TOMS RIVER - Losing to rival Toms River East Saturday would not have spoiled the plans of the Toms River North boys basketball team to eventually win a third outright Shore Conference Class A South division championship in three years, but it would have ended a pursuit that the Mariners currently hold in high regard because it is a new frontier for a program that is fast making winning old hat.

With more than just a division title in mind, the Mariners battled through a fourth-quarter resistance from the Raiders and kept their dream of an unbeaten season in Class A South alive.

Junior Jaden Rhoden knocked down two go-ahead free throws with 1.9 seconds left and the Mariners pulled out a 50-49 win over Toms River East to wrap up their third A South title in four years and improve to 12-0 in division games this season.

Toms River North junior Jaden Rhoden hit the winning free throws Saturday against Toms River East. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"It means a lot," junior Darrion Carrington said of winning the division. "Everybody at the beginning of the season is trying to feel themselves out, but with us, we already know that at the beginning of the season. Coach (Rory) Caswell stresses that part of it in our gameplan and he just brings us together. It's what's made us successful."

Toms River East took its first lead since 2-0 when junior, Phil Lingat hit two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to make the score 49-48. After the Raiders knocked the ball out of bounds with 4.7 seconds left, Toms River North called time out and threw the ball to Rhoden on the inbound. He was fouled making a move out near the three-point line and with the Mariners in the double-bonus, was awarded a trip to the line with a chance to win the game.

"I knew I had two shots and I just wanted to make sure I made one so we could at least have a chance in overtime," Rhoden said. "Once I hit that first one, I didn't feel the pressure on the second one."

Lingat got off a desperation shot as time expired, but the 30-footer fell short to officially end the Class A South division race.

Rhoden finished with nine points and seven rebounds after battling first-half foul trouble, while fellow juniors Mike Nyizstor and Carrington each led the Mariners with 12 points. Carrington also handed out five assists, while senior Pat Marinaccio pitched in 10 points and 18 rebounds.

Lingat, meanwhile, led Toms River East with a game-high 18 points and helped the Raiders overcome an 11-point second-half deficit. Senior Bailey Engelhard added seven points, 11 rebounds and three steals for Toms River East.

According to Toms River North coach Rory Caswell, the program has never won a division title with an unbeaten division record. Caswell took over the Mariners in 2011-12 and has turned the team from a middle-of-pack program to one that has competed for a division championship year-in and year-out.

After winning A South and reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals in 2013, Toms River North graduated every single starter and returned just one player from the rotation the next season. Despite the loss of talent, the Mariners posted a winning record in 2013-14 and won again won the division and reached the SCT semifinals the following year.

This year, Toms River North is looking to make it consecutive titles with consecutive trips to the SCT semifinals, but the players would now like to take things a step further. Over the next week, phase one involves beating Brick and Jackson Memorial to cap an unbeaten A South regular season.

"I think it's something we'd like to do," Caswell said. "We won the division today, so we told the kids the next challenge is to win our next game and put ourselves in position to go undefeated, which would be something new for us."

Beyond the regular season, the Mariners are also looking to expand on what they have done during the postseason over these past four years. They hit a wall in the semifinals last year against CBA, which held Toms River North scoreless for nearly 12 minutes and to five first-half points in a Colts rout. The Mariners then lost at home as the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV playoffs in the quarterfinal round.

"You could just tell from us winning close games like this that we've come a long way," Marinaccio said. "In the beginning of the season, we'd start to break down towards the fourth quarter, but just from us working hard and listening to our coaches, you can definitely tell that we can definitely play a complete game now."