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At one point this season, Ranney looked like a team that was fifty-fifty to even make it to the Shore Conference Tournament.

By the time the tournament was seeded, the Panthers were the No. 11 seed that made every team lined up to face them in the bracket uneasy. Nothing about this Shore Conference Tournament has been predictable, but Ranney's performing better than its seed has been short of surprising.

With its three dynamic perimeter players -- Isaac Hester, Drew Buck and Jahlil Bethea -- now in the fold, Ranney has proven a formidable opponent to just about any team on its schedule and have been more than that during its run to the Shore Conference Tournament. After taking out the top two teams in Ocean County in consecutive rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament, the Panthers earned the Week 6 Jersey Mike's Team of the Week.

Photo: Steve Meyer
Photo: Steve Meyer
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Ranney opened its Shore Conference Tournament with an 85-59 home win over Lacey that set what has become a memorable run in motion. The Hester-Buck-Bethea trio combined for a balanced 58 points, with Hester leading the way with 21 and both Buck (18 points, nine rebounds) and Bethea (19 and eight) approaching double-doubles.

The heavy lifting started the following round, when Ranney was tasked with travelling to Jackson Memorial to play an experienced, battle-tested, athletic Jaguars team that drew the No. 6 seed. After a back-and-forth first half that saw the hosts take a one-point lead into the locker room, Ranney turned up the defense in the second half and pulled away for a 61-55 win over Jackson Memorial.

It took another team-wide effort for Ranney to escape Jackson with a win, with sophomore MeSean Williams also joining the big three in double-figures with 11 points and three three-pointers. Buck led the way with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals, Hester posted 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Bethea contributed 13 points, three assists and four steals.

Saturday's quarterfinal game against third-seeded Toms River North belonged to Hester, who shined with 33 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the field and also helped Ranney mitigate Toms River North's size advantage with 10 rebounds in a 75-60 Panthers win. Buck came up big in the second half, when he scored 12 of his 17 points as Ranney finished the game on a 17-6 run over the final six minutes. Bethea was again a significant contributor as well, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Those three wins over three of Ocean County's better teams were enough for Ranney to collect its Team of the Week prize and on Tuesday night in Toms River, the Panthers started their bid for back-to-back awards. Trailing a highly-talented, 21-2 St. Rose team by 13 with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter, Ranney mounted a rally for the ages to send the game to overtime and shock the second-seeded Purple Roses, 77-73.

On Sunday afternoon at the OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University, Ranney will try to complete the second ever Shore Conference Tournament championship run by a No. 11 seed when it takes on top-seeded Manasquan for the third time this year. Like St. Rose, Manasquan beat Ranney twice during the regular-season in one-sided games, but the second of the two meetings was far more competitive.

The only other team to win the SCT as a No. 11 seed was Rumson-Fair Haven in 2015, when Brendan Barry led a second-half barrage at Monmouth that carried the Bulldogs to a blowout win of top-seeded CBA.

2023 Jersey Mike's Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Raritan

Week 2: Southern

Week 3: Middletown South

Week 4: Lacey

Week 5: Ocean

Week 6: Ranney