TOMS RIVER -- The dream ride of the Freehold Boro boys basketball team took the Colonials all the way to the final game of the 2023-24 high school basketball season in New Jersey and for one quarter of the NJSIAA Group III final, the dream continued.

Then, Ramapo unleashed a shooting exhibition that served as the alarm clock that shook Freehold Boro and its loyal fanbase awake from their dream.

After Freehold Boro opened another game on fire, Ramapo countered with a near-perfect offensive second quarter that jumpstarted a 94-47 rout that ended Freehold Boro's deepest postseason run in school history and gave Ramapo its second straight Group III championship.

"It's been very gratifying to see hard work pay off for kids who did it the right way," Freehold Boro coach Ben DiBiase said. "I really do think these kids did it the right way. They became very close and they won games where they were out-talented because they trusted each other. That right there alone is something I'm very proud of."

Freehold Boro opened the game by hitting 8 of its first 9 shots from the field to storm out to a 19-9 lead on the defending Group III champion and made it to the end of the first quarter leading, 19-14.

The first quarter ended with Ramapo senior Chris Cervino hitting a three-pointer from the corner that would be the start of an all-time shooting performance in a group final.

Cervino stayed red-hot in the second quarter, hitting his next three three-point attempts. Senior teammate and Princeton commit Peyton Seals followed with another three-pointer that gave Ramapo its first lead, 26-24 -- one the Raiders would not surrender.

Cervino and Seals led an 11-for-12 shooting performance by Ramapo during the second quarter, including 10 straight made shot attempts from the field without a turnover by the Raiders. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, Ramapo had outscored Freehold Boro, 32-9, in the second quarter and led, 46-28, at halftime.

"They were much better than most of the teams we played this year and they were hot," Freehold Boro senior Christian DiGiso said. "They didn't miss very many shots, so they made it tough."

With two free throws by junior Charlie Wingfield to open the second half, Ramapo turned a 10-point first-quarter deficit into a 20-point third-quarter lead with a 39-9 run.

"Our defense wasn't exactly where we wanted it to start the game, but you also have to give them credit," Seals said of Freehold Boro's start. "They hit some difficult shots and I think it was a mixture of us dialing in and also them cooling down a little bit that got us back in it."

It would only get worse from there for Freehold Boro, which broke up the run with a three-pointer by senior Christian DiGiso that made the score 48-31. Ramapo had another loud answer, which came in the form of a 16-0 run that ended any thoughts of Freehold Boro hanging around into the fourth quarter.

Seals and Cervino both had nights to remember, with Seals closing out his brilliant varsity career with a game-high and career-high 35 points to go with five assists and six steals.

"I was extremely impressed with both of their top guys as far as how they executed against what we tried to do to them," DiBiase said. "Whether it was face-guard or running two at them or zoning a little bit, we struggled with those two. They have been here four times in a row, so that's a really solid program, very deserving and they certainly earned this title today."

Cervino also hit a new career-high with 34 points on 9-for-16 shooting from beyond the three-point arc and his final three landed him on exactly 1,000 career points to end his career. The Ramapo senior guard was 8-for-12 when he started chasing those last three points and after his final three hit the milestone, he exited to a rousing ovation from the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena crowd.

"I didn't know I was close to 1,000," Cervino said. "One of my coaches told me. I came into this game just thinking 'Let's get this win.' I did not think this big accomplishment was going to happen tonight. It almost brings a tear to my eye. It's an accomplishment I have been working for and to get it this way, it doesn't get any better."

"That was like a video game or something," Seals said. "For Chris to go crazy, I think that was by far his career-high and to get 1,000, that is something you draw up in a movie."

Freehold Boro's big four led its hot start, with junior forwards Qua'Mir Everett and Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk combining for three three-pointers during the 19-9 run to open the game. Junior Brian Tassey and DiGiso each scored four during the game-opening burst.

Both Hamlin-Woolfolk and Everett finished with 14 points apiece, while DiGiso finished with nine. Tassey did not score after the first quarter and added five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots to his final line of the 2023-24 season.

Hamlin-Woolfolk, Everett and Tassey give Freehold Boro three players around whom to potentially build another Group III contender next season. The Colonials also bring back sophomore Damier Lester, who gave Freehold Boro important postseason minutes.

"Kids cope in different ways with the trauma of a loss and that's how Brian started coping in the locker room," DiBiase said. "He started talking to me about how we're going to work towards getting better and getting back here and winning it. So I would expect they will take a couple of weeks, decompress and start figuring it out from there."

Despite the exciting group of juniors, Freehold Boro will miss a senior class that helped transform the program from a winless team in 2021-22 to one that reached its first ever NJSIAA Group final just two years later. DiGiso was a contributor from the time he was a freshman and grew into a leader over his four years. Classmates Sam Cranwell and Will Hon did it for the last three years as scrappy guards who played major minutes during the postseason and throughout 2023-24.

"It's been well-documented where we have come from in terms of wins and losses," DiBiase said. "But to see them grow up and mature and really have bright futures ahead of them -- all six of them, not just the guys you see in the box score every night -- as just genuinely fantastic people. I can't wait to see what they are going to do."

"The biggest thing about this season has been seeing how much this team has meant to the city, the town," DiGiso said. "Just to see how much they have embraced us is priceless. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

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