The Southern Regional High School boys basketball team didn’t have much time to transition from football to basketball season.
Many of the Rams’ standouts also played football for the Southern team that lost to Williamstown 43-20 in the South Jersey Group V final Dec. 7.
The Southern basketball team, including the football players, was in the gym the next day preparing for the season. Southern opened Dec. 14 with a 64-42 win over Toms River East.
The hasty transition isn’t affecting the Rams. They are 7-2 heading into tonight’s game against Shore Conference Class A South rival Toms River South (5-3).
Six of Southern’s top 11 players played football. Southern coach Eric Fierro was a football assistant. The Rams take pride in their multi-sport athletes.
“We have the ability to help our school be successful in all three seasons,” Fierro said. “I preach that as a multi-sport coach. I’m not going to be sitting out a season. I encourage guys to do the same thing. They’re good athletes. They should find a sport to play each season.”
One reason for Southern’s fast start is the return of Anthony Speziale, a 6-foot-4 senior center, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Speziale played tight end for the football team.
“He’s been big leadership-wise,” Fierro
said, “and anchoring the middle for us offensively and defensively. He was a huge question mark. He gives us size and rebounding.”
Speziale’s presence has taken some of the pressure off 6-6 Southern forward Mike Gesicki, who is also a football and volleyball standout. Gesicki, a junior, scored his 1,000th career point in Monday’s 72-67 win over Brick Memorial. He is averaging 21.4 points.
“It’s a maturing process for him,” Fierro said. “The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets and the more mature he gets in his decisions. As he shares the ball more with his teammates, the better the opportunities are for him, and he’s starting to understand that. We finally have guys around him who can score.”
One of those players is sophomore swingman Jake Logue, a reliable 3-point shot who averages 9.9 points. Senior Zach Policastro, a 6-4, three-year starter, also provides size and leadership.
“Jake is getting better every night and more confident,” Fierro said.
Southern’s biggest win came Dec. 20, when it beat preseason A South favorite Toms River North 47-46. North went on 17-0 run to build a 14-point lead in the first quarter. South rallied behind Logue, who sank back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to give the Rams the lead for good.
“We showed a lot of heart as a team,” Fierro said.
Southern lost to A South rival Jackson Memorial 36-27 on Jan. 5. Southern, however, quickly rebounded from that defeat the next day (Jan. 6) with a 56-50 win over Long Branch as Gesicki scored 32 points.
In addition to Toms River South, Southern plays at perennial power St. Augustine Prep on Saturday at 1 p.m. St. Augustine is No. 5 in The Press Elite 11.
“We’re excited to have an out-of-conference challenge,” Fierro said.
“They play a lot of the South Jersey Group IV teams that we’ll play (in the state tournament). It’s kind of a measuring stick for us.”
Free throws — Eight boys teams will qualify for the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament in February. As of today, only eight teams — Atlantic City (8-0); Holy Spirit (5-2), EHT (7-3), Middle Township (6-2), St. Augustine Prep (6-1), Hammonton (8-2), Sacred Heart (6-3) and Wildwood Catholic (8-1) — have better than .500 records.
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