Keyport depending on young players to step up for girls’ hoops team

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By Matthew Rocco

The Keyport High School girls’ basketball team was the last squad standing in the Roselle Park Holiday Tournament, as the young Red Raiders take another step forward.

Keyport recorded a 15-win season a year ago with just two seniors on the varsity roster. This season, the Lady Raiders again have two seniors playing varsity, and only one, captain Alexis Bennett, is in starting five.

The Red Raiders may be short on veteran players, but they can count on a talented group of underclassmen who have quickly taken leading roles on the court.

“The team had a year of experience last season to create chemistry on the court,” head coach Deboney Braithwaite said, adding that her team participated in a summer program for conditioning and weight training. “They are motivated to do better than last year.”

Sophomore guard Shannan Devlin has emerged as a major threat on offense, scoring 20 points to lead Keyport to a 62-33 rout of Roselle Park High School in the finals of the holiday tournament.

Gianna Piccini has continued to shine after playing a key role on offense as a freshman last season. She contributed eight points and five rebounds against Roselle Park. Fellow sophomore Alexis Breen added nine points and a pair of assists.

While the offense is gaining steam, defense is Keyport’s specialty.

“Team defense is going to be our strength, and it’s how we produce a lot of our offense. What we don’t have in size, we make up with effort,” Braithwaite said. “Our offensive chemistry is something we need to work on. It has come a long way, but we could use a little bit of improvement.”

The Red Raiders are looking for their upperclassmen to lead the way, as the team fights for wins in a tough Shore Conference Class B Central Division that includes conference powerhouse St. Rose High School. In their first meeting of the season, St. Rose beat Keyport, 86-14.

In addition to Bennett, juniors Marlana Dant, Hannah Thompson and Sage Hunt bring experience to the court.

“Having a little bit of experience is helpful. To have Alexis, she knows what the expectations are for the Lady Raiders program. It’s definitely something you can’t put a dollar sign on. It’s vital,” Braithwaite said.

Keyport (3-2) will traveled to Barnegat High School Jan. 4. The Red Raiders are scheduled to return home Jan. 6 to face Keansburg High School. Game time is 5:15 p.m.