NJSIAA Group III Championship

Sunday, March 10, 2024

At RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, Toms River

Tipoff: 6:30 p.m.

Freehold Boro (24-7) vs. Ramapo (24-8)

Freehold Boro at a Glance

Head Coach: Ben DiBiase

Last Group Championship: None

Last Group Final Appearance: None

Road to the Final: Defeated No. 10 Matawan, 69-52; No. 2 Nottingham, 58-56; No. 6 Ewing, 59-56; No. 1 Red Bank, 67-58; No. 1 Mainland, 73-68


Brian Tassey, Jr., 6-4 (12.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 blocks)

Christian DiGiso, Sr., 6-0 (10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 steals)

Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk, Jr., 6-5 (12.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 blocks)

Qua’Mir Everett, Jr., 6-4 (11.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks)

Sam Cranwell, Sr., 6-1 (6.0 points, 2.7 rebounds)

Off the Bench

Will Hon, Sr., 5-10

Damier Lester, So., 6-0

Freehold Boro junior Qua'Mir Everett throws down one of his dunks vs. Mainland. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Freehold Boro junior Qua'Mir Everett throws down one of his dunks vs. Mainland. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Ramapo at a Glance

Head Coach: Nick Vier

Last Group Championship: 2023

Last Group Final Appearance: 2023

Road to the Final: Defeated No. 16 Passaic Valley, 70-39; No. 9 Dwight-Morrow, 84-48; No. 5 Teaneck, 82-44; No. 2 Northern Highlands, 50-34; No. 3 Colonia, 49-31.


Peyton Seals, Sr., 6-4 (14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks)

Wyatt Eglinton-Manner, Sr., 6-3 (12.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals)

Chris Cervino, Sr., 6-0 (12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals)

Charlie Wingfield, Jr., 6-5 (6.0 points, 5.1 rebounds)

Ryan Goldman, Jr., 6-3 (6.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists)

Off the Bench

Zach Schnorrbusch, Sr., 6-2

Jordan Ricks, Sr., 5-10

Peter Keith, Jr., 6-3

Freehold Boro junior Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk pulls down a rebound against Freehold Township. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Freehold Boro junior Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk pulls down a rebound against Freehold Township. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

When the current season started, Freehold Boro coach Ben DiBiase knew his team would be better than it was the season prior, but he needed his players to believe that. So while the Colonials entered the season as a team that opened the eyes of multiple opposing coaches over the summer and in the fall with their tantalizing talent, the non-divisional schedule did not necessarily reflect a team that knew it was ready to go to the next level.

“We needed wins,” DiBiase said. “We already had some big teams on our division schedule, and with the way the last two years went for us, our guys needed confidence. Did we want to eventually start competing with the top teams? Of course. But early on, it was important just to give ourselves a chance to win some games and start feeling good about ourselves.”

The progression has, of course, worked out wonderfully for Freehold Boro, who has improved dramatically – not only since going 8-16 a year ago and a staggering 0-21 two seasons ago, but also since the start of the season. The Colonials took their lumps against the likes of St. Rose, Manasquan and Holmdel, while winning three games against teams with winning records prior to February: Academy Charter (11-10), Southern (16-10) and Point Pleasant Boro (17-10).

The early-season struggles have led to a different Freehold Boro in February and March, one that has taken on almost all comers. Starting with a Jan. 31 win at Matawan, the Colonials are 12-2 with a loss to St. Rose in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 and a tune-up loss to Marlboro, 61-55, in mid-February.

With its win over a 26-win Mainland team that has done a lot of winning as a group, Freehold Boro proved it is a legitimate threat to walk out of RWJ Barnabas Health Arena with a trophy in hand.

Freehold Boro junior Brian Tassey. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Freehold Boro junior Brian Tassey. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

The schedule talk is relevant because of who Freehold Boro is playing Sunday. Ramapo took the exact opposite approach to scheduling as Freehold did, loading up its slate with some of the best teams in New Jersey. Of the 19 other 2024 NJSIAA sectional champions around the state, Ramapo has already played eight of them this year and Freehold Boro will make nine. The Raiders have even played two of those sectional champions multiple times, beating North Jersey Section 1 Group IV champion Ridgewood twice and losing twice to Non-Public A champion Don Bosco Prep.

That is the sort of scheduling one would expect from a program that will be playing in its fourth consecutive Group III championship game dating back to 2019. The Raiders lost back-to-back state finals before finally breaking through last year for its first ever Group championship.

Freehold Boro will not throw anything at Ramapo it hasn’t seen this year, but that does not mean the Colonials can’t cause some problems for the Raiders. Juniors Brian Tassey, Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk and Qua’Mir Everett are all playing at a high level and delivering on both ends of the floor every game, while senior Christian DiGiso has been the steadying presence at point guard. Those three juniors all stand at least 6-foot-4 with considerable length, athleticism and scoring ability, with Tassey and Hamlin-Woolfolk emerging as a one-two scoring punch over the last several games.

Those four Freehold Boro players have been so electric during the state tournament that the fifth spot on the floor has only had to be solid, which is exactly what senior Sam Cranwell brings to the lineup. Cranwell has been good for a knockdown three each game while providing ball-handling and tough defense. Will Hon is an experienced senior off the bench who can hit a big three-pointer, while sophomore guard Damier Lester has shown no fear when called upon.

Freehold Boro senior Sam Cranwell. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Freehold Boro senior Sam Cranwell. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Ramapo counters with three players who are averaging in double-figure scoring, led by Princeton commit Peyton Seals. At 6-4, Seals has the size and strength to battle in the paint while also being a deadly shooter that Freehold Boro will have to honor. Chris Cervino and Wyatt Eglinton-Manner also average better than 12 points per game and can make Freehold Boro pay if Seals draws too much attention.

Juniors Charlie Wingfield and Ryan Goldman don’t score as much, but bring size to the lineup and can pitch in on the offensive end in spots to aid the senior trio. Ramapo will not go to its bench much unless compelled, so if Freehold Boro can get into attack mode and force some foul trouble, Ramapo might have trouble working around that. By the same token, Freehold Boro will have to keep its three juniors on the floor as much as possible to keep the pressure on the Raiders’ defense.

That Ramapo defense has carried the Raiders through the tournament, limiting opponents to 39.2 points in their five NJSIAA playoff wins. In the last two games, Ramapo held down a high-scoring Northern Highlands team to 34 points and clamped down on Colonia in the Group III semifinal for a 49-31 win. Going back to a noteworthy January game, Ramapo held St. Rose to 17 first-half points and 32 points through three quarters before the state’s No. 1 team closed out a 56-38 win.

Freehold Boro senior Christian DiGiso. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Freehold Boro senior Christian DiGiso. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Freehold Boro has shown the talent to play with Ramapo on Sunday and over the last four games, the Colonials have also demonstrated the mental toughness to close out close games, even when the game looks like it is slipping away. As a defending Group III champion, Ramapo most certainly has the experience advantage, but the Raiders – who have outscored their five NJSIAA Tournament opponents by an average margin of 27.8 points – also have not been in a close game all tournament long. If the game is close in the final minutes, that might swing the edge to Freehold, which has routinely had to survive tense fourth quarters.

Whatever the outcome Sunday night in Toms River, Freehold Boro has authored a remarkable ride to the program’s first ever state final just two years removed from a 0-21 season. On top of that, its three imposing juniors are all due back next year and could make this a special two-year run. Next year is a long way away, however, and a championship is right in front of the Colonials now, with a potential back-to-back champion standing in the way. 

Sunday’s game looks like it will determine whether Ramapo is a back-to-back champion or Freehold Boro enters 2024-25 as a major threat to win back-to-back titles. Either way, the Colonials have put Freehold Boro on the basketball map and the community has responded. The Freehold faithful will be out in droves Sunday in Toms River hoping for one last win.

Picking against the Colonials has been a foolish endeavor, but it has worked out well for them. So, with that in mind, here is one last favor to the team that has become one of the feel-good stories in the state.

The Pick: Ramapo, 58-54

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