FREEHOLD TWP. - The Freehold Township boys basketball team has not made it this far into the 2016-17 with one loss by relying on one single player, but when leading scorer Steve Staklinski went to the bench with two fouls during the Patriots' Class A North game at Marlboro Tuesday, the going got tough.

Once Staklinski returned, the Patriots were once again the best team in A North and now they can order the banner to prove it.

Staklinski scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half and Freehold Township - the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - nipped No. 6 Marlboro, 42-41, to clinch the outright Class A North title for the third time in 10 years.

Freehold Township players following a win over Marlboro to clinch the A North championship. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Freehold Township players following a win over Marlboro to clinch the A North championship. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"These guys worked their tails off to get here," Freehold Township coach Brian Golub said. "I just told them that I'm so proud of them. Because this is a team. On any given night, any one of our guys can hurt you. That's what makes us tough. Staklinski stepped up in the third quarter and made a couple of really big plays. It's just an awesome group of kids."

Staklinski sat nearly the entire second quarter with two fouls and Marlboro capitalized with a 14-1 run that extended to the first possession of the second quarter and put the Mustangs ahead, 23-13. Freehold Township shot 5-for-17 in the first half and turned the ball over 13 times.

With Staklinski, the team's leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, back on the floor, the Patriots responded with a 19-2 run that spanned most of the third quarter and the early part of the fourth.

"It's tough sitting for a whole quarter because of foul trouble and have no ability to do anything but cheer on your teammates," Staklinski said. "I just kept cheering, I talked to coach to see what we needed to do to stay in the game. We fell behind a little bit, but I feel like in the second half, we were all back on the floor and were able to work together a little better."

"He just adds a different dimension," Golub said. "His athleticism and his ability to score around the rim - it's kind of like what I mentioned before: (Ryan) Zyskowski can do the same things that Steven does, but when you have both of them out there, you can't double one. It was probably about the first week of the season when I told them they have to learn to play off one another. Now, in practice, it's unbelievable and it's starting to carry over into games to where they're unselfish with one another."

Marlboro answered to 19-2 Patriots run with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 32 before the Patriots put the game away in the final four minutes. Senior Ryan Zyskowski hit a pair of free throws to give Freehold Township a 34-32 lead with 3:29 left and senior Brian White drove the lane for a layup to push the lead to 36-32 on the next Patriots possession.

After Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel drove the lane for a floater that cut the deficit to 36-34, Freehold Township went 6-for-7 from the free-throw line before Marlboro scored another point, which didn't come until inside the 30-second mark.

Senior Bobby Weise added 10 points for Freehold Township, which also welcomed back sophomore Greg Billups on Tuesday. The 6-5 sophomore injured his ankle in the first meeting with Marlboro on Jan. 13 and had not played since. Zyskowski also had eight points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Patriots.

"From the first Marlboro game, when Billups got hurt, we've definitely started to feel the grind of the season more," Staklinski said. "We had to pull out that game late, then we had a bunch of close games after that, but it's been great to have him back and we're were able to push through. More guys had to step up and we've become a better team."

Ringel led Marlboro with a game-high 17 points as well as six rebounds and five steals. Sophomore Dylan Kaufman also added 13 points and seven rebounds for Marlboro.

Freehold Township last won an outright division championship in 2012 and five years earlier, the Patriots won the Shore Conference Tournament and finished the season the No. 1 team at the Shore. Before Friday's game against Manalapan, the school plans to honor the 2006-07 Shore Conference championship team, with the members of the squad returning to the school for the pregame ceremony.

This year's team overcame Billups's injury to go 19-1 over its first 20 games, but also overcame the loss of two key players off last year's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV finalist - top two scorers Nick Facendo and John Carroll.

"This group of seniors, they've been awesome," Golub said. "It's been a long haul and the season's nowhere near over. It's just another win and it's a championship, which is awesome. Whenever you can win a championship in A North, that has CBA, you've done a great job."

The Patriots benefitted when Ringel injured his left hand and missed the first eight games of the season - which left Freehold Township's rival without its top player for a portion of the division schedule. Marlboro, however, won all of its divisional games it played without Ringel and Freehold Township's two wins over the Mustangs both came with Ringel in the starting lineup.

"Preseason, before P.J. got injured, they were my No. 1 pick in A North," Golub said of Marlboro. "That's who I thought we would be chasing to win. They are a very good team. A complete basketball team."


Box Score

Freehold Twp. 42, Marlboro 41

Freehold Twp. (19-1, 12-1)76131642
Marlboro (13-5, 10-3)51641641

Freehold Twp. (42): Bobby Weise 3 2-2 10, Brian White 1 0-0 2, Steve Staklinski 5 5-6 15, Ryan Zyskowski 3 2-2 8, Ryan Cardone 2 2-2 6, Greg Billups 0 1-2 1, Ja'zeem Foster 0 0-0 0, Brandon Hasner 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 12-16 42

Three-pointers: Weise 2

Fouled Out: Billups

Marlboro (41): P.J. Ringel 5 6-8 17, Ryan LaRocca 2 1-2 6, Dylan Kaufman 6 1-5 13, Justin Marcus 1 0-0 2, Dan Weiss 0 0-2 0, Brian Levine 0 0-0 0, Noah Turner 1 0-0 3. Totals: 15 8-17 41

Three-pointers: Ringel, LaRocca, Turner

Fouled Out: Marcus, Weiss


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