Jaguars look to keep progressing with several returnees on court


By Wayne Witkowski

Jackson Memorial High School’s boys’ basketball team starts five seniors — four with experience as starters — as the Jaguars look to continue their upswing under third-year coach Kevin McQuade.

Calvin Blue runs the three-guard offense at the point with John Pitlak and Ryan Lucas as shooting guards.

Power forward Chris Hawryluk is the lone graduate and is off to a college baseball career at Monmouth University.

Andrew Trent, a 6-foot-5 forward, averaged 14 points a game last season as a second team Shore Conference A South Division selection.

Jackson Memorial ended an 11-12 season last year with a loss to Eastern Regional High School in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament. The team had won seven games the previous season.

Nick Barba, a 6-foot-6 forward, was a spot starter last season that the Jaguars highlighted with a 48-46 victory over Brick Memorial High School, as Hawryluk hit the winning basket at the buzzer and Trent scored 12 points.

“This year, Trent is a lot more consistent with his work ethic, and that will help him,” McQuade said. “I feel we’re headed in the right direction. As long as we stay together and motivated, we will be competitive, especially by the end of the year.”

Jackson Memorial dropped its opener, 59-56, Dec. 18 to Point Pleasant Borough High School in the WOBM Classic.

The Jaguars then lost, 58-49, Dec. 19 in their A South opener to Brick Township High School. Barba scored 17 points and Pitlak sank 12, as he is off to a solid start after being slowed by injury last season.

The Jaguars looked to bounce back Dec. 22 against Toms River High School South in their final game before the holiday break.

Trent scored 15 points and Barba added 10 when the Jaguars won their first game of the season, 50-37, in A South. Pitlak scored nine points, and Jackson Memorial broke open a 21-15 lead at halftime with a 19-9 third quarter.

Lucas will make his best contributions on the defensive end, said McQuade, and has been capable of hitting the outside shot.

“He dedicated himself to the weight room and with his physical strength, we’ve asked him to be a defender on the other team’s strong offensive player,” McQuade said.

McQuade said the team has shown good cohesiveness with all five players on the floor capable of scoring, as shown in the loss to Point Pleasant Borough where four players were in double figures, led by Blue and Lucas with 13 each. Barba scored 12 and Trent pitched in 10 in the loss.

“They’re starting to realize what they can accomplish by doing it as a whole and when that happens, they’ll have the statistics they want to have,” McQuade said.

While the starters are all seniors, the bench is all juniors. Alex Cabrera, a 6-foot-2 forward up from the junior varsity team who saw a little playing time on varsity last season, will be the first substitute coming off the bench.

“With his play off the glass and boxing out [for rebounds], he gives us a lot of energy coming off the bench,” McQuade said. “He’s really pushing for more [playing] time.”

Sean Klag is a strong 6-foot-1 forward. The backup guards are A.J. Tolmachewich, Gerard Parella and Mike Dimino, who can play the point.

“We can compete in the division, where we were 7-7 last season, but we have to go one game at a time,” McQuade said.

After the holiday break, Jackson Memorial plays Jan. 2 at Donovan Catholic High School and then hosts crosstown rival Jackson Liberty High School at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 3. Jackson Memorial then has a Jan. 5 showdown at preseason division favorite Toms River High School North. Had Jackson Memorial won its WOBM opener against Point Pleasant Borough, it would have played Toms River North in the next round.