Holmdel boys basketball team opens 2021 hoop season with win


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It was a strange feeling for Holmdel High School boys basketball coach Sean Devaney when his squad entered the school’s gymnasium for warmups before its 2021 season opener against visiting Colts Neck High School on Jan. 27.

It was weird for Devaney not to hear the sounds of the family members, friends and students who normally come out to cheer on the Hornets. Protocols in place during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic do not permit fans to attend indoor sports.

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But even with all the changes brought on by the pandemic, it was a regular game for Devaney and his players once the action began. A 17-4 run to begin the contest led the Hornets to a 74-41 victory over the visiting Cougars.

“It was really important to get off to a good start and build some confidence,” Devaney said. “After a pretty good season last year, our expectations were pretty high. We lost a lot of guys, but I’ve said before that (this year’s players) want to establish their own identity. It’s a new team. It’s a different team, but we are hoping to play the same way. We all have to play together.”

Senior Alex Baker led the way for the Hornets, who had four players in double figures. The only returning starter from the 2019-20 squad that went 23-5 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 championship game, Baker continued to display his prowess on the court after averaging 12.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last winter.

Baker knocked in a game-high 23 points against Colts Neck, including 10 points in the second quarter.

“It felt amazing to be out there and playing with my teammates,” Baker said. “Colts Neck coming out in the zone gave us a little trouble at first, but we kept working. This is a really good start to the season.”

Senior Anthony Pesce tipped in a missed shot in the final seconds of the second quarter to give Holmdel a 44-26 lead at halftime.

The Hornets came out firing in the third quarter and extended their lead to 53-26 after three minutes when Baker fired a perfect cross-court pass to Nick Spada, who connected on one of Holmdel’s five three-point field goals.

Holmdel began the third quarter on an 11-0 run.

Senior Ryan Bradley scored 13 points and freshman James Vallillo scored 12 points for Holmdel. Bradley scored nine points in the first quarter to get the Hornets off to a hot start, while Vallillo capped the victory as he scored eight points in the fourth quarter.

Senior Kyle Polivka scored 14 points in his first start for Holmdel.

“You want to take things one game at a time because you don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID-19 and when your last game could be,” Bradley said. “For what we have been through, it’s just great to be out there playing again. It was great being with the team again.”

Getting the first game out of the way wa a “big sigh of relief” in Devaney’s eyes.

“We are going to keep playing for as long as we can,” the coach said. “For us, it’s trying to improve every day. We have made some strides, but there are still things we need to work on.”

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