Vikings, Raiders gear up for GMC hoops tournament

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By Warren Rappleyea

South Brunswick High School’s boys’ basketball team earned the No. 2 seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament (GMC), while the Lady Vikings were named the third seed in the GMC’s girls’ tournament.

South Brunswick’s boys sport an 18-3 mark and are slated to host the winner of the Feb. 14 preliminary-round game between Perth Amboy High School and Timothy Christian School.

Two of South Brunswick’s losses came against Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen. The two teams met in last season’s GMC finale, with the Falcons prevailing, 56-48. In their last meeting Feb. 4, St. Joseph held off a Vikings comeback and went on to win, 64-52. Earlier in the year, the Falcons edged South Brunswick, 56-53.

The Vikings’ only other loss came at the hands of GMC Red Division rival Piscataway Township High School. South Brunswick avenged that loss with an 80-70 triumph in the rematch, as Michael Ugarte sank five 3-pointers en route to a 21-point evening. Four of his teammates also scored in double figures.

The Vikings have had win streaks of five and eight games. The latter was snapped Feb. 4 by St. Joseph. Since that loss, South Brunswick has bounced back to defeat Perth Amboy, 53-40, Feb. 7 and Carteret High School, 43-36, Feb. 10. Ugarte’s season-high 28 points paced his team against Perth Amboy, while Tavian Alford scored 13 points and Ryan Moran added 12 points — all on 3-pointers — in the win over Carteret.

Ugarte is the Vikings’ leading scorer. The senior averages 17.4 points and leads the team with 42 treys. Alford is an inside presence who averages just under 10 points. Sharp-shooting guard Ryan Moran averages seven points and has connected for 34 3-pointers. Christopher James and Greg Lee are also 3-point threats, with 31 and 16 threes, respectively.

South Brunswick’s girls also own an 18-3 record and have won four straight since falling to GMC White Division champion Sayreville War Memorial High School, which is the top seed in the girls’ GMC Tournament. The Lady Vikings will meet the winner of the Feb. 13 clash between 14th-seeded John P. Stevens High School and 19th-seeded Middlesex High School.

Leading scorer Amber Brown pumped in 29 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in a 50-49 victory over East Brunswick High School Feb. 2 to start the Lady Vikings’ latest win streak. Two days later, Brown scored 19 points, as South Brunswick defeated Edison High School, 51-45. The Eagles tried to slow the pace, and coach Jeff Johnson’s team took just a 13-8 edge into halftime. Things heated up in the second half, and South Brunswick outscored the visitors, 26-22, in an exciting fourth quarter to pick up the win.

Johnson’s team has been dominant in most of its wins, so his team’s ability to win close games is important as it heads into tournament play.

“It doesn’t get any easier at this time of the year,” the South Brunswick coach said. “We’ve had several tight games and a couple of overtime wins. Everyone is looking to play their best because there’s so much on the line. You have to play hard until the final buzzer.”

Brown has been the Lady Vikings’ leader, averaging 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds to go with a team-leading 36 3-pointers. Junior Alexis Adams averages nine points, and Alexis Royal, Oneseta Ufuah and Leannah Hunter can also put points on the board. Guard Gillian Chambers averages nearly six points and is a 3-point threat.

“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Johnson said. “That’s helped make a difference for us all year. Our girls play hard defensively right down to the end of each game no matter what the score.”

North Brunswick

North Brunswick Township High School’s boys’ team enters the GMC Tournament as the 11th seed and was scheduled to meet 22nd-seeded Monroe Township High School in a preliminary-round matchup Feb. 14m with the winner squaring off against sixth-seeded Carteret Feb. 16. The youthful Raiders are 10-10 on the year.

North Brunswick has lost two straight: a 71-67 decision to Woodbridge High School Feb. 7 and a 58-48 tally to Colonia High School Feb. 4. The Raiders downed Edison in double overtime Feb. 2, with Maneet Batra scoring21 points and Jordan Salisbury adding 13 points.

Batra (11.7 points per game), Avery Claggett (10.6) and Salisbury (10), all juniors, are the team’s top scorers, and all three can connect from downtown.

The Raiders’ girls have picked it up after getting off to a 2-6 start. North Brunswick now stands at 9-12 after losing its last two games to Piscataway and Woodbridge. Although young, North Brunswick is a difficult opponent with a bright future.

Forward Cynthia Williams has been superb. The freshman has played an increasingly important role as the season has progressed and is averaging 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots. Junior Khayla Flemmings is another offensive threat, averaging just under 10 points. Junior Emily Farrell averages 3.5 points and four rebounds, and sophomore Kayla Scher leads the Raiders with 15 3-pointers.