Colts’ unlikely run ends in Non-Public A final

CBA makes its case as the state’s most improved team


Staff Writer

JEFFGRANIT staff CBA's Derek Becker tries to score over Seton Hall's Ralph Jones  during the Colts' Group A final loss on Saturday in Toms River.JEFFGRANIT staff CBA’s Derek Becker tries to score over Seton Hall’s Ralph Jones during the Colts’ Group A final loss on Saturday in Toms River. For those who saw this season’s CBA basketball team early in the year, a trip back to the group final for the Colts hardly seemed plausible.

CBA looked like a team suffering from some kind of post-Dan Werner syndrome, as they struggled to find any continuity in their offense, and basically looked anything like what we’ve come to expect from a team coach by Ed Wicelinski on both ends of the floor.

That only makes what the Colts accomplished the rest of the way that much more remarkable.

Simply put, by season’s end, the Colts had regained their status as one of the state’s elite teams, reaching the NJSIAA’s Non-Public Group A final on Saturday before falling to (who else?) unbeaten Seton Hall Prep, 56-45.

It marked the third straight year in which the Pirates have beaten CBA in the group final, and the second time this year, with SHP knocking off the Colts, 51-43, at the Piggly Wiggle Roundball Classic championship game in South Carolina in December.

The Colts’ performance on Saturday resembled a microcosm of their season. They fell behind early, as the 30-0 Pirates raced out of the gates to 19-8 lead after the first quarter. Led by junior guard Ashton Gibbs (19 points), Seton Hall looked poised to post a lop-sided score on a Colt team that didn’t appear to have the firepower to match the North A champs.

But like they did after a slow start to their season, the Colts started to jell in the second quarter, as their defensive intensity and ability to throw different looks at the Pirates changed the momentum. Led by Justin Schwartz’s eight points and Mike Kuhn’s five, CBA stormed back and managed to cut the lead to 31-25 going into halftime.

The Pirates then got the better of play in the third quarter (thanks mostly to the cold shooting of the Colts, who were 16-for-44 for the game, and just 3-for 17 from behind the arc), and built the lead back to double-digits, 45-35.

However, the end of the third quarter gave the Colts’ another spark. With just over a minute left in the quarter, Schwartz (17 points) sparked a 12-2 CBA run carried over into the fourth, and cut what was a 14-point Seton Hall lead to just four. Schwartz scored eight points during the run, and for the first time, CBA seemed poised to make a run at upsetting the team that has been its nemesis (they’re 0-7 against SHP all-time).

That’s when Gibbs took matters into his own hands again, nailing a clutch three-pointer, before the Pirates were able to hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the win, and earn another trip to this week’s Tournament of Champions.

With the loss, the Colts’ season came to an end. It may not have been their greatest season in terms of championships won, but Wicelinski has repeatedly called this year’s squad “a special group.”

This was not the most talented CBA team we’ve seen. But they played as hard, and overcame as much adversity, as just about any team the Lincroft school has produced in its storied history.

Early in the year, spectators watching CBA play may have found themselves scratching their heads, asking themselves, “This is CBA?”

By the end of the year, once the Colts had found the recipe needed to resemble what we’ve come to expect from the Shore’s top program – championship-caliber basketball – those same fans had changed their tune, saying self assuredly, “ This is CBA.”