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MIDDLETOWN – For the first half of its Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal game against Wall, the Toms River North boys basketball team watched as its defensive game plan backfired and the Mariners’ resurgent season fell into jeopardy.

Instead of veering from the plan, Toms River North coach Rory Caswell reassured his team that the defensive scheme still represented their best chance to reach the SCT semifinals for the second time in three years.

Toms River North leaned on its best athlete, 6-foot-5 senior Jordan Craig, to anchor the paint and Craig delivered that and then some to help the Mariners beat the Shore Conference Class B North champion and fifth-seeded Crimson Knights, 68-56, Sunday at Brookdale Community College.

The Mariners will play in the SCT semifinals for the second time in three years Wednesday at Brookdale, where they will take on top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy. Toms River North will attempt to get back to the SCT championship game for the first time since 1996, when the Mariners lost to CBA in the final.

Toms River North senior Jordan Craig scored 20 points, grabbed 12 boards and blocked three shots to lead the Mariners back to the SCT semifinals. (Photo by Bill Normile)

“My job today was to control the paint on defense and grab rebounds,” Craig said. “We have multiple kids that can score, so whoever is cooking, we’ll get them the ball and let them go.”

Craig delivered 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots to lead Toms River North.

“He’s so unselfish that if the defense is starting to collapse, he’s going to find the open guy every time,” Caswell said of Craig. “If teams are going to challenge him to beat them, then he’s going to do what he did today, which was to attack the rim and crash the glass.”

From the outset Sunday, Toms River North committed to stopping the penetration of Wall’s guards and the easy lay-ups that result from it. That meant anchoring Craig in the paint to challenge any Wall player hoping to score near the basket, a strategy that contributed to a four-point halftime deficit for Toms River North.

“Our game plan was to kind of have Craig pinch off of his man and stay near the basket,” Caswell said. “If you’re forcing a team into jump shots, eventually the statistics come around and you’ll be okay.

“When (Wall forward Joe Tashjy) hit two early on, our team from earlier in the season might have panicked. We stayed with the game plan and even though they made a few more threes, they didn’t hurt us as much as Jordan in the middle helped us.”

The Crimson Knights welcomed Toms River North’s invitation to shoot 3-pointers, and they shot 9-for-21 from behind the arc for the game. Up until the fourth quarter, Wall had shot 8-for-14 from 3-point range.

With Craig instructed not to float too far from the basket, Tashjy popped out to the perimeter and hit three first-half 3-pointers to help put Wall ahead, 29-25, at the break. Wall caught Toms River North in between defenses enough during the third quarter to take a 46-45 lead into the fourth quarter and led 50-49 early in the fourth before the Mariners took off.

Toms River North blasted Wall with a 14-0 run over a span of a little more than three minutes to go up 63-50, capped by a three-point play by Craig. During the run, Craig scored seven points and junior Pat Marinaccio scored five – including a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Toms River North the first double-digit lead of the game at 60-50.

Marinaccio came off the bench to score 10 points and pull in nine rebounds, his most productive game since returning from an ankle sprain. Marinaccio injured his ankle on Jan. 28 and returned from the injury on Feb. 14, the first of three games Marinaccio has played since the injury. He combined for eight points in those first two games back, which included a regular-season loss to Point Pleasant Beach and a first-round SCT win over Shore Regional.

“This is the first game since he’s been back that he’s given us really big minutes, and he makes such a difference for us,” Caswell said. “He’s that type of player that when he was out, we didn’t have. He can get into the lane, he led our team in rebounding today, and he can take those big shots, so we really missed him when he wasn’t here.”

The productive game from Marinaccio was part of a 20-point effort from the Mariners' bench compared to two points on zero field goals by the Wall bench. Senior Ted Thelemaque added eight points off the bench for Toms River North, including two of the Mariners’ four 3-pointers in the game.

Junior Hunter Petrick has been a frequent contributor off the bench for Toms River North, particularly in Marinaccio’s absence. Petrick earned a start Sunday and delivered a nine-point performance in the win.

“We have guys on our bench who can start for a lot of teams, and we’ve tried to use that depth as a real weapon,” Caswell said. “Hunter Petrick did a great job for us hitting some big shots today. Not many teams have a player like Thelemaque with his size and shooting ability in the starting lineup, much less off the bench. Our depth has been a big part of our success, and we’re going to keep leaning on it.”

Tashjy finished with 15 points to help lead Wall, as did senior teammate Ryan Janeczek. Senior Trent Mitchell chipped in 14 points behind four 3-pointers, and senior Brendan Barcas contributed 10 points, five assists and three steals for a Crimson Knights team that already made history by winning the program's first outright division title since 1974.

The Mariners are back in the semifinals after a year hiatus that represented a complete rebuild of a 2012-13 SCT semifinal team that graduated all but one player from its regular eight-man rotation. Senior Evan Martin was the only player on last year’s team who also played in the SCT a year earlier, and while that resulted in growing pains for the Mariners last year, it has resulted in a ready-made team that picked up where it left off.

“This is the same place we were two years ago, but it feels a lot different,” said Martin, who scored 14 points on Sunday. “Back then, I was really nervous, just hoping I could get in the game and maybe help us. This year, it’s more my team with all of the seniors so it’s our time to shine.”

Toms River North will take on another capable shooting team on Wednesday when the Mariners face a CBA team that not only has five players on the court who can shoot, but players with size who can shoot. The Mariners like their guards in the match-up, but know their man in the middle is still the X-factor.

“They are very talented, they deserve to be the No. 1 seed, and we’re glad we’re playing them,” Martin said. “When the tournament was being seeded, we wanted to be put on the same side as CBA because we’re a team that wants to play the best competition out there. It’s going to be a challenge and we’ll be prepared.”

“Everybody has experience now,” Craig said. “We’re all ready to put it on them.”

Box Score

Toms River North 68, Wall 56






Wall (17-6)






Toms River North (19-4)







Wall (56): Brendan Barcas 2 6-11 10, Ryan Janeczek 5 3-3 15, Joe Tashjy 6 0-0 15, Mike Andrejco 0 0-0 0, Trent Mitchell 4 2-2 14, Matt Andrejco 0 0-0 0, R.J. Janeczek 0 2-2 2, Steve Geis 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 13-18 56

Three-pointers: Ryan Janeczek 2, Tashjy 3, Mitchell 4

Toms River North (68): Darrion Carrington 0 0-6 0, Evan Martin 4 6-8 14, Jordan Craig 9 2-5 20, Hunter Petrick 4 0-0 9, Mike Nyisztor 1 3-3 5, Ted Thelemaque 3 0-0 8, Pat Marinaccio 4 1-1 10, Kevin Blum 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 12-23 68

Three-pointers: Petrick, Thelemaque 2, Marinaccio