By Tim Morris
The unpredictable Shore Conference A North Division is more topsy-turvy than ever.
When play concluded last week, five of the public school boys basketball teams were within a game of each other.
One of the teams was, predictably, Brian Golub’s Freehold Township High School Patriots, who, at 4 -2, had a one-game lead on the others.
“It will come down to finishing and finding a way to win the close games,” Golub said of what it will take to win the division.
Over the years, no one in A North has been better at finishing games and winning the close ones than the Patriots, who are the defending champions.
This year’s team (7-4 overall) is similar to previous editions in that it finds a way to win close games.
What started out in December as an inexperienced team with potential has grown as a group into one that, in mid-January, is playing up to its potential and competing for a championship. Golub has discovered what combinations work best and how to best utilize his bench.
“We have been growing and learning as the season moves on,” Golub said. “I am happy with our progress but, of course, I am never satisfied nor is this group.”
Along the way, the Patriots have developed some depth.
“We are not quite as deep as in the past, but we still play 9-10 [players] every night depending situations and matchups,” Golub remarked.
Point guard Nick Facendo and John Carroll, the veterans on the club, are having big seasons.
Facendo, who played a key role in Freehold Township’s run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV boys soccer championship in the fall, is averaging 15 points and six assists a night. He runs the show and leads the fastbreak.
Carroll, a center, puts up double-doubles every game, averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Forward Steve Staklinski has been coming on strong and is averaging better than 10 points a game.
Guard Bobby Weise provides the deep-shooting threat that stretches defenses. In one game this year, he hit nine 3-pointers in a game as part of a 30-point night. Golub added that he is the leader of the defense.
Forward Ryan Zykowksi completes the starting unit, and he contributes in scoring and rebounding.
The Patriots’ sixth man is the energetic Ryan Cardone, who shakes things up when he enters a game.
Ja’Zeem Foster gives the offense a spark, and Stefan Williams and Brandon Hasner are defensive stalwarts. Tyler Von Nessen helps out on either end of the floor off the bench.
Like previous Patriots teams, this one is gets its scoring from a variety of players.
Freehold Township completed the first half of the A North schedule Jan. 19 at Manalapan High School, which is 3-3 in the division.
The second half starts Jan. 22 at non-public Christian Brothers Academy (6-0 in A North) in Lincroft. The Patriots are at Marlboro High School, which has a 3-3 division record, Jan. 25.
Howell High School and Middletown High School North are the other 3-3 teams in the division.
The Mustangs (5-5 overall) are led by guard P.J. Ringel and 6-foot-8 center Matt Dean.
Ringel is averaging 16 points and close to three assists, while Dean has given the team a couple double-double performances this season. The senior can also step outside and hit a 3-pointer.
Ryan LaRocca has been the top 3-point shooter, and Dan Weiss and Michael Jastrzebski have been chipping in offensively as well.
Head coach Mike Nausedas has a deeper more athletic Mustangs team than he has had before.
Howell (5-7 overall) has been the surprise of the group. Head coach Patrick Ramsey’s team lost five seniors, including its go-to scorer Aaron Trimble, and was expected to be rebuilding behind its youth. These Rebels just may be ahead of schedule.
Matt Morton and Steve Palumbo, the team’s most experienced returnees, and Brandon Wilson, one of several players up from last year’s 19-5 junior varsity team, are all averaging above 10 points, helping the team find scoring in the absence of a scorer like Trimble.
Manalapan (5-6 overall) was also hit hard by graduation but has remained competitive while relying on key contributions from underclassmen.
Sophomore forward Matan Zucker (11.7 points per game) and junior guard John Lugo (10.6 points per game) are pacing a balanced attack. Lugo is the top 3-point shooter on the team.
Manalapan and Marlboro will play a critical A North game Jan. 22 in Manalapan.
Freehold High School is 2-4 in the division and 4-6 overall, but it is still in contention. The Colonials are led by the trio of Chris Hanningan, Jake Curry and Ashante Worthy.