Defense continues to fuel Freehold Township in girls’ basketball

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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Hannah Orloff surveys the court during the team's game against Howell High School on Jan. 24. Orloff scored a game-high 17 points to lead Freehold Township to a 45-27 victory over Howell.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School girls' basketball player Caitlin Gresko inbounds the ball to a teammate during the team's game against Freehold Township on Jan. 24. Howell is 7-5 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Lindsay Lloyd tries to drives past Howell High School's Mackenzie Bruno during a game played on Jan. 24. Lloyd scored seven points in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School girls' basketball player Grace Leary tosses a cross-court pass to a teammate during the team's game against Freehold Township High School on Jan. 24. Leary is averaging a team-high 13.1 points a game this season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Tanya Elsbree dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Howell High School on Jan. 24. Freehold Township is 10-4 on the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Hannah Orloff surveys the court during the team's game against Howell High School on Jan. 24. Orloff scored a game-high 17 points to lead Freehold Township to a 45-27 victory over Howell.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School girls' basketball player Caitlin Gresko inbounds the ball to a teammate during the team's game against Freehold Township on Jan. 24. Howell is 7-5 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Lindsay Lloyd tries to drives past Howell High School's Mackenzie Bruno during a game played on Jan. 24. Lloyd scored seven points in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School girls' basketball player Grace Leary tosses a cross-court pass to a teammate during the team's game against Freehold Township High School on Jan. 24. Leary is averaging a team-high 13.1 points a game this season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Freehold Township High School girls' basketball player Tanya Elsbree dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Howell High School on Jan. 24. Freehold Township is 10-4 on the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Defense has sparked the Freehold Township High School girls’ basketball team this winter.

Throw in some and some terrific play in the second half by junior Hannah Orloff and stellar team defense led the Freehold Township earned its 10 victory of the season on Jan. 24 in a Shore Conference A-North Division showdown against Howell High School.

Orloff connected on 11 of her game-high 17 points in the second half when the Patriots held Howell to a season-low 27 points in their 45-27 victory over the host Rebels to improve to 10-4 on the season.

“We have experience and more depth than we have had in a long time,” said Freehold Township coach Michael Stoia. “You can see all of our players maturing as teammates. They’re making that extra pass and trusting each other. They kind of have that feeling of where each other is going to be on the court. It’s really cool to see them feed off each other and have success.”

Freehold Township is now 5-2 in its last seven games, while the loss pushed Howell’s losing streak to three-straight games and the Rebels to a 6-5 record on the season.

Howell’s recent struggles come down to consistency and continuing to bring a high level of energy and hustle to the court in each quarter, said coach Joe Santopietro.

The second quarter against Freehold Township showed what Howell is capable of, outscoring the Patriots, 13-5, to tie the game at 17-17 going into halftime.

Mackenzi Greene was on fire from three-point range for the Rebels, knocking home three shots from downtown for nine of her team-high 11 points in the contest and helped Howell finish the half on a 11-2 burst.

“Best quarter we played was the second quarter and that helped us tie it up at the half,” Santopietro said. “We didn’t get that same energy coming out of halftime. We need to get back to playing team basketball. We have to play four quarters instead of one.”

Orloff rallied the Patriots to take control of the contest in the second half.

The junior scored the first three points of the third period to get Freehold Township back into the lead. Orloff extended the Patriots’ lead to 27-21 with 2:17 to go in the quarter by drilling home a jumper off a nice pass inside by teammate Lindsay Lloyd.

In total, Orloff recorded seven points in the period to help Freehold Township take a 31-21 lead into the fourth quarter. Orloff’s two baskets in the fourth quarter gave her 17 points for the game. The junior also racked up 22 rebounds on the boards to give her a double-double in the victory.

“We worked well as a team and played as a team to win the game,” Orloff said. “My teammates did a good job feeding me the ball inside and helping me box out defenders to get rebounds. It’s all about the team.”

Man-to-man defense was another big key to Freehold Township’s success in the second half.

Freehold Township outscored Howell, 28-10, in the second half. It’s the fourth time this season that Freehold Township has held its opponents to under 30 points in a game.

“We went back to man to start the second half,” Stoia said. “I challenged them and they each did a great job defending the girl they had.”

The Patriots are holding their opponents to an average of 40.1 points a game this season.

Junior Emily Tran scored nine points in the victory for the Patriots, while Lloyd and fellow teammate Kaylie Elsbree both tallied seven points in the contest.

Junior Grace Leary scored seven points in the contest for Howell. Leary helped the Rebels end their three-game skid on Jan. 25 against Vineland, scoring a team-high 20 points to lead Howell to a 58-56  triumph over the Fighting Clan.

Teammate Caitlin Gresko recorded a double-double in the victory over Vineland with 11 points and 12 rebounds for Howell, which moved to 7-5 on the season.

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports