*Photo gallery by Bill Normile*

WEST LONG BRANCH - From the minute basketball practices began in early December, Point Beach was expected to accomplish a feat that it had never achieved in the 77-year history of the Shore Conference Tournament.

  • Listen to audio of the boys Point/CBA game and girls Manasquan/St. Rose game at the bottom of this story.

The top-seeded Garnet Gulls fulfilled expectations on Saturday by knocking off second-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, 49-41, at Monmouth University for their first SCT title behind a game-high 25 points by senior point guard Matt Farrell on 8-for-14 shooting and 10 points and 5 rebounds by senior forward Dom Uhl. While adding an SCT title to the program’s first NJSIAA Group I championship from a year ago may have seemed pre-ordained for Point Beach (25-1), which has been the top-ranked team in the Shore since the preseason, it took numerous twists and turns to add another chapter in school history.

Point Beach won its first Shore Conference Tournament title in program history and became the first Group I team to take home the crown since Asbury Park in 1986 by beating CBA on Saturday. (Photo by Bill Normile)

It took the leadership of a veteran coach whose heart had to be shocked back to life in a harrowing health scare barely over a month before practice began. It took a determined senior point guard who made 500 shots a day in the offseason and could be found doing Pete Maravich ball-handling drills at all hours. It took the silky athleticism of a player who didn’t even live in the United States two years ago. It took the stroke of luck of a three-sport star who was raised in Point Beach returning home after his father had moved the family to North Carolina following a job change.

All of those circumstances and more added up to a memorable day for Ocean County’s smallest public school on Saturday. The Garnet Gulls became the first Group I team to win the SCT since Asbury Park in 1986.

“This was one of our main goals,’’ said senior Noah Yates, who had eight points. “It was last year, and we couldn’t get it done (in a loss to Lakewood). Getting here, we played well, and we played together. This was one of our best games of the season.

“Coming in as the No. 1 team in the Shore as a small school kind of puts a little target on your back. A lot of people don’t really like you because they think you’re arrogant. We’ve kind of accepted that title that we had in the preseason, and then we backed it up this year.”

“It feels great,’’ said Point Beach head coach Nick Catania. “The kids put a lot of hard work into that, so I’m really proud of them.”

The pressure has been on them from Day One, and they have embraced the role of Goliath that CBA has inhabited so many times during its history.

“We know people don’t like us,’’ Farrell said. “We’re fine with that. We like that. We’re very stubborn. We knew it was us against the world today. We like having the targets on our back. That adds more fuel to the fire.”

The Garnet Gulls made their decisive move midway through the third quarter to take a four-point lead going into the final period and then closed out the win with the pressure defense and high-percentage foul shooting that have been their hallmarks during the championship run. After CBA (17-5) took a six-point lead early in the third quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore star Pat Andree, who finished with a team-high 23 points, Point Beach outscored the Colts 28-14 the rest of the way.

The comeback began with a 3-pointer by Yates, a three-sport standout who moved back from North Carolina two years ago and also starred on the Point Beach football team that made history this past fall with the program’s first state sectional title. His triple jumpstarted a 12-2 run to end the quarter with a 33-29 lead.

 

Farrell capped the period with a pull-up 3-pointer off the dribble after Uhl floated a pass to him over CBA’s run-and-jump defense.

“That was a big part of the game because they were trying to hold for one and we got the stop, and we got the shot at the end of the quarter,’’ Farrell said. “That was definitely a momentum-changer.”

“I felt good about the momentum going into the fourth,’’ Catania said. “The kids were fired up, and then we came out and got stops. We created some turnovers in the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth. Our defense stepped it up a notch.”

Point Beach’s defense, which did not allow more than 41 points in regulation in any of its final three games of the tournament, forced six fourth-quarter turnovers. CBA missed its first four shots of the fourth quarter, and the Garnet Gulls pushed the lead to 37-31 on a pull-up by Farrell and a backdoor layup by Farrell off a dish by Uhl.  The Garnet Gulls then brought home the big plaque by shooting 12-for-14 from the foul line in the final 2:45.

“We know if we have a lead by even three or four points, it’s more comfortable than most people’s three- or four-point leads because we knock down free throws,’’ Yates said.

Up to that point in the third quarter, the game had been neck-and-neck, as the Garnet Gulls led by a point after the first quarter and the teams were tied at 21 at the half. Both teams entered the game having not lost to a Shore Conference opponent all season. While Andree had a big game, Point Beach smothered the rest of the Colts, with no other player reaching double figures. Andree shot 10-for-16 from the field, but the rest of the Colts shot a combined 6-for-26.

“In a big game, Andree is going to be a big-time player,’’ Catania said. “He is going to get some points. You don’t want to let the other guys beat you. We’re not going to double, and now all of a sudden everybody has got an (open) three.”

“We knew they had a lot of weapons on the floor,’’ Yates said. “They have five guys that could score the ball at pretty much any point. We were just trying to limit their open shots, and our main two things are always to defend and rebound.”

Senior point guard Matt Farrell cemented his reputation as the Shore's top player with a game-high 25 points to lead Point Beach to the SCT title. (Photo by Bill Normile)

The 6-foot-8 Uhl, who is committed to Iowa, slowed down Navy-bound CBA guard Louie Pillari (7 points) and also helped on Andree by switching with Yates on high screens. He has become a key cog in the Point Beach machine since coming over from Frankfurt, Germany, before last season. He has followed in the footsteps of Point Beach’s all-time leading scorer, current Rhode Island guard Jarelle Reischel, who came from Frankfurt to Point Pleasant and became a star.

“I never would’ve thought of this two years ago,’’ Uhl said before smiling. “It means a lot, especially because when Jarelle was here they never won it.”

The engine that drove the run to history was clearly Farrell, a four-year starter who has made himself into a Division I player through tireless offseason work. His performance on Saturday was so impressive that new Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan, who was in the crowd at Monmouth, offered him a scholarship on the spot after the game. Farrell, who initially was committed to Boston College before re-opening his recruitment, listed Fordham, St. Joseph’s, Monmouth, Providence, Creighton and Iona as other schools in the hunt for his commitment.

“Matt’s a special kid,’’ Catania said. “He’s a throwback kid. The only thing he cares about is winning.”

Along with Uhl, Yates and the supporting cast of forward Chris Schifano, center Jeff Bryant and guards Mike Frauenheim and Matt VanNostrand, Farrell also helped give a special gift to Catania. Reaching the pinnacle of Shore Conference basketball had been his plan since he took over 10 years ago at his alma mater, and he nearly didn’t live to see it. On Oct. 14, Catania collapsed at work due to heart arrhythmia and nearly died.

“Honestly, I don’t really try to think about it that much because I just try to move forward with my life,’’ Catania said. “Just thinking about it today, three months ago there was a chance I wasn’t going to even be here at all. The last thing on my mind was winning the Shore Conference Tournament. I’ve been so fortunate for the people who helped me that day and just the people that have helped me and supported me through it and allowed me to come back and be here.”

With the one gap in the resume now filled, Point Beach will look to defend its Group I title from a year ago in the upcoming state playoffs, where it is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I. The Garnet Gulls’ only loss this season is a two-point nonconference setback against perennial state power Patrick School, which beat Linden to win the Union County Tournament on Saturday.

“I think we had kind of a lull at the beginning of the Shore Conference Tournament, and now we have our edge back,’’ Uhl said.

 

Box score

Point Beach 49, CBA 41

CBA (41): Laffey 0 0-0 0, Pillari 1 5-6 7, Ekekeugbor 3 0-0 6, Kennedy 1 0-0 2, Andree 10 0-0 23, Gordinier 1 0-0 3, Belbey 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 5-6 41.

Pt. Beach (49): Farrell 8 6-7 25, Schifano 1 1-2 3, Yates 2 2-2 8, Uhl 3 4-5 10, Bryant 0 0-0 0, Van Nostrand 0 0-0 0, Frauenheim 1 1-2 3. Totals: 15 14-18 49.

CBA (17-5)             8 13 8 12 - 41

Pt. Beach (25-1)   9  12 12 16 – 49

Three-pointers: (C) Andree 3, Gordinier; (P) Farrell 3, Yates 2. Fouled out: None.


GAME AUDIO

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Girls: Manasquan/St .Rose

Pre Game and 1st Quarter

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2nd Quarter

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Half Time

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3rd Quarter

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4th Quarter and Post Game

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Boys: Point/CBA

Pre Game & 1st Quarter

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2nd Quarter

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Half Time

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3rd Quarter

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4th Quarter & Post game

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