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Heading into the beginning of last week, the Lacey boys basketball faced an uphill battle if the Lions wanted to win a share of the Shore Conference Class B South championship.

Photo: Steve Meyer
Photo: Steve Meyer
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Driven by a group of seniors who have enjoyed individual success and are starving for a memorable finish to their accomplished careers, Lacey climbed that steep hill and set themselves up to win a championship that has been in the works for a full decade.

The Lions delivered a 3-0 week last week, capped by a thrilling win at Central Regional that set the stage for Lacey to clinch its first share of a Shore Conference Class B South division championship since 2011-12. The performance also makes Lacey the fourth Jersey Mike's Team of the Week of 2023.

Trailing Central by a game in the division standings and with the Golden Eagles barreling through the division at an undefeated clip, Lacey had no margin for error during its three-game week.

It started with a 61-50 win at Barnegat, which figured to be the most winnable of the three games, although the young Bengals have progressed over the course of the season and have become a tough game for its Class B South foes. Seniors Chris Venturoso and Ryan Fitzgerald each scored 17 points to lead the way, with classmate Dylan Hall chipping in 14 points and nine assists.

Next up was a home game against a Manchester team that has battled inconsistency, but boasts 6-foot-7 forward Evan Weiner and added talented junior transfer Jaymire Watts once he became eligible midway through the month. Manchester pushed Lacey to its limit, but the Lions survived in overtime, 74-66, behind 57 combined points from their two four-year starters, Troy Buxton (28 points) and Venturoso (27).

Those two wins set the stage for a showdown at Central, which beat Lacey, 61-48, in Lacey the first time the two teams played back on Jan. 10. This time, Lacey's defense came to play and the Lions kept the game in the 40's, giving themselves a chance to pull it out at the end.

Buxton delivered the big shot, a go-ahead three-pointer with two minutes to go that put Lacey ahead, 43-42. Junior Trevor Santucci stepped up with several key plays for Lacey, none bigger than a layup that gave his team a 45-42 lead with 1:16 to go.

Hall knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead back to three at 47-44 and the Lions defense held Central on the final possession to lock up the win. Venturoso led the way with 14 points, Buxton put up 11 points and 10 rebounds and both Santucci and Hall contributed eight points apiece in the win.

On Monday, Lacey topped Brick, 44-34, to officially clinch its share of the division title, with Central routing Barnegat to win its piece of the championship. Lacey has now won four in a row since dropping an overtime heartbreaker to Point Pleasant Beach in what will likely go down as one of the wildest games of the 2022-23 Shore Conference basketball season.

 

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