By Jeff Appelblatt
After the rankings for the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) were released, Woodbridge High School’s boys basketball coach, Matt Gigliello, told his team the numbers don’t mean a thing when the playoffs start — play well enough and anyone can win.
“Come tournament time, it doesn’t matter what your seed is,” the coach said. “You just play whoever’s in front of you.”
Not that Woodbridge was given a low seed on the bracket. The team was ranked No. 5 out of the 30 teams competing in the conference. But the No. 5 seed will inevitably find itself in the underdog role in the later rounds.
The Barrons topped 21st-seed Edison High School, 61-52, in the first round and followed with a win at No. 4-seed Sayreville War Memorial High School, 69-60, in the quarterfinals.
Keshaun Henry was a huge part of the offense for Woodbridge. The junior scored more than 20 points for the first time since mid-January, leading the Barrons with 21 to go along with a team-best six assists. The majority of his helpers went to Quaasim Glover (16 points, eight rebounds), Quran Robinson (12 points, four steals) and Kemari Persol (10 points, six rebounds).
The win advanced Woodbridge to the tournament’s semifinals scheduled for Feb. 23. The Barrons were not only on the road again, but they also were facing the perennial No. 1 seed from Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen.
“St. Joe’s — the name speaks for itself,” Gigliello said prior to the contest in Metuchen. “[They’re] a tough test for the kids.
“But I preached to them, Colonia [High School] did it last year. That’s a team we’re very similar to.”
Regardless of the result of that game, Gigliello is happy with what his players have done this year so far. The Barrons entered that game winning 17 out of their last 18 games, and they were looking as good as their coach had ever witnessed. Just reaching the contest with St. Joe’s had him smiling.
“I’m happy for our kids,” Woodbridge’s coach said before the semifinals. “We got off to a slow start this year, but we’ve gotten better and better as the season’s gone on.”
The winner between Woodbridge (19-4) and St. Joe’s (18-5) will play again at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 in the GMC Championship game at Kean University against either South Brunswick High School (19-3) or East Brunswick High School (16-7).
This is the first time the GMC Tournament finals will be held at Kean. Since the 1960s, the game was played at the Rutgers Athletic Center at Rutgers University.
Woodbridge didn’t fare well against St. Joe’s on the ice, where the Falcons defeated the Barrons, 4-3, in the GMC Cup championship.
The Barrons kept things close in the tournament finale. In fact, the Barrons had a 3-2 lead in the second period before the Falcons tied things up.
Then one early goal in the final frame was enough for St. Joe’s. Woodbridge wasn’t able to connect the rest of the way, and the Falcons wrapped up their fifth GMC Cup title in a row.
Kyle Mortensen had two assists in the loss, but it was only the third time of the season the team’s leading scorer failed to land a shot in the net. Dylan Weidele, Hunter Spearnock and Anthony Pannullo did the scoring in the loss.
Woodbridge got by all of the public schools en route to the finals with the private school standout.
“Another coach and I joked that we’re playing for a public school championship,” Woodbridge’s coach, Joe Rotella, said before his team pounced on Colonia High School, 11-2, in the GMC semifinals.
Woodbridge fell early in the NJSIAA Public B tournament. The Barrons lost in the opening round to Verona High School, 7-4, Feb. 22. Woodbridge had a 4-1 lead in the contest. But after scoring four straight, Verona poured in six more goals to end Woodbridge’s playoff run.
The GMC playoffs and the season as a whole are things of the past for the girls basketball team from Woodbridge. However, the team’s coach is happy with the way the year played out.
“When we were 3-10, we could have just quit,” coach Rob Timinski said. “But we didn’t, and we turned things around.”
After the dismal 13-game start, the Barrons went on to win six of their next eight, including a GMC preliminary-round blowout over Highland Park High School, 59-25.
The team was silenced in what wound up being its final game of the year against Bishop George Ahr High School, but Woodbridge’s coach has so many more positive thoughts on his mind. He saw his team grow over the season.
The team had to overcome adversity with Jordan Vazquez, who scored 13.5 points per game as a sophomore last year, having to sit out the season with an injury. She couldn’t help on the court during games, but she tried to help as much as possible.
“[Vazquez] showed up for every practice and every game,” Woodbridge’s coach said. “She was great to have for everybody.”
Nobody was more motivated to take over as the team’s go-to player on offense than Brooke Timinski. She knocked down more than 60 3-pointers as a freshman last year, and found herself this season running the show as a sophomore — knocking down another 60 treys along the way.
“I’m incredibly proud of [Timinski],” the coach said. “So much pressure and responsibility fell on her as only a sophomore. I think this year she excelled her game because she was forced to.”
Brooke Timinski, this year’s leading scorer, and Vazquez, last year’s second-leading scorer, will run the offense together next year.
The team will be without Comfort Akinbo, who graduates in June and will play volleyball at the University of New Haven.
Najyah Adams, Yamira Bennett and Joyce Loda will be on the court with Timinski and Vazquez, though.
Coach Michael Carbone didn’t have 10 athletes representing Woodbridge in the Region 5 Wrestling Tournament at the start like he hoped for. But he did have eight of them: Alexander LaGrippo, Bryan McLaughlin, Elyas Azousi, Hunter Kiraly, Jack Quinn, Marquan Payne, Vincent Zecchino and Zackary Cottrell.
JFK Memorial High School
John F. Kennedy Memorial High School had seven wrestlers at the Region 5 tournament at Hunterdon Central Regional High School: Aaron Coleman, Christian Cardosa, Giovanni Magee, Manny Rivera, P.J. Pascalli, Sean Aston and Victor Torres.
Colonia High School
Colonia High School was represented by three wrestlers at Union High School for the Region 3 competition: Luke Pero, Paul Juran and Zach Farawell.
All first-round winners Feb. 24 will be back on the mats for the quarterfinals Feb. 26.