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Howell gains revenge with girls’ basketball victory over Freehold Township

Howell High School avenged an earlier defeat when the Rebels and Freehold Township High School recently renewed their girls’ basketball rivalry.

Freshman guard Grace Leary scored 14 points to help steer Howell past Freehold Township, 52-39, on Feb. 1 in Howell.

Freehold Township had won the first matchup in a 52-44 overtime decision on Jan. 9 in Freehold Township.

Freehold Township had appeared to be headed to a season sweep of Howell when the Patriots held a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter. However, that is when Sarah Hughes, Freehold Township’s standout senior guard, suffered a face/nose injury that forced her to miss the rest of the game.

Howell outscored Freehold Township, 36-13, the rest of the way to pull out the victory.

“She’s good,” Freehold Township coach Michael Stoia said about Hughes’ condition after the game. “She’s going to get X-rays now. I’m not a doctor, so we’ll wait to see what they say. But her spirits were high, and she stayed and didn’t leave until the game was over.”

Stoia touched on how Hughes stuck around to watch the game after she was declared done for the day.

“I think that it shows that these girls really like each other,” the coach said. “I think we do have a strong relationship, and we always say ‘family’ when we come together. I think you saw that today. One of our own goes down, and [another] came in and tried to step up to the best of their ability to help the team.”

Stoia knew that losing Hughes would have an effect on the rest of the team.

“I think after our senior captain got hurt, I think the girls did a good job of rallying around her,” Stoia said. “We did a nice job of staying together and playing until the end.”

“We did a lot of good things together,” freshman small forward Kaylie Elsbree said. “The main thing is that we stuck together and never gave up.”

Elsbree led the Patriots with 10 points against Howell. Senior point guard Theresa Sanzone pitched in with nine points, and freshman forward Tanya Elsbree, Kaylie Elsbree’s sister, scored seven.

Freehold Township, which moved to 7-11 following a 34-28 loss to Southern Regional High School on Feb. 3, eagerly await the return of Hughes, who averages 10.5 points.

“[We will be] working hard together to get on the same page without Sarah if she doesn’t come back,” Kaylie Elsbree said. “Hopefully, she can come back soon, and that won’t be an issue.”

The Patriots looked to bounce back when they visited Marlboro High School on Feb. 6. They follow that with a matchup at home against Manalapan High School on Feb. 9 at 3:45 p.m.

In Howell’s victory over Freehold Township, junior point guard Jessica O’Brien hit for 10 points, while senior guard Rachel Gazzola and freshman guard Mackenzie Bruno each finished with eight points for the Rebels.

Howell coach Joe Santopietro pointed out that the Rebels were able to get after the ball and do more of the little things to win, something Howell failed to do in its loss last month to the Patriots.

“From the first half to the second half, we talked about doing all the little things right,” the coach said. “I think I talked about it the first time against Township as well, but if you do all the little things, as far as boxing out and going after loose balls, that always seems to be the difference, especially going up against a team like this.”

“We knew we had to come together at halftime,” O’Brien said. “We had to come together and really put in the effort to rebound and work together to get to those loose balls. I’m glad that we did that.”

Howell will use the victory, which improved the Rebels to 7-9 on the year, in an effort to finish the season off strong.

“A win like this, especially late in the season, is good,” Santopietro said. “We struggled early on, but we still have a chance of making it to the states and having a run in that, so this was a big win for that. Of course, with crosstown rivals, you always want to play good basketball and come out with the win. But now, who knows? We have a few games in front of us. If we can come together like we did today and win those, hopefully we’ll find ourselves in the states and Shore Conference Tournament.”

“It’s definitely gives us the confidence that we can compete against the bigger teams that we know we have to beat,” O’Brien said.

The Rebels were scheduled to visit Manalapan on Feb. 6 and then host another rival, Freehold High School, on Feb. 8 at 3:45 p.m.

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