HIGHLANDS -- The 2023-24 Henry Hudson boys basketball team has provided an underdog story of the decade through 15 games, but no program embraces the underdog role like Point Pleasant Beach.

The defending Shore Conference Class B Central champion walked into Henry Hudson High School Wednesday needing a win to keep its hopes of another title alive and walked out as a team with a legitimate chance to repeat as division champion -- this time as the nominal Class A Central champion.

Senior John Coakley overpowered Henry Hudson in the paint and sophomore Jacob Edgecomb hit big shots throughout the game as Point Beach jumped on top early and never gave up the lead in a 52-43 win over the Class A Central division front-runner heading into the night.

"They are a good team, they are having a really good year and good for them," Coakley said. "We just have something about Point Beach and Henry Hudson. We always come here and take care of business."

Coakley scored 10 of his 18 points during the first quarter and also added nine rebounds and three assists. Edgecomb, meanwhile, scored 16 points, handed out four assists and hit a jumper late in the fourth quarter that quieted the Admirals' last push to tie the game.

Point Beach jumped on the board first and expanded its lead to 15-5 by the end of the first quarter, with Coakley scoring his team's first 10 points. The 6-foot-4 senior caused problems for a Henry Hudson team without a forward approaching Coakley's size.

"We saw stuff on film that showed us we could score inside on them," Coakley said. "They tried being physical, but if they hit me, I'll get them on the way out."

The Garnet Gulls threatened to turn the game into a rout by pumping their lead to 27-11 during the second quarter, but Henry Hudson responded. The Admirals outscored Point Beach, 11-2, to close out the half, the scored the first six points of the third quarter to make it a 17-2 run that cut a 16-point deficit to one, 29-28.

Henry Hudson junior guard Jack Fitzpatrick missed his first five shots and was 1-for-10 from the field when Point Beach first went up by 16 at 23-7. Fitzpatrick then made his last three shot attempts of the half and added two free throws for eight of Henry Hudson's 15 points that it scored during the remainder of the half. Fitzpatrick finished with a team-high 15 points and senior Jeremy Way added 10.

"We knew (Fitzpatrick) is a great player, one of the best in the Shore." Edgecomb said. "We knew the game plan coming into it was we had to take him out of the game because he was going to be our biggest problem. We prepared for him all week in practice and you can see all of the hard work starting to pay off."

"Whenever he gets it, lock," Coakley said of the defensive plan vs. Fitzpatrick, who is averaging 21.7 points on the season. "If he doesn't have it, make sure he doesn't catch it. Stay on him."

With its lead cut to one, Point Beach threw a wrinkle at the Admirals by jumping into a full-court press. Edgecomb ended the Henry Hudson run with a layup off a feed from Coakley, the hit a three-pointer to pad the lead back up to 34-28.

"He averages 48 percent of their scoring so making him make tough shots was a good adjustment," Point Beach coach Ed Goodman said. "The real adjustment came at halftime, when we decided to pressure them. We kept it off, we let them feel it out and waited for the right time."

The two Edgecomb baskets ignited a 13-1 run that pushed Point Beach's lead back up to 42-29. Henry Hudson showed signs of life at the end of the third with a drive by Fitzpatrick and a buzzer-beating tip-in by junior Kevin Pharo as time expired in the quarter to make it 44-35 heading to the fourth.

"We knew they are a team that doesn't give up and it's a game of runs," Edgecomb said. "We just knew we had to stick to our game and our game plan, whether it's going good or bad. Just stick with what we practiced."

The two teams traded baskets early in the fourth, with Point Beach freshman Tyler Preston answering a layup by Way with a jumper that gave Point Beach a 48-37 lead. The Admirals came back with a three-point play from sophomore Mike Fitzpatrick to make it 48-40 and Way nailed a three-point that pulled Henry Hudson within 48-43 with just over four minutes left.

Edgecomb immediately answered Way's three with a baseline jumper that made it 50-43 just past the midway point of the quarter. From there, Point Beach did not allow a Henry Hudson basket, shutting the Admirals out over the final 4:07 of the game.

With Wednesday's win, Point Beach is now tied with Henry Hudson in the loss column for the division lead in Class A Central. A win by Henry Hudson on Wednesday would have clinched the Admirals no worse than a share of the division championship for the first time since 1988-89, but the plans for a division-title celebration are on hold for the moment.

Henry Hudson has two games left on its schedule to decide the division title, with a home game vs. Keyport and a trip to Ocean next week. Point Beach still has four games remaining that count toward the division race: Keyport, Asbury Park, Donovan Catholic and Jackson Liberty.

Henry Hudson is scheduled to complete its 10 division games on Feb. 1 at Ocean, while Point Beach will still have road games at Donovan Catholic and Jackson Liberty to play on Feb. 3 and 5.

"The division was ours last year and we take pride in that," Goodman said. "Even with the crossover, we think A Central could be ours and now we have a chance to win A Central. This is big for a group of kids that might be the youngest team in the Shore."

This season, games against opponents from a crossover division count towards the division record that determines the division champion, as well as the results against divisional opponents. Point Beach, Henry Hudson, Asbury Park, Keyport and Keansburg share Class A Central and play crossover games against Class B Central (Donovan Catholic, Jackson Liberty, Lakewood, Monmouth, Ocean and Shore).

"It definitely helps us in the long run to play more good teams," Coakley said. "We want to make a big state run and these games we are playing now are getting us ready for that. We booked hard games trying to get better and now it's paying off."

"Our last week was Colts Neck, Red Bank, Long Branch and Shore," Goodman said. "That gets you ready for what we want to do. I'm just so proud of these guys, with how young they are, following scouting reports, everyone doing their job and coming together."

Point Beach is marching ahead with a young roster comprised mostly of freshmen. Coakley, Edgecomb and junior Scot Crowley are returning starters, but the rest of the regulars are first-year high-school players. One of those freshmen -- Danny Cavanaugh -- did not play on Wednesday.

"I expected this to be more of a rebuilding year, but the freshmen came in ready to play and I'm all for it," Coakley said.

"Since I have been at Beach our standard has been the (Central Jersey Group I) semifinal," Goodman said. "We want to be the last team in Ocean County playing every year."

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