Great season puts Middletown South boys’ basketball program back on the map

Middletown High School South boys' basketball player Mike Dabas drives to the basket during the team's game against South Brunswick High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament on March 7. Middletown South lost to South Brunswick, 66-55.

It was just four years ago when the Middletown High School South boys’ basketball team finished the season 2-23 and sat at the bottom of the Shore Conference.

Fast forward four years later.

Middletown South is one of the top teams in the Shore Conference and came into its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional semifinal on March 7 against fourth-seeded South Brunswick High School as the No. 1 seed with a record of 26-2.

“We’ve turned things around for Middletown South,”  Middletown South coach Jim Anderson said. “One of our goals when I took over was to get back to being a perennial Top 10 team in the Shore Conference. We knew that eventually when this group got it together that they could be solid and they were.”

The building blocks for Middletown South’s success were built the last two years with winning seasons and trips to the quarterfinals of both the state sectional tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament.

Returning four starters and its top five scorers from last year’s squad, Middletown South knew it had a team capable of doing something special this winter and made it a season to remember down in the Swamp.

The Eagles were fun to watch, soaring to a A-North Division title with a perfect 14-0 record in division play and headed into the Shore Conference Tournament on a stellar 19-game winning streak.

Middletown South’s strong backcourt lived up to its hype as junior Luke Albrecht and seniors James Anderson and Jack Sheridan all had great seasons this winter. James Anderson is the son of the coach.

Anderson was dynamite from behind the arc, topping his 86 three-pointers made from last season with 96 knockdowns from three this winter.

The senior led the Eagles in scoring by averaging just under 18 points a game.

Albrecht was the team’s lead dog in assists with 135 dimes, doing a great job running the point and driving to the basket. Sheridan had another all-round great season for Middletown South and was a great leader on the court.

Senior guard Richie Boyko made his presence felt defensively coming off the bench for the Eagles, leading the team in steals and was second on the team in assists.

Middletown South got big time production from its frontcourt of Mike Dabas and Bobby Pirie, who both had stellar senior seasons.

Dabas was the squad’s second leading scorer, knocking home over 13 points a contest and averaged over seven rebounds a game this winter.

Pirie racked up just under 13 points a contest, while leading the team in rebounds with just under eight boards a game.

“It’s a great unique group of kids,” Coach Anderson said. “We had a top-six that meshed really well together. They’re friends and get along with each other. They get along with the coaches. They’re a joy to coach.”

The Eagles came into the Shore Conference Tournament at 22-1 on the season and as the No. 2 seed.

Middletown South was the victim of a conference tournament upset, falling to Mater Dei Prep, 57-55, in the second round.

After seeing its shot at a conference title go down, Middletown South rebounded and turned its attention to winning the program’s first sectional title since the 2007-2008 season.

The Eagles made their presence felt in the first two rounds of the tournament, rolling to a 91-60 victory over Howell High School in the first round on March 3 and then topping Manalapan, 76-63, in the quarterfinals on March 5.

Middletown South’s mojo looked to be back in high gear, but unfortunately for the Eagles, a great season in the Swamp came to an end in the state sectional semifinals against South Brunswick.

Despite coming back from a 40-33 deficit in the third quarter to tie things up at 47-47 going into the fourth quarter, the Eagles were unable to slow down the Vikings in the final eight minutes of the contest.

South Brunswick outscored Middletown South, 19-8, in the final quarter of the play to pull off the upset and defeat the Eagles, 66-55.

Pirie recorded a team-high 19 points and had 11 rebounds in the contest for Middletown South, while Anderson finished with 11 points.

Dabas stacked up a double-double in the season-ending loss with 10 points and 10 boards.

A tremendous season coming to a sudden end, Anderson made sure to tell his players in the locker room after the loss to South Brunswick that one game doesn’t take away what this group has done for the Middletown South boys’ basketball program.

“In the finality of it all, this was a two-win program four years ago to now winning 26 games,” Coach Anderson said. “Getting through that whole grind of going 14-0 in A-North, sweeping Christian Brothers Academy and winning an outright division title, was huge for us. I think we got that type of mojo going and confidence going forward that we’re going to be a tough team to play against.”

Middletown South finished the season with a 26-3 record.

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports