St. Rose boys basketball seeks redemption, returning to state final with dominating effort (2024)

Stephen EdelsonAsbury Park Press

MEDFORD – It was St. Rose's version of Showtime as the fourth quarter played out during Monday’s NJSIAA South Non-Public B championship game.

It started with a soaring dunk by Matt Hodge in transition. Moments later it was Evan Romano flipping one off the backboard on the fast break that Hodge dunked, before Hodge returned the favor, making a steal and banking the ball off the backboard for Romano to finish.

It was the final sequence for the St. Rose starters, pushing the nationally ranked Purple Roses to an 82-40 victory over Bishop Eustace at Lenape High School.

It was the latest exclamation point in what has already been a magical season for St Rose (28-2), now one win away from the ultimate goal. After losing last year’s Non-Public B final to Roselle Catholic, the Purple Roses return to the state final, looking for their first state championship since 1977. They’ll face Montclair Immaculate, a 72-70 winner over Morris Catholic in the North Non-Public B final, on Friday at 7 p.m. at Jersey Mike's Arena in Piscataway.

“It’s huge for us,” said St. Rose coach Brian Lynch. “A lot of guys were hurting in that locker room. We were so close. We had a chance to do something really special and we were unable to do it. That adversity made us stronger and Friday I think if they have this kind of resolve and focus they have a good chance to do something special. This was the goal from the beginning of the year. We made that clear. We never sugar-coated anything.”

Hodge, the 6-8 Villanova-bound forward, led the way with 26 points, while his brother, sophom*ore guard Jayden Hodge, added 12 points. Junior guard Bryan Ebeling scored all nine of his points in the first quarter, as St. Rose jumped out to a 22-6 lead and was never challenged.

“This team has struck together and worked hard to get back to this point,” said Matt Hodge.

More: Stunning rise of Shore school nets first state basketball championship in 51 years

“It’s a lot of different feeling. We were so happy at the end to win this sectional and we want to know how it feels to win the next one,” Ebeling said.

Another dominating performance

Like so many St. Rose games this year, this one was over almost before it started, as Ebeling and Romano drained long 3-pointers to open the scoring. Except this wasn’t some mid-January Shore Conference divisional game. This was a state semifinal for New Jersey’s top small private schools, and the Purple Roses led by as many as 32 points in the second half.

More: Epic comeback lifts Manasquan boys basketball to 5th straight title: 'Something in the water'

“One of the things our guys have been doing really well is not taking anything for granted,” said Lynch, who referenced Paul VI knocking off defending Non-Public A champion Union Catholic in the first game so Monday’s double-header at Lenape.

“I felt like it because this group was locked in from the start and I was really happy to see that because when you get to this point of the season you don’t have anymore room for slip-ups.”

While there were plenty of offensive fireworks, the St. Rose defense was every bit as important. Bishop Eustace, which upset Gloucester Catholic in the semifinals, had just one player in double figures, barely, as Braydon Killeen scored 10 points.

While Ebeling has been a defensive stalwart for St. Rose, it was his offensive prowess that sparked the early rally as the Purple Roses’ top scorers were still getting untracked.

St. Rose led 37-17 at halftime, and after Bishop Eustace cut the lead to 16 points, St. Rose pulled away again, going up 55-33 entering the fourth quarter.

It was just 10 days ago that St. Rose won its first Shore Conference Tournament title, with a second straight sectional title adding to the historic nature of this team, which is one win away from capping off a season for the ages.

PREGAME

St. Rose boys basketball seeks a historic state title. Preview, pick vs Bishop Eustace

While it’s already been an historic season for St. Rose, with the Purple Roses winning the Shore Conference Tournament boys basketball for the first time, the ultimate goal is the school’s first NJSIAA Non-Public B championship since 1977.

To get it they need two more wins, beginning with Monday’s South Non-Public B final against Gloucester Catholic, with tipoff at Lenape High School set for 7 p.m. The winner advances to the state final on Friday at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway at 7 p.m., taking on the winner of Monday’s North final between Morris Catholic and Montclair Immaculate. St. Rose lost to Roselle Catholic in last year’s state final.

St. Rose will try to become the fourth Shore area school to win a sectional title this year, joining Freehold Borough (Central Group 3), Manasquan (Central Group 2) and College Achieve Asbury Park (Central Group 1).

No. 1 St. Rose (27-2)

It’s had the feel of one of the greatest seasons every by a Jersey Shore program right from the start. Their only losses have come against the Patrick School in the season opener and Montverde (Fla.), the top team in the country, at the Metro Classic on Feb. 3. The one team that was able to push them during the regular season was St. Benedict’s, with the Essex County champs taking them to double overtime at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase. Every other game has been a win by double-digits, and usually by 30 or 40 points.

Matt Hodge, St. Rose’s 6-8 do-it-all forward, is the one player no one has a matchup for. The Villanova commit can get to the rim or dish to an open teammate, or drain a 3-pointer. And his commitment at the other end of the court, teaming with 6-5 senior forward Gio Panzini to provide strong interior defense, makes it tough to get second-chance points. Panzini had a double-double, with 13 points and 14 rebounds, in the semifinals against Holy Cross Prep. Hodge’s brother, 6-5 sophom*ore guard Jayden Hodge, who has a handful of high-major offers already, had 19 points and 10 rebounds in their win over Manasquan in the SCT final. Junior guard Evan Romano had 25 against Freehold Borough in the SCT Round-of-16, and is tough to stop in the open court, while junior guard Bryan Ebeling is a glue guy who does everything well. And sophom*ore guard Tyler Cameron and 6-5 freshman forward Avery Lynch provide a boost off the bench.

If St. Rose can push the pace they’ll have a chance to distance themselves early. But the Purple Roses have shown an ability to survive a slugfest as well.

No. 3 Bishop Eustace (13-16)

Bishop Eustace took down second seeded Gloucester Catholic, 40-35, in the other semifinal, setting up a rematch of last year’s final, a game St. Rose won, 59-43, behind 20 points from Matt Hodge and 13 from Ebeling.

The Crusaders reside in the Olympic Conference’s National Division alongside Camden, the Group 2 favorite, Paul VI, in Monday’s South Non-Public A final, Camden Eastside and Camden Catholic. Few teams could come through that gauntlet unscathed. And Bishop Eustace is not going to be in awe of the Purple Roses, even if they don’t have as much talent.

Junior Tommy Semiraglio is a 6-2 guard capable of putting up big numbers. He had 33 points in the quarterfinals against Trenton Catholic, and 21 in a loss to Camden three games ago. He’s averaging 14.6 pg., and had 12 against St. Rose last year. Dillon Adomanis, a 6-6 sophom*ore forward, had 23 against Camden, and averages 12.3 points, while junior Ian Glassmaher, a 6-3 wing, had 10 points against St. Rose last year. Junior guard Braydon Killeen had nine points and four assists against Gloucester Catholic, as the Crusaders closed that game with a 10-0 run.

Prediction

St. Rose 72, Bishop Eustace 55

St. Rose boys basketball seeks redemption, returning to state final with dominating effort (2024)
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