Rutledge leads HoVal past Allentown

Boys basketball

By: Mike Molaro
   Things didn’t start out well for the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys basketball squad after falling behind 11-7 after one quarter at home Tuesday evening.
   But the Bulldogs opened the second quarter with a 14-0 run and never looked back en route to a 67-44 domination of Colonial Valley Conference opponent Allentown. They used a 23-9 second-quarter surge to open a 30-20 lead at halftime and closed with a 21-11 fourth-quarter advantage.
   Junior center Brian Rutledge led HoVal (4-2) with a game-high 24 points, including 20 in the second half, as nine Bulldogs hit the scoring column in winning their third straight game. Junior point guard Jeff Molinelli added 12 points, freshman guard Pat Jablonski had eight, and junior guard Aksel Gungor had five.
   Rutledge also proved to be a force defensively with 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Gungor dished out seven assists and had three steals.
   Molinelli hit a pair of 3-pointers to key that 14-0 run, while Gungor and Jablonski each connected from beyond the arc during the spurt that turned things in HoVal’s favor. Jablonski also hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first half.
   "We turned things around in the second quarter," Bulldogs coach Tony Mormile said. "We started slow and started flat. We turned up the defensive pressure and that in turn opened things up for our offense.
   "We got the ball inside to Rutledge. He dominated the second half. He came out of the game with four minutes remaining."
   Molinelli scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds in last Saturday’s 54-38 triumph over Hunterdon Central in the first game at the new Dawg Pound.
   Senior forward Sathish Naadimuthu added eight points, and Gungor and Rutledge chipped in with five points apiece.
   "Hunterdon Central defeated Ewing in the finals of their Christmas Tournament, so this was a big win for us over a Group 4 school," Mormile said.
   One of the keys to HoVal’s three-game winning streak has been its defensive intensity. After losing to Pemberton in the opening round of the Hammonton Holiday Tournament, the Bulldogs have surrendered 50, 38, and 44 points.
   "We have played better defense since giving up 72 points against Pemberton," Mormile said. "Molinelli and (senior forward) Keith Balerno have given us great perimeter play. Rutledge has given us good defense inside and (junior forward) Dave Coville has played good defense."
   The pieces look like they are starting to fit together as HoVal wants to put together a solid streak to challenge for the CVC Patriot Division title and crank it up for a deep run in the state tournament.
   There’s still some work to do, though, before the Bulldogs are where they want to be.
   "We are still not the final product," Mormile said. "We are definitely heading in the right direction. We are getting good defense and Rutledge scoring those 24 points against Allentown was great to see. We are getting nine guys who play consistently and getting balanced scoring.
   "We don’t rely on just one player to get the job done for us. Some games it’s Jeff (Molinelli). Sometimes it’s Brendan (Rutledge) and sometimes it’s been Sathish (Naadimuthu) and Aksel (Gungor). That makes it very difficult for teams to key on one player."
   With their size and depth, these Bulldogs have the potential to be one of the area’s better teams come state tournament time.
• NOTES: HoVal visits West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Friday and travels to Notre Dame next Tuesday.
   "South is just as big as we are," Mormile said. "It’ll be strength vs. strength. These games are the beginning of a tough stretch for us."
   In the second-ever Bulldog alumni game last Saturday, the Black team defeated the White team 68-58. A pair of 1,000-point career scorers, Chris Kelly (Class of 1978) and Matt Katz (Class of 2001), were the leading scorers. The Black team was coached by former HoVal varsity and Middle School coach Jack Wolff, while the White team was coached by current Bulldog golf coach and former varsity basketball coach Skip Johnson.
   "We had 20 alumni participate," Mormile said. "We were very happy with the turnout."