MIDDLETOWN - Of the seven players who scored a point for the Freehold Township boys basketball team on Monday night at Christian Brothers Academy, six of them were seniors.

And yet, with the game on the line, it was a battle-tested sophomore who took - and made - the two shots that sealed a potential season-altering win for the Patriots.

Sophomore Zach Orrico hit the game-winning three-pointer from the left corner with 28 seconds left and Freehold Township - the No. 6 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - knocked off previously-unbeaten and No. 2 CBA, 63-62, on the road.

Head coach Brian Golub has stood on the winning sideline for some memorable games and although it was just a win in early January - which he made sure to point out to his team in the post game locker room - he also acknowledged Monday's win in the home gym of the Shore Conference's most decorated program was, indeed, special.

Freehold Township sophomore Zach Orrico. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Freehold Township sophomore Zach Orrico. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"I wouldn't say it's the biggest win I have been a part of, but it's big," said Golub, now in his 24th season at the helm for the Patriots. "Any time you can come into this gym and beat CBA, it's something to celebrate. It doesn't happen very often."

Golub also said Monday's win "might be the best total team win" he has been a part of, as well as his team's most complete game so far this year. At the end of that 32-minute team effort, it was one the 5-foot-7 sophomore who pulled his squad out of a late-game whole and delivered the win.

"My teammates have the utmost confidence in me and they are always telling me to shoot more," said Orrico, who finished wit 13 points and three three-pointers. "When they are trusting me and kicking it out to me in a key situation, I want to reward them and put it in."

"He had the confidence to take the shot so I have the confidence that it's going in," said senior Greg Billups, who led Freehold Township with 14 points and nine rebounds. "He's one of our shooters so we want him shooting it and it went in tonight."

With 1:45 left to go, Orrico nailed a three-pointer from the wing after an offensive rebound and kick-out to pull his team within 62-60. CBA burned nearly a minute off the clock before the Patriots put senior Liam Kennedy on the free-throw line. The senior guard missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Freehold Township took over possession with 44 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, Freehold Township worked the ball around before it once again found Orrico, this time in the left corner. Without hesitation, Orrico fired up another three and buried it to propel the Patriots into the lead, 63-62.

"Zach paid his dues as a freshman on varsity," Golub said. "He is part of the heart and soul of this team. He is a leader as a sophomore and (assistant) coach (Todd) Smith and I have been asking him to shoot the ball more because he is a true point guard and he wants to distribute. He passed up some good looks throughout the (WOBM Christmas Classic) and we said, 'You've got to shoot the ball when you're open.' Tonight, he knocked a few down and he hit a big one and I'm not surprised at all."

Senior Stephen Braunstein missed a three-pointer on the other end but the ball went out of bounds off of Freehold Township with five seconds left, giving CBA one last chance to win the game. Braunstein missed a floater and senior Josh Cohen's follow-up floater as time expired rimmed out to end the game.

"My mind was spinning after the shot went in," Orrico said. "It was a crazy scene, but you still have to play the last 25 seconds. I was telling all the guys we gotta hold on for 25 more seconds."

It took 11 players logging minutes, seven players scoring, and 21 points off the bench for Freehold Township to pull out the win on Monday night - its seventh in eight games to open the season. The Patriots battled first-half foul trouble and senior starters Cristian Corcione, Seith Meisner and Zach Barilka spent more time than usual on the bench because of it. The trio combined for only 14 points.

The Patriots got a lift off the bench from seniors Matt Santangelo and Kevin Kilinskas, who combined for 22 points. Santangelo scored 12 and Kilinskas scored 10 - two of four Freehold Township players in double-figure scoring on Monday.

Freehold Township racked up 14 first-half fouls trying to guard 6-11 CBA center Josh Cohen, who finished with a hard-earned 24 points and 13 rebounds - both slightly below his season averages. The swarming Patriots defense - which also got bench help from sophomores Joe Lardaro and Jayce Schapiro as well as seniors Max Gluck and Jeremy Thorn - pestered Cohen in the post and hounded the St. Francis commit into shooting 7-for-17 from the field. Cohen did not attempt his first field goal try until late in the first quarter.

"Basically, our goal was to put three or four different kids on him," Golub said of guarding Cohen. "Body him, be physical with him, move him off his spot and deal with the fact that we are going to pick up fouls doing so. Honestly, we were really concerned tonight about their (three-point shooting) because we kind of figured Josh was going to get his no matter what we did and that's pretty much how it went."

Braunstein, meanwhile, managed only 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting from the floor and was the only CBA scorer other than Cohen in double-figures.

Senior Greg Billups challenges a shot by CBA senior Stephen Braunstein. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Senior Greg Billups challenges a shot by CBA senior Stephen Braunstein. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were fortunate that we got a lot of hands out on their shooters," Golub said. "They made a lot, but they missed a lot too. We also competed really well on the boards, which was a major concern coming in."

With their seventh win of the season on Monday, the Patriots are fast approaching last year's win total of nine. After reaching the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV final in three consecutive seasons from 2014-15 to 2016-17, Freehold Township struggled to a 9-13 mark last year with an inexperienced team that lost Billups to an ankle injury during the early part of the season.

"We weren't expecting the year we had last year," Billups said. "So to come into this game, after what they did to us last year, it was a good filling to come out with a win."

Monday's showdown between the two traditional Class A North powers was the first game in a big week for both teams. CBA will play at road game at 1-8 Manalapan before taking on Gill St. Bernard's - the No. 3 team in the NJ.com State Top 20 - in the Hoop Group Boardwalk Classic Showcase on Saturday.

Freehold Township, meanwhile, will host No. 7 Marlboro on Thursday, travel to play No. 9 Holmdel on Saturday, then head to play No. 10 Middletown South on Tuesday to start the new week - all while holding poll position in the Class A North division race.

"This gives us confidence going forward," Orrico said. "Last year, we lost to this team by 30 twice. This year, we have more confidence and we believe, more than ever, that we can win 20 games and go deep into the Shore Conference Tournament and State Tournament."

"You get this win here, this puts you in the driver's seat, per se, and you don't want to slip up along the way," Golub said. "Now there is a big-ole target. We have Middletown South next week and before that, we have to play Marlboro at home and a tough Holmdel team on the road. This week is a bear for us."


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