MHS boys unable to sustain momentum

Weary team drops three straight

By: Shawn Tyrrell
   The Manville High boys’ basketball team, fresh from its first win of the season over South Hunterdon, was looking to build off the victory and try to turn things around.
   It wasn’t to be, as games against Bound Brook, New Providence and Roselle Park all ended in defeats. The Mustangs lost 51-46 to the Crusaders, 64-45 to the Pioneers, and were crushed 82-40 by the Panthers Friday night. Obviously, this is not the way the Manville coaching staff and the players expected things to go.
   The loss to Roselle Park was the most disturbing as the points allowed by MHS defense were tops on the season, and with the Manville team record standing at 1-9 entering this week’s play, one has to wonder if things are starting to slip away.
   Head coach Larry Blasi was disappointed after Friday’s loss, but vowed the Mustangs would keep trying.
   "We had a chance to win especially against Bound Brook," Blasi said. "We had just played well against South Hunterdon and I felt that coming in we would have some momentum from the previous game. But with several players on the team sick, we just didn’t make the open shots when needed and it cost us."
   Manville had opportunities, especially against the Crusaders. MHS managed to pull within one point with a little over four minutes to go in the game but three turnovers with over a minute to go squashed any chance for the win.
   "We missed too many open shots and our shot selection was pretty bad," said junior guard Mike Knitowski, who came up with 13 points in the loss to Bound Brook. "We played a triangle and two defense on both Willie Smith (only nine points) and Julio Rodriguez (only one point) and we were able to keep them contained. But when we needed the shots they wouldn’t fall."
   In the second half vs. the Crusaders, Manville only had seven turnovers, but three of those came in the final minute of play. Anthony Palovick turned in his best game of the season pouring in 16 points, while Kyle Sopko continued his improved play chipping in with 10 points.
   After the tough loss to Bound Brook, the Mustangs hosted the Pioneers of New Providence. After one quarter of play the game was pretty much decided. Behind the shooting and play of junior guard Steve Siracusa (18 points), the Pioneers outscored the Mustangs 26-6 and never were threatened.
   "They were the best team we played all year even though their record (5-3) didn’t show it," Blasi said. "They were a very physical team, and after we go down big early we tried a lot of different things, and played better the final three quarters. That one quarter really hurt us."
   Manville was forced to play without Palovick, who missed the game because of personal reasons (death in family), but Sopko (16 points) and Knitowski (8 points) tried to keep MHS in the game.
   The final game of the week pitted the Mustangs against Roselle Park and when the dust had settled it was all Panthers. Three Panthers were in double figures, while Knitowski had another big game scoring 17 points and three 3-pointers.
   "Roselle Park came out and took it to us," Blasi said. "We really struggled in the second quarter when we managed just 1-for-11 on shooting. When down that much, it is tough to come back."
   Friday’s loss marked the end of a tough week.
   "The kids may have been out of gas because of the majority of them being sick," Blasi said. "Again, our shots were not falling. It was the first time all year as a team we weren’t able to rise to the occasion and come back."
   The team will try to regroup and salvage something the second half of the season. The Mustangs still need to cut down on turnovers and improve the shooting percentage that is hovering under 30 percent. Also, Manville needs everyone on the team to contribute in scoring and under the boards. Only time will tell the squad can put it all together.
   "I told the kids to get healthy and refocus and we will try to do the best we can," Blasi said.