TCA’s Quasshawn Lane looks to pass the ball March 6 during the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B championship game against Ranney at Jackson-Liberty High School. John Blaine photos

TCA’s Quasshawn Lane looks to pass the ball March 6 during the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B championship game against Ranney at Jackson-Liberty High School. John Blaine photos

By Rich Fisher | Correspondent

Fred Falchi looked over at the Ranney bench and knew the Panthers had two of the most sought-after juniors in the country in Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine. It would take a perfect effort by his Trenton Catholic Academy boys basketball team to stop them.

Then again, even that may not have worked, as the dynamic junior duo combined for 50 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists and five steals as the top-seeded school from Tinton Falls defeated 5th-seeded TCA, 71-56, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B championship game at Jackson-Liberty High School Mar. 6.

Photo Gallery:  TCA v. Ranney

The Iron Mikes (20-10) of Hamilton Township defeated fourth-seeded St. Joe’s of Hammonton and top-seeded Wildwood Catholic on the road to reach the final, but the 2nd-seeded Panthers proved too much with Lewis and Antoine, who are being recruited by all the heavy hitters, including Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova and Kentucky.

It was still a strong post-season for the Mikes, who were never able to play with their full team this year. Najee Wright and Dominque Massenat were injured to start the season. Massenat came back midway through, and Wright came in near the end of the regular season. Transfer Peter Sorber had to sit out 30 days after transferring; but once he suited up, he suffered a knee injury and missed the post-season.

Yet the Mikes still managed to reach the finals of the Mercer County and South Jersey tournaments. While Falchi lauded Ranney’s effort, he felt his team did not have its best game. 

“You get to the final, that’s good,” he said. “I just wish we played better. But just the things we’ve been doing recently, we just didn’t execute. We didn’t grind on offense.”

That was Falchi’s biggest concern. He was happy with his team’s defensive effort in the first half. TCA trailed 14-9 after one quarter and 27-19 at the half and was still in the game. But the Mikes shot just 7-for-19 from the field during that time.

“In the first half, our defense was decent,” Falchi said. “But on offense, they broke us down where we just kept taking bad shots. Regardless of who you play, you have to take good shots.

“They’re a good defensive team,” he continued. “They want you to shoot quick, and then they want to get out and run. They’re excellent at it. You have to try and out-work their defense.”

When faced with defending two blue-chippers like Lewis and Antoine, Falchi said it’s just like any other foe – the defender needs to play basic basketball and keep the man in front of him. But with so many missed shots by the Mikes, Ranney was able to rebound and fast break, allowing Antoine to run and slam dunk his way to 16 first-half points.

“They’re two phenomenal players,” the coach said. “In the first half, we kind of contained them.”

But in the second half, Lewis scored the first six points in the third quarter to make it 35-19 and the Panthers put on show time for the rest of the game with thunderous slams, several on long alley-oop passes that energized the crowd.

“They’re excellent,” Falchi said. “You could tell they play together. They knew exactly where everybody was on the court. When you get to this level, that’s what you’re gonna face.”

It wasn’t as if TCA didn’t prepare, as Falchi scheduled a slew of state ranked teams within a two-week span to harden his squad. Many of them were close losses, but when a program reaches the level of TCA, moral victories don’t have the same impact as real ones.

“We play the games to win,” Falchi said. “We don’t play a good schedule just to put the names on it. I tell my kids every year if we can run the table, we’ll be nationally ranked. We’ve only won everything one time in 20 years since I’ve been here. But when I stop looking at it that way, I’ve gotta pack it in.”

Three Mikes packing in their high school careers are talented seniors Quashawn Lane, Latrell Reid and Donovan Ryland. Ryland and Lane have been with Falchi for four years.

“They’re good kids,” he said. “Great kids, great leaders, great students.”

Junior Khalif Battle, who had a strong season after missing all of last year to injury, had 18 points, sophomore EJ Evans tallied 14 and Lane had 10.