SOMERVILLE, NJ – Somerville High’s first four boys basketball games have been totally devoid of any late drama, the Pioneers looking either mightily superior or merely coolly efficient while winning by double-digit margins each time out.
Veteran Head Coach Joe D’Alessandro hopes the trend continues when the Pioneers return from their New Year’s break 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5 with a home matchup against Skyland Conference-Raritan Division rival Warren Hills.
The Blue Streaks also have won each of their first four contests by at least 10 points and have a solid lineup led by Johnny Bamford and Anthony Veneziano, both All-Raritan selections a year ago.
“We beat them soundly at home last year,” said D’Alessandro, “but they have some good players back and I know they’re going to be ready for us.
“I also hope we’re really ready. They have guys who can hurt you if you lapse on defense, so we’ll have to be pretty good in that regard.”
Somerville’s man-to-man defense has been a major part of the squad’s early success, along with a balanced attack paced by 6-foot-2 senior Randy Walko, 5-11 senior point guard Joe Mosca, 6-2 senior John Jimenez, 6-2 junior Will Sokol and junior guard Rob Melillo.
The Pioneers have also been receiving sterling efforts from reserves like Dave Ventura, 6-4 junior Alex Willenbrock and 6-2 junior Sam Preston.
“This is a really good group of kids who have always worked hard,” said D’Alessandro. “They know they have some talent and skill and they know what they do well and what they have to avoid out there.
“They all do a good job playing to their strengths. They play real good defense and share the ball offensively, and they have some good firepower. I really do like the team’s potential and I like to see them rewarded for all the work they’ve put in, not only now but during the summer and fall.”
The Pioneers captured the Joe Pepe Holiday Tournament championship in Springfield, toppling host school Dayton Regional 58-27 in Wednesday’s finale.
Jimenez, who sank a trio of three-point shots, led Somerville with 15 points, Mosca had 14 and Walko 11. The outcome never was in doubt as SHS built a 14-point opening-quarter cushion and was up 42-11 by halftime.
Two days earlier in the opening round the Pioneers recovered from a three-point halftime deficit to hand Hackettstown its first loss, 60-50.
Walko tallied 26 points, including 11 free throws, along with five rebounds and two assists. Sokol totaled 16 points and four boards and Mosca had 12 points (three treys), 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals.
“Mosca has been unbelievable for us,” said D’Alessandro. “He’s an MVP-type of player who usually guards the opponent’s best player and just does everything so well all over the court.”
Walko poured in 40 points and snagged 10 bounds to key a 70-53 victory over Hillsborough on Dec. 23. The senior canned 14 of 16 shots from the foul stripe and went 4 for 6 from three-point territory in one of the most dominating performances D’Alessandro has seen during his 26-year tenure at SHS.
“He was really outstanding,” said the coach. “Often he’d get a rebound and go on a one-man fast break. That was crucial for us. He probably could’ve had another bucket or two at the end but he was so unselfish, he was getting the ball to other guys.”
Somerville began the season Dec. 19 with a 61-32 rout of visiting New Brunswick.