RED BANK -- Two years ago, Brian Tassey played almost every meaningful minute of every game as a freshman at Freehold Boro, although it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a meaningful minute when your team is on its way to an 0-21 season.

Rather than bolt for a better basketball situation, Tassey and teammates Christian DiGiso, Sam Cranwell and Will Hon all stuck it out after the nightmare 0-21 season in 2021-22 and those minutes two years ago indeed proved to be meaningful. They were the early building blocks of one of the more improbable championship seasons the Shore Conference has ever seen.

Saturday at Red Bank Regional High School, Freehold Boro's talent, teamwork and community support were on full display as the Colonials -- the No. 7 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III section -- took down top-seeded Red Bank, 67-58, to complete the climb from 0-21 to sectional champions.

The sectional title is the first for Freehold Boro since winning Central Jersey Group I in 1973, ending a 51-year championship drought for the boys basketball program.

"I have loved every second of playing at Freehold," Tassey said. "I stayed here because I love the town, I love the people, I love my teammates, I love every staff member and I told them this is the year we are going to do it and we did it."

"Just seeing the past players and the support they have given these guys has been special," said Freehold Boro coach Ben DiBiase, who is in the 14th-season of a two-part tenure as Colonials head coach. "Guys who are now in their thirties coming out to have them experience it for our current guys to feel that is very fulfilling."

Freehold Boro entered this year with only winning season since 2010-11 and that was an 8-7 mark during the COVID-shortened 2021 campaign. Following the 0-21 season, the Colonials made a significant jump in wins, but still finished only 8-16. To go from eight wins to a championship, it was less about a vision and more about the day-to-day work that went into it, according to DiBiase.

"I thought we had the potential to be better than an eight-win team," DiBiase said. "At this school, if we buy-in we win. Football in 2008, football in 2010, some success in basketball in 2010 -- those teams bought in. If we do that, we listen and we get better, we can win championships. It's just about getting the players to do that and this team, one hundred percent, did that."

Tassey delivered 17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots to help pace the Colonials, while fellow junior Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter to help close out the victory.

Junior Qua'mir Everett finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and made two momentum-altering plays -- one in the first quarter and one in the fourth.

With his team trailing, 15-8, in the first, Everett grabbed a defensive rebound in the waning seconds of the quarter, dribbled it up the court and pulled up for contested a 25-foot three-pointer that he swished at the buzzer. Freehold Boro would ride that wave in the second quarter to take a 26-24 halftime lead, with Everett and Hamlin-Woolfolk each hitting a three and Tassey scoring five points during a 15-7 second-quarter run.

"It's funny, because the first couple of games, I wasn't allowed to shoot a three," Everett said. "I would go for the three and they would tell me not to, but I have been working on it, knowing I am going to have to hit big shots. I hit some last game too and I just really appreciate the coaches trusting me to take some threes and make those decisions."

"Coach (Elijah) Barnes, coach (Andrew) Guy and coach (Shakeem) Richardson had to convince me that those guys could go out there and do that," DiBiase said of giving Everett and Hamlin-Woolfolk the green light. "I would scream, 'Get in the paint, get in the paint.' And they would be like, 'Coach, if they hit one or two threes, the defense has to come out and play them.' So I said, 'Okay, let's try it.' All the credit to them, my staff is unbelievable."

Everett's other tide-turning play came with 4:30 left in the game and Red Bank closing in fast. The Bucs had scored five straight points to cut a nine-point deficit to 51-47 and junior Ryan Fisher stole the ball and had no one between him and a basket that would have cut the deficit to two.

Everett, however, ran him down and took off for a chase-down block that he slammed off the backboard and Red Bank fumbled the rebound out of bounds to give the ball back to Freehold Boro.

"I have been working on that," Everett said. "I have done that a few times, but I feel like every other time, the other team would get the rebound and score. I'm grateful my team got back and got the rebound and stopped them from scoring."

After that block by Everett, Freehold Boro went on a 13-2 run to go up 64-49, it's largest lead of the game. Hamlin-Woolfolk scored nine of his points in the quarter during that run, punctuated by a dunk that stretched the lead to 15.

Prior to the dunk, Hamlin-Woolfolk completed a three-point play to push Freehold's lead into double-figures for the first time, 60-48. With 2:16 left on the clock, the Colonials began to sense the championship was theirs.

Everett and Hamlin-Woolfolk have made a significant impact this season as long, athletic 6-foot-5 players to complement the 6-4 Tassey and the steady guard play of DiGiso, Cranwell and Hon. This year was the first for Everett as part of the program. He grew up with the rest of the players on the team while splitting time between households in Freehold and Barnegat and made the decision to move in with his grandparents in Freehold at the end of the last school year.

"I love everybody on this team and it feels like ever since I stepped into this community, we have gotten tighter and tighter," Everett said. "It took us a lot to get here and I just love and appreciate everybody on this team and in this program.

"The coaches, Deebs (DiBiase), welcomed me in, but I had to gain my starting spot. It wasn't just handed to me and I really like how he did that."

Hamlin-Woolfolk was a varsity contributor as a sophomore, but suffered an early-season injury and did not earn his way back into the starting lineup, by his own account. In the last year, he has turned himself into an offensive force and has led the Colonials in scoring in each of their four NJSIAA Tournament victories while averaging an even 20 points in the four games.

"Last year, I got injured and came back in January. I was looking forward to the playoffs and I got benched because I didn't earn it," Hamlin-Woolfolk said of his experience as a sophomore. "Or (DiBiase) didn't think I was capable because I didn't put the work in. Coming into this year, in the playoffs, I felt like I had to prove something and I clearly did."

Hamlin-Woolfork credits training sessions with Shore Conference legend and former NBA player Lloyd Daniels for helping him improve over the last calendar year. The junior forward also grabbed six rebounds in Saturday's win.

DiGiso -- one of three seniors to see the court for the Colonials Saturday along with Cranwell and Hon -- scored 11 points to give Freehold Boro four players in double-figure scoring. Cranwell knocked down a first-quarter three-pointer for his three points and Hon closed out the scoring with a free throw in the final minute.

Tassey took over the game in the second quarter, during which he scored five points on a pair of and-ones -- one of which he converted at the free-throw line. He also blocked a shot at the rim that led to an acrobatic layup by DiGiso on the other end that gave Freehold Boro a 24-22 lead late in the second.

In the third, Tassey grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists while scoring five more points as the Colonials maintained a three-point lead.

"I noticed they (Red Bank) were really focused on boxing out Qua'Mir and Aidan, so that gave me some free shots at rebounds," Tassey said. "Then, they started paying more attention to me and one of the other guys would start getting them. They were scrappy. We didn't do a great job on the glass early in the game, but we knew were taller and that we should be able to dominate the boards."

Tassey's all-around performance is in line with the game he has showcased all season. He entered Saturday leading the Colonials in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks and at one point this season, he recorded a triple-double in three consecutive games.

"Put yourself in Brian's shoes," Freehold Boro coach Ben DiBiase said. "He is a freshman, comes to our school, didn't win a game. He played every minute and lost 21 times, just like everybody else. He kept working, kept grinding, stayed with us sophomore year, got better and won a couple more games. Now, he is a force to be reckoned with. Inside-outside game, can handle it, can shoot it. He's awesome. I love coaching him. His work ethic is ridiculous. He is a kid that you never have to ask to go."

Senior Braydon Kirkpatrick led Red Bank with 18 points, seven rebounds and four steals, with those three steals coming in Freehold Boro's first three possessions of the game. Red Bank's other four starters each contributed at least nine points, with junior Zayier Dean posting 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Fisher added 10 points, while junior Trey Moore and senior Jameson Ackerman each chipped in nine. Moore also grabbed seven rebounds, while Ackerman hit three three-pointers to account for his scoring.

Red Bank was seeking its first NJSIAA sectional title since 1993, which would have been another landmark achievement for the Bucs this season. Prior to Saturday, Red Bank had already clinched its first 20-win season in two decades and won its first outright Shore Conference division championship since 2006-07.

Saturday's win was a third straight road victory for Freehold Boro, which defeated defending Central Group III champion Nottingham on Tuesday and No. 6 Ewing on Thursday in Mercer County. The Colonials will next play on Wednesday at Monroe in the Group III semifinal against South Jersey champion Mainland.

"After we beat Matawan (in the first round) I still felt like I had something to prove," Hamlin-Woolfolk said. "After every game, I still feel like I have something to prove. We all still have something to prove."

"You see where we are right now," Everett said. "We got a chip. I really don't want this to end. Eventually, it's going to end, but we got a title and I'm proud of that. We got a ring today."

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