Cardinals qualify for states

Boys basketball

By: Jim Green
   The Lawrence High School boys basketball team took care of business in their first must-win game of the season Saturday.
   Following a heartbreaking 1-point loss to Nottingham on Friday, the Cardinals came out the next day and clinched a state tournament berth by defeating Morrisville 55-49 at home. The victory evened the Cardinals’ overall record at 8-8 on the cutoff date for the tournament, qualifying Lawrence for a spot in the Central Jersey Group III section. Teams must have a .500 record at the cutoff to qualify.
   "We had a real tough loss Friday (against Nottingham)," Lawrence coach Pat Tarrant said. "The guys came back and beat a good Morrisville team on Saturday in an evenly matched game."
   Sophomore center Brett Brackett — a starter as a freshman last season, when Lawrence failed to qualify for states — willed his team into the tournament with a huge performance, scoring 26 of the Cardinals’ 55 points and dominating the paint.
   "He (Brackett) had a great game," Tarrant said.
   Senior guard John Calvo added 10 points, and junior guard Matt Stein netted nine. The Cardinals outscored Morrisville 36-29 in the second half to take control.
   "We were backed in the corner," Tarrant said of his team’s must-win situation. "We had a lot more intensity. We really came out tough. It was a good team effort."
   Tarrant felt the main difference between the Morrisville game and the Nottingham loss was the Cardinals’ play down the stretch. Against the Northstars, Lawrence was outscored 13-10 in the fourth quarter.
   "We kept our heads (against Morrisville) and did some really nice things," Tarrant said. "We made some free throws down the stretch."
   Calvo paced the Cardinals with 16 points — including two 3-pointers — against Nottingham. Brackett contributed 13, and Stein netted 10, but Lawrence was doomed by a 14-7 deficit in the second quarter and its struggles late in the fourth.
   "We had a real tough second quarter," Tarrant said. "We got control of the game in the fourth quarter, then lost it."
   The momentum the Cardinals gained by their big win over Morrisville couldn’t carry them past Notre Dame on Tuesday, however. The Cardinals, who struggled to produce offensively all night, were outscored by 13 in the second quarter on the way to a 61-31 loss to the Fighting Irish on "senior night" at LHS.
   "They (the Fighting Irish) are a very good team, and we didn’t play very well," Tarrant said. "If you don’t play very well against a team like that, that (a 30-point loss) is going to be the result.
   Senior guard Teddy Gilbert paced Lawrence with eight points, while Brackett added seven points and nine rebounds. Chris Arnao netted 13 points for the Fighting Irish, and Tiquan Underwood chipped in with 12. Lawrence fell to 8-9 overall and 4-6 in the Colonial Valley Conference, while Notre Dame improved its mark to 14-2.
   "We were maybe too excited early," Tarrant said. "We didn’t have our hard hats on. We didn’t battle. The second quarter was really rough."
   The Cardinals opened the game with a lineup consisting of their five seniors: Gilbert, Calvo, Garrett Santoro, Cordero Tolbert and Josh Green. They held their only lead of the game at 2-0 after a put-back by Gilbert less than a minute into the game. The Irish followed with a 7-0 run, opening a five-point lead midway through the opening period.
   Tarrant responded by subbing in his regular starters, and Brackett netted five quick points to keep Lawrence within six points by the end of the quarter. It all fell apart for the Cardinals in the second quarter, though, as the Fighting Irish opened the period with a 9-0 run. By halftime, Notre Dame held an insurmountable 30-11 advantage.
   "Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot," Tarrant said. "We did a few things better in the second half, but not enough collectively.
   "The second quarter, we were helter skelter. We shot too quick. We didn’t have floor balance."
• NOTES: The Cardinals were forced to put the loss to Notre Dame behind them immediately, as they faced CVC power Trenton on Wednesday. They will visit Hightstown at 7 p.m. Friday.
   The Cardinals then will begin preparing for the Mercer County Tournament. Lawrence, which drew the 10th seed, will visit seventh-seeded Pennington in the first round of the tournament at 4:15 p.m. Monday.