By Tim Morris
Someone was going to walk off the court at Colts Neck High School with their first NJSIAA Central Jersey sectional basketball championship March 7.
Both the Colts Neck and Freehold Township High School boys basketball teams have long established themselves as winning programs with division titles to back it up and some wonderful postseason wins. But both teams had been deprived of a state sectional title despite more than one trip to the finals.
That changed for one of those teams when the No. 2-seed Cougars and No. 4-seed Patriots tipped off in the Central Jersey, Group IV championship game with the opportunity to further validate their programs.
Thanks to Freehold Township, Lou Piccola’s Cougars got to play the final at home. The Patriots went on the road and defeated the No. 1-seed, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 55-51, in the semifinals March 5.
Meanwhile, in Colts Neck, the Cougars took care of third-seeded South Brunswick High School from the Greater Middlesex Conference in their semifinal, 67-47, behind Lloyd Daniels’ 23 points. The standout forward, whose unselfish play has been the trademark of the offense, received support from Kyle Gordon (17) and Brendan Clark (14).
Colts Neck has been powered by its terrific team defense all year, and the Vikings were just the latest team to be held under 50 points. Neither of Colts Neck’s first two state playoff opponents could hit 50 either. The Cougars beat West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, 62-35, and Marlboro High School, 68-46.
Against Marlboro, Daniels hit for 24 points and Gordon had 11. Marlboro hung around in this game and it took a 22-8 run in the fourth quarter by Colts Neck to put the game away.
Daniels (16), Clarke (10) and Gordon (10) all scored in double figures against West Windsor-Plainsboro North, as Colts Neck got its tournament run off to a good start.
Colts Neck brought a 22-4 overall record to the Central Jersey, Group IV finals.
Brian Golub has another very deep Freehold Township team that has more size than recent editions and looks to wear opponents down.
While Nick Facendo is the team’s field general, John Carroll’s relentless play on the boards can’t be overlooked. He’s a double-double machine.
The Patriots displayed all their strengths in the upset of Hunterdon Central. Facendo just missed a triple-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Carroll had 10 points and 11 boards, and Stephen Staklinski did the most damage to the Red Devils with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
The win put the Patriots (20-9) back in the Central Jersey, Group IV finals for the second straight year. Last winter, they lost at home to Hillsborough High School. The fact that they graduated so many starters from that team is a testament to how solid their program is.
Freehold Township began its playoff run meeting Shore Conference A North Division rival Manalapan High School for the third time this year. The Patriots avoided the third-time hex, beating the Braves, 63-49.
Facendo filled the stat sheet with 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Staklinski began his string of strong playoff games with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Carroll pulled down 19 rebounds.
John Lugo led the Braves with 13 points, followed by Matan Zucker (12) and Anthony Schimbeno (10). Manalapan ended its season with an 11-12 mark.
In the quarterfinals, Freehold Township defeated Old Bridge High School, 69-45, behind Facendo’s 24 points and 10 rebounds. Staklinski had 20 points and 11 caroms, and Carroll scored another double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Marlboro had another solid building season for head coach Mike Nausedas, finishing the year with a 16-10 overall record and 9-5 in A North.
The Mustangs reached their quarterfinals showdown with Colts Neck by topping Hightstown High School, 69-54, in their first-round game on the road.
Mike Jastrzebski (24) and P.J. Ringel (20) combined for 44 points in the playoff win.
Against Colts Neck, Ringel led the way with 13 points, while Dylan Kaufman chipped in with 10.
Girls sectional tournament
The girls from Colts Neck and Marlboro both won their first-round games in Central Jersey, Group IV.
The Cougars, seeded fifth, knocked off Montgomery High School, 58-50, with Elise Brown scoring 22 points and adding 12 rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Cara Volpe (13) and Lola Mullaney (12) supported Brown by combining for 25 points.
Colts Neck saw their season come to an end at No. 4-seed Hunterdon Central, 50-35. Mullaney led Colts Neck with nine points on three 3-point shots.
The Cougars had a very good season at 18-8.
Defending Central Jersey, Group IV champion Marlboro handled Middletown High School North for the third time this year, routing the Lions, 84-41. Molly Weiss led a balanced effort with 18 points. Tatum Evans netted 14, Jenn Angelone had 11 and Jessica Broad scored 10 for the eighth-seeded Mustangs.
The win took Marlboro to East Brunswick High School for a date with the top-seed in the quarterfinals.
The Bears lived up to their top billing, jumping out to a 17-7 lead after one quarter en route to a 53-34 win.
Weiss again topped Marlboro with 16 points, highlighted by five 3-pointers.
Marlboro finished with a 15-11 record.