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WEST LONG BRANCH -- The weight of winning a Shore Conference Tournament championship hit Manasquan junior Ryan Frauenheim has he sat on the bench for the final seconds of Sunday's championship game against Ranney at OceanFirst Bank Center at Monmouth University.

Only a junior, Frauenheim and his teammates -- many of them still not yet seniors either -- have already experienced the highs and lows of the tournament, and the feeling of finishing off the program's third championship in four seasons was as intense as, if not more than, losing in last year's championship game was.

It took a full 32 minutes, but top-seeded Manasquan shook off No. 11 Ranney Sunday, 61-46, to plant the Warriors back at the top of the Shore Conference for the third time in the last four seasons.

Photo: Ray Rich Photography
Photo: Ray Rich Photography

"I think these guys were definitely focused on getting back here," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "Sometimes you're the pigeon and sometimes you're the statue. You stay in sports and in coaching long enough, you'll be on both sides of it. It's a great experience to win, but it's very important that learn to deal with those things. You can't just play for the rah-rah's; you have to deal with some of the downs too, and the kids did a good job bouncing back this year."

Manasquan's top offensive contributors on Sunday were three players who are in their second year as starters and all have at least one more year to add to the boys basketball section of the Warriors' trophy case. Sophomore Darius Adams scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, Linstra poured in 15 and Frauenheim closed out the win with seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Manasquan junior Ryan Frauenheim. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan junior Ryan Frauenheim. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

"Playing in these big moments and learning from our mistakes, that has really helped us a lot," Adams said. "We were all together last year and lost, so it just motivated us to get here and win this time."

Adams also pulled in eight rebounds and he and Frauenheim each handed out five assists.

"There is something in the DNA of this town," said Linstra, who has been a part of two straight SCT finalists and will have a conference championship as he and Adams head toward the second half of their high-school careers. "I don't know how to explain it, but it's something special. I have gotten to play in this game twice now and there are some great players in the Shore Conference who never get to play in this game. We're just very fortunate to get to do this. It's pretty surreal."

Fraunenheim's first three gave Manasquan an early 11-4 lead, with Linstra and senior Quinn Peters each hitting a three-pointer during the first quarter as well.

Ranney answered with a 15-3 run during the late-first and early-second quarters to take a 19-14 lead, with freshman Shaan Nayar coming off the bench to hit a pair of three-pointers to bookend a drive to the basket by senior Isaac Hester. Senior Jahlil Bethea scored on a drive of his own to make it 19-14, forcing Manasquan to regroup.

The Warriors finished the first half with eight unanswered points, with Adams hitting a his second three-pointer of the second quarter, Linstra tipping in a miss for the game-tying score and senior Jack Dettlinger converting a three-point play off a pass from Linstra for the 22-19 lead.

"We knew that we had to be aggressive and couldn't come out slow," Adams said. "Just play our game. We knew if we played defense, we would get stops and we would win."

Manasquan sophomore Darius Adams. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Manasquan sophomore Darius Adams. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

Manasquan extended the run to 12-0 when Adams scored on a drive, then hit Linstra for a layup to open the third quarter. Ranney junior Drew Buck ended the run with a shot off the glass, then nailed a three-pointer from the right corner to cut Ranney's deficit to 27-24.

Adams answered a putback by Hester with a three-pointer to push the Manasquan lead back to five, but Ranney clawed back to within two on a drive by Buck and 1-of-2 free throws by Bethea to pull the Panthers within 31-29.

At that point, Manasquan hit the accelerator. Dettlinger knocked down a three from the right wing, followed by another from Adams on the following possession to quickly push the lead from two to eight. Adams then drilled a long three from the top of the key to give Manasquan its first double-digit lead of the game at 40-29.

Hester scored the last four points of the quarter to pull Ranney with within seven and he twice cut Manasquan's lead to six during the third quarter -- first with a three-pointer to make it 44-38 and again with an acrobatic drive-and-finish to answer a layup by Linstra and cut the Warriors advantage to 46-40.

Ranney cut Manasquan's lead to six points four different times during the fourth quarter and the Warriors had an answer each time. After Hester's drive, Frauenheim hit a floater in the lane for a 48-40 lead after the Warriors chewed up 45 seconds of clock. Bethea then scored on a drive through the lane and Ranney forced a five-second call, but Manasquan got a stop and another drive by Frauenehim made it 50-42.

After Buck drew Ranney back to within 50-44 with a layup off a pass from Bethea, Frauenheim struck again, this time with a three-pointer with 2:08 to play that served as a dagger to Ranney's chances.

While the Frauenheim three turned, Ranney's hopes bleak, it was not enough to completely bury a Panthers team that had erased a 13-point deficit in the final 1:56 of regulation in their semifinal win over St. Rose on Tuesday. In that game, Ranney forced four turnovers on St. Rose's final eight possessions of the fourth quarter and the Purple Roses helped Ranney out by going 1-for-6 from the free-throw line during the same stretch and 6-for-17 during the entirety of the fourth quarter.

Manasquan left Ranney no such opportunity. The Warriors shot 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and did not commit a turnover in the final eight minutes. They also scored on six consecutive possessions just before Bilodeau pulled his starters off the floor with 38 seconds left in the game.

"This is a lot harder to do that people think," Bilodeau said. "I'm happy for the kids that they were stoic and they were tough mentally when they needed to be and they went out and closed it out. I thought Ranney did a good job with their pressure, but we executed pretty well. Big credit to the kids and the assistant coaches for their preparation."

While Manasquan's young core carried the scoring, its seniors made an impact as well, with Dettlinger contributing six points and seven rebounds, Peters hitting the first three-pointer of the game and providing an interior presence, and Mike Flanagan giving Bilodeau important minutes off the bench as well.

"Quinn hit a big three early, got some big defensive stops," Bilodeau said. "Mikey played in a key position for us defensively in the second half and did a nice job. Jack did what he does for us every game rebounding, defending and giving us a boost when we need it. I am really happy for the senior class."

Hester, Bethea and Buck all reached double-figures for Ranney, but the trio combined for their lowest total of the tournament so far. Hester led the way with 15 points, Bethea scored 13 and Buck added 12.

The 40 combined points fell well short of the 59.5 the trio averaged during the first four games of Ranney's run and both Hester and Buck scored their lowest total of the tournament, while Bethea matched his lowest total.

"We just had to stay locked in," Linstra said. "Their three guards (Hester, Bethea and Buck) are sensational, so we knew it was going to be a very good game and that they are capable. We were locked in the whole game."

Manasquan's top scoring duo also got off to a slow start, but Adams found his range in the third quarter after starting the game 2-for-8 from the field.

Frauenheim shook off some first-half misfires of his own, fed Adams while he was feeling it in the third, then played the role of closer with his seven unanswered Manasquan points in the fourth.

"I just had to get used to playing in this college-type atmosphere," Adams said. "Just being more patient, not trying to rush my shots. I was more patient in the second half and just let the game come to me."

Linstra, meanwhile, was his usual, dependable self, delivering some early offense while the Adams and Frauenheim settled into the game.

Including its conference championship victory in the unofficial Shore Conference playoffs during the 2021 season, Manasquan has won three of the last four conference titles after going 63 years without one. The Warriors have also made it to five consecutive championship games, with last year's loss to Marlboro freshest in the minds of the current Manasquan team, which graduated just one starter from a year ago.

Even the final score -- 61-46 on Sunday after losing, 63-46, to Marlboro a year ago -- was a fitting element of the exorcism for this year's team.

Last season an undeniable success for a Manasquan team that started two sophomores and two freshman, with the Warriors finishing 25-6, reaching the SCT championship game and winning an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship.

Still, the SCT championship loss to Marlboro and the loss to Woodrow Wilson (now Camden Eastside) in the Group III semifinals have sat with the Warriors for 12 months and with Sunday's result, Manasquan put one of those two bad memories to rest.

"It's been a roller coaster since the Marlboro game last year," Linstra said. "We won a sectional championship, then we lost the next game. We never wanted to feel that feeling again that we felt losing to Marlboro and then to Woodrow Wilson. It's a selfless thing: we didn't want our brothers feeling that same pain. This is an unimaginable feeling right now."

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