NJSIAA Group IV Championship

Sunday, March 10, 2019

At Louis Brown Athletic Center, Rutgers University, Noon

Freehold Township (24-4) vs. Newark East Side (27-4)

At the beginning of this week, Freehold Township made program history by beating Trenton for its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship, putting to bed 24 years of state tournament frustration despite being one of the Shore’s most consistently competitive teams.

On Wednesday, the Patriots showed they are not satisfied with just being champions of Central Jersey Group IV – they were one of the last four teams standing in the Shore Conference Tournament and now they want to be one of the final four still playing in the entire state next week.

Freehold Township senior Greg Billups guarded by Holmdel junior Derek Chan. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

No Shore Conference team has won a Tournament of Champions game since Raritan advanced to the semifinals in 2004 and Freehold Townships is two wins away from ending that 15-year drought. First, however, the Patriots will have to get through perennial Group IV contender Newark Eastside in Sunday’s Group IV championship game – a legitimate chance for Freehold Township to add more hardware to the trophy case.

Freehold Township’s trek through the southern part of the Group IV landscape has put the Patriots’ total team concept on display, particularly in its last two wins. In the Central Jersey Group IV championship game at Trenton, Greg Billups took over the game in the fourth quarter and finished with a team-high 16 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and four steals, but he fouled out after going back-and-forth from the bench with foul trouble, leaving his teammates to handle themselves without him.

In the Group IV semifinal against Cherokee, four players scored between eight and 10 points, with senior Seth Meisner scoring a team-high 10 points in a 44-42 Patriots win. Senior Zach Barilka scored nine and Billups and fellow senior Matt Santangelo added eight apiece.

Santangelo and senior Kevin Kilinskas give Freehold Township plenty of fire-power off the bench from two more seniors to go on top of the four – Billups, Barilka, Meisner and Cristian Corcione – in the starting lineup along with sophomore point guard Zach Orrico.

Freehold Township senior Seth Meisner goes up vs. Brick Memorial senior Matt Bernstein. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Freehold Township’s senior leadership, balance and depth should give the Patriots a fighting chance against a Neward East Side squad that has been remarkably good from year-to-year for a team that has not won a state title since 2014. The Red Raiders have won 105 games over the last four seasons and their only foil has been Linden in the 2016 and 2017 North 2 Group IV finals and Shawnee last year in the overall Group IV final.

The Red Raiders’ catalyst of the past four years is 5-9 point guard Anas Amos, who leads an East Side attack that is balanced in its own right. Amos is putting up 13.1 points per game, second on the team behind 6-2 senior Nasir Johnson at 13.9 per game. Junior Mikah Johnson Jr. provides some size at 6-4 and is averaging 12.5 points.

Amos turned in one of the great moments of the season and the top play of his career when he knocked down the game-winning shot at the final buzzer to give East Side a 50-48 win over Elizabeth on the road in the North Jersey 2 Group III final.

Newark East Side is perennially a Group IV contender and a tough regular-season schedule is always a source of that success. Freehold Township, however, doesn’t take a back seat in strength of schedule with games against Christian Brothers Academy (twice), Cherokee, Toms River North and Ranney over the course of the season leading up to the NJSIAA Tournament.

Freehold Township senior Cristian Corcione drives between Holmdel's Eric Hinds (left) and Derek Chan. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Sunday’s opponent will be different that anything Freehold Township has faced, but the mental challenge of keeping up with Ranney has plenty of parallels to when Freehold Township had to do the same with Ranney in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. East Side’s quickness and tenacity on defense and loose balls will require an adjustment from the Freehold Township and the quicker the Patriots figure out the speed and style, the more of a game it ought to be.

With its senior-heavy roster, Freehold Township has had a special run through the Central Group IV playoffs, which yielded the program its first sectional championship ever and, in turn, its first appearance in the Group IV final.

Freehold Township suffered heartbreak after heartbreak in sectional finals – six times in Brian Golub’s 24 seasons as coach, to be exact – before finally breaking through this season. Now, it is East Side’s turn to try to bury the wounds of the past three years, that is, unless the Patriots can flip the script and add to some other team’s misery.

The Pick: Newark East Side, 58-49