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State’s best continue playing basketball this week

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raph Matt Strabuk/Cedar Creek girls basketball coach Fran Raph watches her team compete in a South Jersey Group II semifinal. Though the Cape-Atlantic League teams are finished, great high school basketball continues in New Jersey this week.

First, congratulations to Fran Raph and her Pirates of Cedar Creek for winning their second South Jersey title in three years. Raph becomes just the 12th girls basketball coach from the CAL to win two sectional titles – and the only woman. That program in Egg Harbor City has become a solid part of the CAL in a remarkably short time.

This column is being written before Tuesday’s Tournament of Champions boys quarterfinals but, regardless who won, those winners will face St. Joseph of Metuchen and Newark Eastside, two outstanding teams.

St. Joseph, for one, boasts Karl Towns, considered one of the top recruits in America, who is bound for Kentucky. The 7-footer can hit the three-pointer and do all the other things you might expect in the lane. But Towns is just one of five current and future Division I recruits on this St. Joseph team.

If you have the time, a trip to Monmouth University on Thursday would be rewarding.

On Wednesday, the girls quarterfinals are at the Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North. It’s not a bad trip from the CAL area. Woodrow Wilson of Camden, which plays at only one speed (fast), will play Immaculate Heart, the team that upset St. John Vianney. And St. Rose, the South Jersey B champs that eliminated Wildwood Catholic, will take on Paterson Eastside.

The winners of those games will return to Toms River on Friday to play the top two girls seeds – Shabazz and Manasquan. Shabazz is familiar to CAL fans, having played regularly in the ESPN 97.3 Shootout. This year they defeated Gloucester Catholic. And Manasquan is the team that ended Cedar Creek’s season. The Warriors are led by 5-11 junior Marina Mabrey, one of the state’s very best.

Then, on Monday night, Thursday’s two boys winners and Friday’s two girls winners will play in a doubleheader at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles.

It’s great basketball and most of it is less than 90 minutes away.

But, do you know what can spoil great basketball? That’s right, ignorant fans.

We all know there is a lot at stake in state finals and TOC games. We know that parents get emotionally involved and over-react to most calls or decisions. And, by the way, where is it written that the fouls called are supposed to even up. Some teams just foul more and make more mistakes than others.

Screaming at the referees is one thing. You might not know this but licensed basketball officials have a unique gene that allows them to completely tune out idiots. But the people sitting nearby are not as lucky.

Fans also scream at coaches, at each other, at the guys operating the scoreboard and even at opposing players – teenagers just playing a game. Most are just the same people you run into every day, though every once in awhile a former professional athlete, a relative of a Hall of Famer or a network sports analyst will prove that even celebrities can become fools whose behavior can ruin a great game for others.

You have to imagine that sometimes the student-athletes are a bit embarrassed by the conduct of their families and friends from the bleachers.

Speaking of officials, a familiar one worked in the state finals over the weekend. There were, as always, representatives from the local officials board like Steve Young and Paul Spinelli. But there was also Rick Lipford, the former star athlete at Ocean City High School, who worked the very intense game between Roselle Catholic and St. Anthony of Jersey City.

At OCHS, Lipford set records as a three-point shooter in basketball and a pass receiver in football. This past season one of his shooting records was broken when Justin Ruggia made nine three-pointers against Bridgeton to erase Lipford’s mark of eight in a game set 20 years earlier.

But Lipford still holds the school records for three-pointers in a career (108), three-point attempts in a career (291) and attempts in a game (18). He scored 620 career points and is now tied for 41st all-time with John Huff at OCHS. In football, Lipford holds the school record for most yards per catch over a career (24.6) established with 52 catches during the first three seasons of Gary Degenhardt’s career.

Rick Lipford was an outstanding athlete in high school. And, judging by the way he worked on Saturday, he is destined to be just as good a basketball official.

lipford Submitted/Rick Lipford

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