By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
Friday night, January 12, there was a nervous tension in the gym at Shore Regional High School where the girls’ basketball team played Point Beach. The two schools have been rivals for years, but that’s not what caused the atmosphere. William Wishart, who is in his eighth season as head coach of the Blue Devils was one win away from the 100-career victory mark. “It is not about me; I am focused on getting these girls the win. It is high school basketball and anything can happen, so let’s just focus on Point Beach,” said Wishart.
Well it didn’t take long for the Blue Devils to show their dominance on the floor, jumping out to a 19-10 first quarter lead. “We are a very young team with only two seniors. But these girls play their hearts out, even if we are not the biggest team on the floor,” Wishart said. The two tallest girls on the Blue Devils are Antonette Russo and Conley Smolokoff, who are the seniors and co-captains and stretching it to say they are 5’7”. “Every one of these kids play like they are six foot tall.”
Second quarter, Shore Regional outscored the Garnet Gulls 14-10 and took a 34-20 lead into the halftime break. During that first half, junior Reece Fiore scored 10 of her game-high 16 points. Smolokoff had a great first half as well getting nine of her game-high 14 in the first half. Also having a good offensive half for the Devils was Kimi Sayson, who had eight points, however officials were calling her number for fouls which had her sitting on the bench more than normal.
Starting the second half of action, Shore continued their half court pressure with Smolokoff in the middle forcing the trap and Point Beach turnovers. Shore outscored the Gulls 10-4 in the third quarter and then used the bench players in the final minutes of action. Shore Regional took the 56-40 win and improved to 6-5 on the season.
Wishart coached under Emery for two years. “Working with him was like getting a PhD in coaching,” said Wishart. In his eight years as head coach, he has back-to-back NJSIAA sectional titles in 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. In his first year as head coach, 2016-2017 they lost in the sectional finals. His teams have never won a Shore Conference divisional title, but were close last year taking second.
The Blue Devils play in a very tough B Central division this year. The Spartans of Ocean Township, one of the elite programs in the state, are 10-2 overall and leading the division. Shore Regional is in second followed by Donovan Catholic, Monmouth Regional, Lakewood and Jackson Liberty.
Fiore was leading scorer for Shore in the win over Point Beach. Besides the 16 points, she had nine rebounds, one assist and one steal. Smolokoff finished with 14 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. The other double digit scorer was Sayson who had 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
The Blue Devils have only one game this week on January 18, at Keyport for a 4:00 p.m. tipoff. They return to West Long Branch on January 22, for a 5:30 game with Lakewood. They also host the Spartans at 5:30 p.m. on January 23 for a big divisional battle.
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