By Bob Nuse
Kris Grundy knows there is no secret to success when it comes to the state basketball tournament.
“Whether it’s Chris Raba from Nottingham, Shelly (Dearden) from Ewing or Jim Baglin (highly successful coach who has since retired at Mendham High), everyone says in order to win at tournament time, you need seniors and I have 11 great ones,” Grundy said after his Montgomery High boys’ basketball team shook off a sluggish first half to defeat Middletown South, 57-33, in the quarterfinals of the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament.
Joe Elicone and Kevin Fromelt led a balanced scoring effort with 12 points each as the fourth-seeded Cougars advanced to take on top-seeded Trenton in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state semifinals. The game will be played Friday at 5:30 at Riviera Elementary School in Trenton. Rohan Prakash and Riley Greene each scored 11 points in the win.
Montgomery led just 23-16 at halftime before outscoring the Eagles, 34-16 in the second half to pull away for the win as the Cougars improved to 20-6 on the season.
“We knew that we just had to focus on our defense and keep playing as a team and execute the game plan,” senior guard Kevin Fromelt said. “We have been playing together since the third grade so we know where each other is going to be and we have built a really good chemistry.
“We’re definitely returning a lot of experience. We’ve seen everything.”
Montgomery opened the state sectional tournament with a 79-62 victory over Marlboro in the opening round. Rohan Prakash led four players in double-figures with 22 points in the victory. Riley Greene and Kyle Howard scored 14 points apiece, while Chris Rubayo connected for 12. The Cougars seemed to have shaken off any hangover after suffering a tough loss to Bound Brook in the Somerset County Tournament quarterfinals.
“At the time I was pretty low after that loss,” Grundy admitted. “We worked so hard. We did what nobody though we could do winning the (Skyland Conference Raritan Division) by beating Rutgers Prep twice, including at their place to clinch the conference. I think after that game it was an emotional letdown.
“For a considerable amount of time we hadn’t played well and Bound Brook came in here and went opposite of everything we had seen and beat us. We had a snow day the next day and that gave us a day for everyone to clear their head. We came back and had four really good practices where we got back to fundamentals on defense and zone offense.”
Now the Cougars have their swagger back and have made a return to the Central Jersey, Group 4 state semifinals. A year ago they were eliminated from the state tournament with a loss to Colts Neck.
“We’re more confident in our abilities and we just have to stick to the basics and not over-complicate everything,” Fromelt said. “The conference run was amazing. Losing early in the counties could have been the best thing for us. We had a couple days to regroup and get back to the basics and hopefully now we can make a good stat tournament run. All those years of hard work are starting to pay off.”
Grundy knows this senior group is special and he’d like they to come out of the season with a sectional title. They already have a conference title under their belts and they are hoping for more. While the rest of their classmates are in Florida for the Senior Trip, this group of seniors is making a title run.
“They are not in Florida right now,” Grundy said of his seniors. “The rest of their classmates are in Florida and these guys are here because they want to be. They are committed to something bigger than basketball. They are committed to this program.”
The third-seeded Montgomery girls also advanced to the Central Jersey, Group 4 semifinals, where they will play at second-seeded Marlboro. Kate Heidt and Bria Johnson scored 10 points each in a 47-39 victory over East Brunswick in the state quarterfinals on Wednesday. Montgomery improved to 18-6 with the victory.
Montgomery had opened the tournament with a 52-31 decision over West-Windsor Plainsboro North. Carolyn Prevost scored 10 points for the Cougars in the victory.