the second round before hammering Holmdel, 70-45, in the quarterfinal. Pt. Boro upended St. John Vianney, 61-58, in the semifinal on Tuesday with a spectacular shooting display from Kelly Hughes and company.
If the Caseys are going to give Pt. Boro a fight on Saturday they are going to have to find a way to contain its shooters, but that could be a difficult task because, like they proved in the semifinal, they will shoot from nearly anywhere on the court – and make it.
“They shoot the hell out of the ball,” Montano said. “They bring kids off the bench that shoot the ball. The thing I’m impressed with is they’re so confident. You figure a kid is going to catch the ball and think a little bit, but they don’t think.
“Kelly Hughes is a great player and Lauren Hughes has stepped up, so we’ve got a big job. But, we’re there and we’re going to go for it.”