BERKELEY TWP. (N.J.) - The Rancocas Valley Regional High School boys' basketball team's hopes of an upset bid didn't come to fruition.
The 12th-seeded Red Devils fell to Central Regional, 49-34, in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs to conclude their latest campaign on Tuesday night.
"It sucks the way it ended, but I can't be anything but thankful for my career here," senior captain Jack Orendac said. "(The coaching staff), they've done so much for me as a basketball player and as a person. I've had a lot of great times, couple bad times, but looking back it was great. I loved it.
Orendac considers himself a Red Devil for life.
"It means everything to me," he said.
Sophomore Jaycen Santucci exploded for a career-high 30 points and secured 12 rebounds to propel the Golden Eagles to their first playoff win since 2017. Santucci tallied 22 points in the second half and scored nine of Central's last 11 points of the contest.
The sophomore excelled cutting towards the basket in halfcourt sets and was able to slip behind the defense and find scoring opportunities when Rancocas Valley was forced to utilize its full court pressure when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter.
"My coaches put me in the right spots to get easy layups every time," Santucci said. "They started me off in the front and then they put me in the back of the court, and I just got easy layups every single time."
Jaycen Santucci scored a career-high 30 points and snared 12 rebounds in Central Regional's 49-34 win over Rancocas Valley in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs at Central Regional High School in Bayville, New Jersey on Tuesday, February 21, 2022. Kevin Emmons/D2 Sports Network
The Golden Eagles deployed an elevated two-three zone with halfcourt traps in the corners out of the gate that frustrated Rancocas Valley and altered its ability to get the ball within the perimeter.
The Red Devils were held to four points in the first quarter and trailed 16-12 at intermission. Neither team made a three-point field goal throughout the duration of the contest.
"We picked a bad time to play our worst game of the year," Rancocas Valley coach Jay Flanagan said. "Central was clearly better than us tonight. They did the little things right, we didn't. Couldn't hit a shot. It just was a bad night."
The Red Devils transition to the Olympic Conference provided an experience with peaks and valleys in their first year away from the Burlington County Scholastic League. Rancocas Valley utilized the athleticism and speed of its youth to find success on multiple occasions but struggled at times with opponents competing at a slower pace in the halfcourt with a diverse playbook.
Central replicated the controlled pace and tenacious defensive approach of a traditional Olympic Conference opponent to disrupt the Red Devils' rhythm on Tuesday.
"We take pride in defense," Central coach Mike Clemente said. "Even this part of the year, a majority of our practices are focused on our end of the floor and things that we can control on the defensive end. They're a very talented team. They shoot the ball really well. They play in a legit conference. We knew we were going to have our hands full, but if we defended like we did we were going to be right in the game. That was pretty much the plan."
Miles Chevalier charted 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Golden Eagles. Senior floor general John Truhan added seven points, three assists and three steals.
Central has reached 20 wins in a single season for the first time since 2017. Clemente also earned his 100th career victory with a 62-46 triumph over Brick Memorial on February 1. It's been a special season for Clemente's squad.
And it's not over yet.
"I'm just really happy for them," Clemente said. "We only have one senior that plays, and we want to advance as far as we can and keep this going for him because very rarely do we get to be a part of a team that enjoys being around each other as much as this group does. Hopefully it continues a little bit longer."
The Golden Eagles improved their record to 20-6 with the victory and advanced to the South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals for the first time in nearly six years. Central's next opponent, Eastern, traveled to Bayville last winter and stole a 48-45 triumph in the opening round of the postseason.
Santucci didn't forget.
"It's great," Santucci said. "Everyone's clicking, we're all on a roll right now. We play Eastern in our next game, and we lost to them last year so we're coming for revenge."
Rancocas Valley finished its campaign with a 14-11 record in its first season as a member of the highly competitive Olympic Conference. Orendac and senior teammate Joey Dinneen combined for 15 points in their final interscholastic game.
"The kids were great," Flanagan said. "Jack and Joe, our seniors, gave us all they had. We have great kids, we're all disappointed, but we did some good things this year in a new conference. We played a great schedule. I thought that prepared us for tonight, but it was just a bad night. ... I don't think any less of the kids. I'm just disappointed how it ended for them."