HACKETTSTOWN, NJ - This wasn’t supposed to happen this year.
The Hunterdon Central High School’s boys basketball wasn’t supposed to contend for a Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament title. The team was thought too young, too inexperienced. Just one player – junior Brian Johansson – returned with any varsity time.
So when the team began the season with a 2-6 record, that belief – outside of how Hunterdon Central players and coaches felt – gained credence.
But it is a long season with enough time for a young team to mature into something special.
That is the story of the 2019-2020 Red Devils.
On the last day of February, Central became Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament champions. Third-seed Central topped No. 1 Hacketstown 55-48 Friday in overtime at Centenary University in Hackettstown.
Johansson was Most Valuable Player. He scored 12 points and secured nine rebounds to lead his team to the 11th straight win. Hunterdon Central is 16-2 since Jan. 9 when it lost to Somerset County Tournament champ Rutgers Prep.
The Red Devils will begin play in the NJSIAA North Section 2, Group IV sectional playoffs at Newark East Side Tuesday afternoon with a 18-8 record.
“We don’t like to make excuses, but in the beginning of the year we were definitely inexperienced,” said Johansson. “We just grew and learned from the upperclassmen and now we’re playing tremendous basketball.”
Teams love to prove doubters wrong. Johannson, his teammates, coaches and Red Devils’ faithful are no different.
“We love proving the doubters wrong,” said Johannson. “Nobody thought we could win this game. Nobody thought we’d be in this game. It’s been a lot of fun. Very satisfying for all of us.”
Juniors Eric Molto and Charles Gilliken were named to the All-Tournament team. Molto scored 12 points and Gilliken swished three 3-pointers, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds.
Hunterdon Central led 36-27 after the third quarter. But Hackettstown outscored the Red Devils 15-6 in the final period to tie the game at 42-42 and force overtime.
“We knew they weren’t going away even when we got up,” said Hunterdon Central coach Mike Falco. “We were just fortunate to make a few more plays than they did in overtime.”