TOMS RIVER - Heading into his team's WOBM Christmas Classic semifinal against fifth-seeded Marlboro Thursday night at the Toms River Athletic Center, Toms River North senior Holden Petrick had played through an injury and a shooting slump at the start of the season - a footnote in an otherwise flawless start for the unbeaten Mariners.

When Marlboro pushed Toms River North to the brink of their first loss of the season Thursday night, Petrick summoned the clutch shooting stroke that defined the stretch run of his junior season.

Petrick calmly drained the game-tying three-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime and Toms River North - the top seed in the 34th Annual WOBM Classic - pulled out a 69-63 win over Marlboro in double overtime to reach the championship game of the classic for the fourth straight year and fifth time in the last six.

"I was really happy to see us execute the way we did in a game like that," Toms River North coach Rory Caswell said. "When you are down late like we were, execution becomes critical and the guys battled to get themselves in position to tie the game and when we had to get a basket to tie the game, they executed exactly how we drew it up."

Petrick's heroics on Thursday were reminiscent of some of the shots he made during Toms River North's classic, triple-overtime loss to Shawnee in last year's NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV final in Toms River. Petrick hit a game-tying shot at the buzzer to extend that game and Thursday's win over Marlboro closely resembled that win, except Toms River North pulled out the win.

"It was a lot like that state championship loss last year," Petrick said. "Both teams were hitting big shots and fighting for every ball. I think it was a really good that we had experience in a game like that here because we were able to stay calm and execute tonight."

Petrick finished with 16 points - a season high for the leading returning scorer from last year's 28-win Mariners team. He missed the opening-round game against Jackson Memorial and scored four points in a quarterfinal win over St. Rose on Tuesday.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Holden," Caswell said. "He hasn't been 100 percent for us yet and it's affected him. He's a leader and he wants to be out there for his team and as long as he is, we want to get him the ball so he can shoot it. He's not afraid to shoot it and even when he's not going good, we want him shooting the ball."

Marlboro (3-3) led the tournament hosts Thursday by as many as 13 in the first half and went up 53-46 with 1:30 to play on a layup by junior center Dylan Kaufman on an inbound pass from senior Brian Levine.

Petrick kept Toms River North (6-0) in the game with his second three-pointer of the quarter, this time knocking down a shot from the left corner to cut the Mariner deficit to four. After a stop on the other end, senior Nick Perna tipped in a miss with 30 seconds left and Toms River North caught a break when Kaufman missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and senior Justin Marcus missed the second of two free throws.

Trailing by three, Toms River North pushed the ball upcourt and senior Mark Mogarte hit Petrick coming off a screen. Petrick had a clean look and did not hesitate, sticking the three from the left wing to tie the game at 54 with 10 seconds left in regulation.

"I got to a spot and saw the rim so I just shot it," Petrick said. "I was feeling pretty good about my shot so I just let it go. That's pretty much it."

Levine missed a driving layup and sophomore Alex Ratner missed a long three on Marlboro's final shot of regulation.

The Mustangs used their own bit of magic to send the game into double overtime. Levine left the game late in overtime due to a cramp, forcing senior Andrew Rimland into the game for the first time all night. With Marlboro trailing by three and time winding down, Marcus grabbed an offensive rebound and fired the ball out to Rimland. The senior gathered himself and buried a three-pointer with two seconds left in overtime to tied the game at 60-60.

With Levine still out, Toms River North wore down Marlboro and put the game away on the foul line. Senior Mark Mogarte went 7-for-10 from the line in the two overtime periods and finished with a team-high 18 points - all coming after halftime. Mogarte hit three three-pointers and scored four points in the third quarter alone. He also handed out five assists.

"A lot of teams are doubting us because of what we lost (from last year)," Mogarte said. "That just fires me and the other seniors up. It pushes us to where if we want to get a bucket, we get a bucket. We play with a chip on our shoulder and we did that tonight especially in the second half."

Mogarte and Petrick led five Toms River North players in double-figure scoring. Sophomore Najae Hallenbeck scored 11 points while seniors Travis Holland and Eliot Daks added 10 each. Hallenbeck also had eight rebounds and four blocks, Holland put up 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals, and Daks added eight rebounds and four steals.

Sophomore Alex Ratner led Marlboro with 22 points while Kaufman added 19. Ratner scored 14 points in the second half and Kaufman poured in 14 in the first half, with both Mustangs high scorers grabbing seven rebounds apiece. Prior to leaving the game with his injury, Levine posted nine points, six rebounds and eight assists.

Marlboro stormed out to a 30-17 lead late in the second quarter, sparked by an early 10-0 run that turned a 9-8 deficit into an 18-9 lead. Toms River North, however, chopped its deficit to 30-21 before halftime and Mogarte's 11 points helped spark the Mariners in the third, during which they took a 34-32 lead behind a 17-2 run.

The Mustangs, however, answered with seven straight points to reclaim the lead and would not give it up until overtime.

"They (Marlboro) were killing us inside and on the glass, and I think our big guys took it personal at halftime," Caswell said. "Kaufman is a great player and he's going to get his points, but the intensity just wasn't there in the first half like it was in the second half."

Toms River North will play No. 2 seed Manasquan in the championship game on Saturday night, with the Mariners looking for their second title in four years and Manasquan seeking its second in the last three. The Warriors beat Toms River North in 2015 and with a win on Saturday would give Toms River North its second three-game championship-game losing streak in the history of the tournament. Toms River North is the only team to lose three consecutive WOBM championship games, which the Mariners did from 1995 to 1997.

"This tournament has been big for us and we want to keep going and win it this year," Petrick said.

 

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