Boys Basketball – Manasquan Tops South River on the Road for Fourth Straight Sectional Crown
SOUTH RIVER -- For all of Manasquan's accomplishments as a program over the last 20 years, the Warriors had never done what they were tasked to do Tuesday night against top-seeded South River in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship: clinch a championship in a road gym.
While some of the challenges of playing on the road reared their heads against Manasquan over the course of Tuesday's game, the Warriors were fortunate to have one player who, from the opening tip all the way to the final buzzer, visibly enjoyed the hostile environment.
Junior Ryan Frauenheim carried his team during the first half and in the second half, the rest of the second-seeded Warriors followed his lead as Manasquan toughed out a 60-52 win over the Rams to win their fourth consecutive NJSIAA sectional championship.
"The moment is never too big for him," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said of Frauenheim. "He is as tough as a two-dollar steak. He was just magnificent again.
"He has done a lot better at changing speeds and I thought tonight, he set up a lot better and was able to create some shots for himself and others. He did a really good job getting his feet in the lane."
Frauenheim scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half on 5-for-7 shooting, which helped Manasquan overcome the struggles of the rest of its players in finishing around the basket. Despite 11 missed layups in the first half, Manasquan led, 31-26, at intermission thanks to the shooting of Frauenheim and yeoman's work on the glass by seniors Jack Dettlinger and Quinn Peters, as well as sophomore Griffin Linstra.
"Our coaches couldn't hear, we couldn't hear," Frauenheim said. "It's a tough environment to play in, but we know what we're capable of on the court. We block out all of the noise off the court and get the job done.
"You have to adapt to you environment and play within that environment. I just have fun with it."
"It's packed and it's loud," Bilodeau said. "I thought the crowd was loud, maybe it was the acoustics. We had a hard time communicating. We were talking a lot about eye contact and our hand signals. We have hand signals for everything, which was huge tonight."
Frauenheim hit a go-ahead three-pointer from the right wing off an offensive rebound and assist by Peters to put Manasquan up, 28-26 with under a minute to go in the first half. The shot did not so much as hit the rim and left the net stuck on the rim.
At 5-foot-9, Frauenheim would not be the first choice to fix a net on the rim, but he did it anyway when he buried a 23-footer with five seconds left in the half to make it 31-26.
"I thought the six points right before the half was important," Bilodeau said. "Late second quarter, we might have been on the verge of blowing them out. I felt that, and then they made a run and immediately answered with (six) in a row to go up five going into the half. I thought that was an example of how the rest of the game went."
Manasquan's issues finishing around the basket continued with two early point-blank misses in the third quarter that opened the door for South River to tie the game, 31-31, and again at 33-33.
"That's what we preach all year: next play," Fraueheim said. "How are you going to respond? It's always about the next play, so keep your head up, and that's what our guys did tonight and have done all year."
The Warriors, however, did not give up the lead, instead scoring the next eight points on two layups and two free throws by sophomore Darius Adams, as well as a short jumper by Linstra.
"In that second quarter, we had some layups in a row that we puked on them," Bilodeau said. "They rolled out and I thought if we finished those, we would have been up by 12 or something like that. But, we just showed some tenacity. We stayed with it, we kept rebounding and eventually, we broke it and created some stuff on the glass."
Adams and Linstra both picked up their offense in the second half to help the Warriors close the door. Adams finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Linstra scored all eight of his points in the second half while pulling in a game-high 12 rebounds.
The eight-point deficit did not deter South River, which scored five unanswered to pull within 41-38 on a transition three-pointer by sophomore Jeremy Grospe. Frauenheim answered with a drive to the basket and after a post finish by Rams senior Lazaro Rodriguez, Frauenheim found Peters for a layup to close out the third-quarter scoring and send Manasquan to the fourth ahead, 45-40.
After a slow offensive start to the quarter for both teams, Adams found Linstra on a fast-break and Dettlinger in transition to push the Warriors' lead to 49-40, which matched Manasquan's largest lead at any point.
South River chipped its deficit to 49-44, at which point junior Alex Konov answered with the third of his three three-pointers, pushing Manasquan's lead to 52-44 with under three minutes to play. Konov finished with nine points off the bench for Manasquan, with his first two three-pointers coming in the first half
The hosts had one more answer, with senior Alex Grospe stroking a corner three, followed by a baseline reverse from classmate Roman Santos to pull South River back within three at 52-49.
"This is what basketball is: it's a game of runs," Frauenheim said. "We knew they were going to throw a punch and how you respond to that punch is what matters."
Adams then drew a foul in the paint and knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead back to five and after the Warriors got a stop, Frauenheim found a soft spot in the defense and hit a shoveled in a short jumper for a 56-49 Manasquan lead to 1:24 left.
Dettlinger then slashed for two to expand the lead back to nine at 58-49 to put Manasquan on the cusp of a title, but Alex Grospe hit a three and South River forced a Manasquan turnover with 30 seconds left. Alex Grospe let fly a three-point attempt that he hoped would cut the six-point deficit in half, but it missed the mark and he committed his fifth foul of the game with 14.1 seconds left when Dettinger tried to score in transition.
Linstra later added two free throws with seven seconds left to cap the scoring and Manasquan began its championship celebration -- its first ever on an opponent's home court.
Manasquan's defense was front-and-center again on Tuesday, holding South River 20 points below their season scoring average of 72.9 points per game heading into Tuesday. The Central Group II final marked just the fifth time this season the South River failed to score 60 points and the Rams are now 0-4 when failing to score 55 points.
"I think we just needed to play team defense," Frauenheim said. "Have guys helping, in the right spots, stop the drive, fake at the drive, make them pick up the ball. I thought we did a pretty good job with all of those things today."
Rodriguez and Alex Grospe each scored 13 points to lead South River, while Manasquan bottled up Santos -- South River's leading scorer this season -- and Jeremy Grospe, holding each to seven points.
"That's what we designed," Bilodeau said. "There were certain guys we didn't want to let get going (Alex and Jeremy Grospe). The other guys are not going to go for 30. You have to pick your poison with them because they can score. They were in the fifties, so that is pretty good for us."
The Warriors will have Wednesday to prepare for its next opponent, which will be Middle Township Thursday at Central Regional in the Group II semifinal. The Panthers won the South Jersey Group II championship game over Sterling in the exact same fashion Manasquan did: 60-52 on the road.
"Look at our schedule: we played a lot of back-to-backs to prepare for this," Bilodeau said. "We took long road trips: we went up to Ramapo and Caldwell and that's preparation for this time of year. At this point, it's just scouting report and being mentally sharp."
Manasquan has won six sectional championships in Bilodeau's 15 seasons as head coach of the Warriors, but has not been past the group semifinal round in that time frame. Last year, with just one senior in its starting lineup, Manasquan lost to Camden Eastside (then called Woodrow Wilson) in the Group III semifinals and on Thursday, will try to take the next step with most of the 2021-22 still intact.
The Warriors have never won a group championship and despite going 123-15 since the start of the 2018-19 season, have not been there since 2004.
"For me, it doesn't matter if it's a scrimmage in December or a tournament game -- they're all important," Bilodeau said. "We'll see how it goes. We'll put our best foot forward."