Boys team beaten by Cardinals

Boys basketball

By: Mike Molaro
   What a difference 10 days can make for the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys basketball squad.
   After defeating West Windsor-Plainsboro South 52-51 on Jan. 9, the Bulldogs were 5-2 and battling Ewing for first place in the Patriot Division of the Colonial Valley Conference.
   After losing a gut-wrenching 47-43 decision to Lawrence at the Dawg Pound Tuesday evening, HoVal finds itself with a 5-6 record (2-4 in the CVC) and trying to reverse a four-game losing streak.
   It’s imperative for the Bulldogs to get back on track if they want to have the necessary .500 record by the Feb. 7 cutoff date to qualify for the state tournament.
   "We were playing well up until the Notre Dame loss (50-49 in overtime on Jan. 13)," HoVal coach Tony Mormile said. "We have taken a step back. We are lacking in concentration right now. We are not getting the big plays.
   "In our last win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South, we had two guys make big plays for us. That’s not happening right now. We are struggling, and we are getting frustrated. We need to start doing the things that we were doing well early in the year."
   Against the Cardinals, junior guard Jeff Molinelli led the Bulldogs with 12 points, senior forward Sathish Naadimuthu added 12, and junior center Brendan Rutledge had 10. John Calvo topped Lawrence with 23 points, including five 3-pointers. HoVal led 18-17 at halftime.
   "We had chances to take control of the game but didn’t," Mormile said. "We missed some shots. Lawrence figured out how to attack our defense better in the second half.
   "We didn’t build the lead we needed earlier in the game. We did a decent job of executing our plays but not scoring. Nobody is making big plays for us. Calvo made the big plays and hit the big shots for them. We couldn’t make simple shots."
   In a 65-45 loss at Moorestown last Saturday, the Bulldogs held a 10-3 lead before the home team went on a 27-4 run, including an 18-2 blitz in the second quarter, to take a 31-14 halftime lead.
   Rutledge had a game-high 19 points, junior guard Aksel Gungor scored 12, and junior center Andrew Brown contributed a career-high 10 points.
   "We struggled against their half-court trap," Mormile said. "We usually have success against that defense. We scheduled this game to see how well we stack up outside the CVC.
   "Moorestown is a solid team. Some teams schedule their outside games with easy teams to pad their record. We played Moorestown to see where we are and also to get better."
   Rutledge led the Bulldogs with 20 points in last Friday’s 62-47 setback at Steinert.
   "Steinert came out on fire," Mormile said after the Spartans opened a 17-10 first-quarter lead that increased to 36-22 at halftime. "Steinert hit 55 percent from the field. Not all those shots were lay-ups. They were hot from the outside."
   As they prepare for Friday’s game at Hightstown and next Tuesday’s home contest against Nottingham, the Bulldogs know that the state tournament berth that once seemed like a lock is now slipping away.
   "We need to win four of our next seven games to qualify for the states," Mormile said. "Last week, we were 5-2 and looking to get a good seed in the CJ III bracket. Now, it will be a fight just to qualify.
   "The bottom line is we need to put some wins together. We have to turn things around quickly. It shouldn’t have come to this, but it has."
   Although they’ve played about half of their schedule, the season for the Bulldogs comes down to seven games.