This winter at Veterans Memorial Middle School in Brick Township, Steve Bado called a timeout and gathered his boys’ basketball players into a huddle.
The Carl W. Goetz Middle School coach told his leading scorer, Keith Adame, to take a three pointer.
Adame dribbled down and shot a three from the top of key. It rimmed in, then out, then into the hands of Goetz forward Joe Antenucci. He passed the ball back out to Adame, who launched another trey.
This one banked in. The Goetz players stormed the court and hugged each other.
“I just shot it and it went in,” Adame said. “I was hyped.”
Goetz won the game, 48-47, on Jan. 29 and finished the season at 12-0 against rivals from the Ocean County Intermediate Athletic League’s Red Division.
The division features seven middle school teams in Ocean County. That undefeated record gave the Jackson Township school the outright Red Division championship.
Veterans Memorial entered the Jan. 29 game with a 10-1 league record. If it had won, it would have shared the title with Goetz.
Veterans Memorial had also never won an OCIAL division title, so a large portion of its faculty and student body attended the game.
“The place was crazy for a middle school game,” Bado said. “It made it that much more satisfying.”
It was fitting that Adame hit the winning shot. He was Bado’s best player all winter, scoring 20 points per contest.
“He’s versatile,” Bado said.
Bado surrounded Adame with two other talented guards in Mason McQueen and Matt Porazzo. McQueen scored 18 points per game. Porazzo was a pass first point guard, the perfect complement to two scorers.
The trio started playing together in third grade for the Jackson Wildcats’ travel team.
“Our first practice we didn’t know each other,” Porazzo said. “But we started practicing and became who we are now.”
By the time the trio reached eighth grade, Bado knew his team could be great. But he also had to change his coaching style.
The coach was used to building offenses around forwards, not guards. But from the first practice on this winter, he pushed the Goetz players to run.
“They already knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
Goetz also had two reliable forwards in Antenucci and Charlie Meglio. Antenucci, who stands 5-11, often had to battle players four or five inches taller than him.
He used his instincts to overcome the height difference. That was actually how he got the rebound on Goetz’s title winning play.
“He knew where to cut into gaps,” Bado said.
The team also utilized a deep bench.
Matt Koblos and Caleb Frage spelled the guards. Mostafa Khedr, Noah Knauf, Christian Pacheco, Chris Wharton, Jed Adame and Shaun Hubbard rounded out the roster.
Altogether, Goetz went 24-2. Adame, McQueen and Porazzo called it their best season together.
“I expected us to do good, but not 12-0,” McQueen said.
Unfortunately though, it may have been their last season together.
McQueen is leaning toward attending and playing for Red Bank Catholic High School. Porazzo will likely go to Manasquan High School for its strong boys’ lacrosse program.
“I’m better at lacrosse,” he said.
Adame is not sure where he will go. He may stay home and enroll at Jackson Memorial High School. But Adame is “still looking,” he said.