The LowerCape MayRegionalHigh School boys basketball team went all the way into the final week of the regular season in contention for one of the eight berths into the Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament.
The Tigers later pulled off an upset victory of Cinnaminson in the first round of the South Jersey Group II Tournament for their first state playoff win in seven seasons before taking Barnegat to the wire in a second-round playoff loss.
The team went 18-10, a major leap from the previous one, when it went just 4-21 and finished without a win in Cape-Atlantic National Conference play.
“It was a nice year because I think we definitely exceeded what we set out to do, if you look at it realistically,” Lower coach Scott Holden said.
Lower made a quick transition from a team simply trying to compete to one that learned how to win games. The Tigers did that without a senior on the roster.
“The biggest thing when you come from losing so many games over a couple-year period is that we really got to the point where we were playing to win,” Holden said. “Not that you’re ever not playing to win but we were just trying our best to compete in the past. I thought this year we started doing a lot of the little things you need to do to win. We’re not a big team and one of the things we concentrated on was defensive rebounding. How we got better at it was never more evident when you look at a game like our (overtime) win over OceanCity.”
Lower was led by junior guard Pat Holden, the nephew of the head coach, who averaged 24 points per game. He also topped the team in assists at 4.5 per game and was second in rebounding at 3.9 per game despite standing just 5-9. He’ll enter his senior season with 1,421 career points.
“Pat really started to fill the stat sheet this year,” coach Holden said. “Obviously he did all that scoring but he also led us in assists and was our second-best rebounder. There were some games he had 10 assists and then some others where he had eight or nine rebounds. That’s good to see.”
Junior Zach Cerasi and sophomore Patrick Moore contributed timely outside shooting and averaged close to 10 points per game apiece. Juniors Donny Rexhepi, Aaron Cottrell and Khamar Matthews were the regular starters at the forward position. Juniors Jake Robb and Cade Bonner and sophomore Dave Durham also contributed.
Coach Holden expected his team to be better in 2016-17, but not necessarily 14 wins better.
“I thought this year was going to be the beginning of a two-year process in a lot of ways since we didn’t have any seniors,” he said. “Honestly I didn’t expect to be where we were at the end of the year. Now the hard part is to see if we can grow from this for next year and try to outdo what we did this year.”
Lower appears in good position to do just that. This year’s team featured no seniors and used a regular starting lineup with four juniors and a sophomore. In addition, the program is expected to bring in a couple of talented freshmen, one or two of whom could play some varsity minutes right away next winter.
With some teams in the National Conference set to lose quite a bit to graduation, Lower hopes to move up in the standings next winter. It finished fourth in the conference this season.
“Our goal is definitely to try to challenge for a CAL playoff spot and hopefully get a home game in the state playoffs next year,” coach Holden said.