FREEHOLD TWP. - Freehold Township senior Mike Maltese swears he does not unleash crosses on a soccer field with any special sort of laser precision, but the way his passes through the air and into the 18-yard box turn into Patriots goals suggests otherwise.

Perhaps senior Chris Hoskins has something to do with that. The Patriots forward recorded a hat trick in Monday's 3-0 win over Manalapan, with two goals coming on headers off crosses from Mike Maltese. The win secures the Shore Conference Class A North public division championship for Freehold Township.

"Most of us play club ball together and there is just a lot of chemistry between us out on the field," Hoskins said. "I know if I make my run to the right spot, Mike is going to put the ball right there."

Maltese connected with Hoskins on a corner kick in the 10th minute, which Hoskins headed off of a Manalapan defender on the back post and into the netting on the opposite post.

The Patriots took a 2-0 lead in the 29th minute when senior Mark Fasano played the ball through to Hoskins, who outran the defense and finished low to the far left corner of the net for his second goal of the game.

Hoskins capped the scoring with another header on a cross from Mike Maltese, this one coming after the Patriots played a short corner with Maltese driving the ball to the far right post, where Hoskins headed it into the right side of the goal.

Manalapan threatened to trim the lead in half in the fifth minute of the second half, but Patriots goalkeeper Mike Christina denied consecutive shot, parrying the second of the two up off the crossbar and away from the goal.

While Hoskins has emerged as the Patriots' primary goal-scoring threat, particularly out of the air on set pieces, Maltese established himself as the front end of goals with his speed to the end line and accurate swing on crosses. He assisted or scored all but one of Freehold Township's Shore Conference Tournament goals last season during the Patriots' championship run.

"I'm not trying to be super accurate when I play a cross in," Maltese said. "I'm just trying to give our big guys a chance to go make a play on it and they know where to make the runs. They do a great job of positioning and out-jumping defenders when they have a chance at a goal and knowing that, I'm just looking to give them a chance."

In addition to finding its scoring touch, Freehold Township's defense is also back in top form with the return of senior Jake Kennis at center fullback. Monday was Kennis's third game back since missing 10 matches due the effects of a concussion and since his return to the lineup, Freehold Township has shutout both Manalapan and Howell and played unbeaten Pennington to a 2-2 draw.

"Jake's an intense player and a great leader in the back," Maltese said. "He keeps things organized back there and we can do a lot more with the ball when he's back there. It makes everybody on the field a lot better and it's really showed since he's been back.

The healthy lineup has Freehold Township steamrolling into the postseason in search of a second straight Shore Conference Tournament title. The Patriots were awarded the No. 3 seed in the tournament on Monday night.

"Last year, CBA (in the SCT round of 16) was definitely the game that got us going," Maltese said. "This year, it's the Pennington game. That was the most intense game any of us have been a part of and coming out of it the way we did got us fired up and ready to play in the postseason. It's starting a week earlier than last year, but we feel like we're coming on strong at the right time."