By Warren Rappleyea
Both South Brunswick High School’s boys and girls basketball teams turned in strong showings in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament, with the boys squad makings its way to the finals before losing to the powerful top seed, Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen.
The second-seeded Vikings more than held their own and gave the Falcons all they could handle in the championship game before falling, 56-48, Feb. 25 at Kean University. South Brunswick was down by just one point after the first quarter and its defense did a masterful job throughout the game. After three quarters, the Vikings were only down 38-33. St. Joe’s took the fourth quarter, 18-13, and with it the game.
Eric Savage, who has been a thorn in the side of opposing defenses all season long, put up 24 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, for the Vikings. Danesh Thirukumaran added nine points for South Brunswick, which was scheduled to meet 14th-seeded Hillsborough High School March 1 in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament, where South Brunswick (20-4) is the third seed.
Three of South Brunswick’s losses have come against St. Joseph (20-5). In the two previous losses, the Vikings allowed the Falcons one big quarter in each, and that proved to be the difference. This time around, the St. Joseph lead hovered around four points for most of the game.
South Brunswick’s other loss came at the hands of East Brunswick High School, the third seed in the GMC tournament, 81-68, Feb. 11. Earlier in the season, the Vikings got the better of the Bears, 57-56, thanks to a Ryan Moran 3-pointer with time winding down.
The two teams met again in the GMC semifinals Feb. 23. Fittingly, it was a see-saw game with multiple lead changes. South Brunswick clung to a small lead for most of the game, but East Brunswick went ahead, 40-39, about halfway through the final quarter.
With 90 seconds to go, Moran again hit a clutch 3-pointer — his 31st of the season — giving the Vikings a one-point lead at 46-45. Moran then hit a pair of free throw to up the difference. Savage, who averages 20.4 points to lead South Brunswick in scoring, put the game away with two free throws with six seconds remaining on the clock. Junior guard Michael Ugarte led the Vikings with 17 points.
Ugarte scored a season-high 25 points in South Brunswick’s 61-39 quarterfinals victory over Old Bridge High School. He also led the way with 19 points in a 63-58, opening-round win against Perth Amboy High School, and Savage added 18 points as the Vikings held off a furious Panthers comeback attempt.
South Brunswick’s girls, meanwhile, also fell to the GMC tournament’s top seed, Monroe Township High School, 56-48, in the semifinals Feb. 22. The fourth-seeded Lady Vikings came out flying after halftime to help turn a six-point deficit into a 33-31 lead. The teams exchanged two more lead changes before Monroe pulled away down the stretch. Amber Brown scored 24 points to lead the Lady Vikings, and Natalia Louhisdon had 17 points.
“Amber and Natalia have been doing the job for us all season,” South Brunswick coach Jeff Johnson said. “They’ve certainly had a lot of help, but they really stepped it up for the tournament. I think we’re peaking at the right time, it was just a tough loss to Monroe.”
South Brunswick previously downed Piscataway Township High School, 62-55, in the quarterfinals, as Louhisdon exploded for a season-high 25 points. Brown had 25 points in her team’s opening-round, 57-35 win over Perth Amboy.
The Lady Vikings earned the sixth seed in the Central Jersey, Group IV tournament and were slated to play 11th-seeded Edison High School (10-13) March 1.