In Brian Golub’s first season as head coach of the Freehold Township boys basketball team, he led his team within one win of a Central Jersey Group IV championship. Although it was a disappointing end to the season and a painful missed opportunity in a sectional final, Golub had designs of running a program that would not be a stranger to championship games.

Twenty-three years later, Golub indeed had a resume that included multiple trips to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game. The Patriots have been among the most consistent programs in the Shore Conference- public and non-public alike – and Golub is widely regarded by his peers as one of the best coaches in the area.

There was just one problem: in those six trips to the sectional final prior to 2018-19, Freehold Township had lost every single one of them.

In his 24th season, Golub and Freehold Township finally shook the “jaded” tag by getting back to the Central Jersey Group IV title game and winning it for the first time in program history. This year’s Patriots team won 24 games – a 15-game improvement from last year – finished No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and advanced deeper into the state tournament than any ream in program history.

Golub has authored many a great coaching job during his two-plus decades at the helm and this year’s job might be his masterpiece. At the very least, it earned him the 2019 Shore Sports Network Boys Basketball Coach of the Year honor.

Freehold Township coach Brian Golub surrounded by his players and assistant Todd Smith. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Freehold Township returned an experienced, senior-heavy team coming off a disappointing 9-13 campaign last year. Prior to that, the Patriots reached the Central Jersey Group IV final in three consecutive seasons, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion each time – including twice on its home floor.

From an early point this season, the Patriots showed they had come a long way in a year. Freehold Township opened the season 9-1, including a dramatic, 63-62, win at Christian Brothers Academy on a game-winning shot by sophomore Zach Orrico in the final 30 seconds.

Freehold Township went on to win the Class A North public division championship, one game behind CBA for the overall Class A North championship. The Patriots entered the Shore Conference Tournament as the No. 4 seed and lived up to the seed by reaching the SCT semifinal round for the first time since winning the entire tournament in 2007.

Ranney was too much for Freehold Township in the SCT semifinal in Toms River, but the Patriots used the experience against the state’s No. 1 team to prepare for their state tournament run. As the No. 3 seed in Central Jersey Group IV, Freehold Township rolled through the first two rounds at home and caught a break when Monroe knocked off No. 2 seed Old Bridge in the sectional quarterfinals, giving the Patriots a home game in the semifinal round. After a slow start Freehold Township stormed past the Falcons and into the sectional final for the fourth time in five years.

Freehold Township coach Brian Golub. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Freehold Township did not get the same help on the other side of the bracket and top-seeded and defending sectional champion Trenton made it all the way to the CJ IV final. The Tornadoes and Patriots played a tightly-contested game the whole way, but that only seemed to set up another heartbreak for Golub and the Patriots in the championship round.

Senior Greg Billups returned to the game with four fouls and his team trailing by six points in the fourth quarter and threw the Patriots on his back. Billups hit a three-pointer, stole the ball, found classmate Seth Meisner for layup, stole the ball again and assisted a go-ahead three-pointer by Cristian Corcione.

Billups capped a 10-0 run by earning a trip to the free-throw line and knocking both shots down to extend the lead to 57-53 and put Freehold Township on the cusp. Then, Billups picked up his fifth foul with more than two minutes to go and all of a sudden, the patriots were facing the prospect of trying to close out a sectional championship win on the road without their best player.

There would be no heartbreak this time. With Billups out, Freehold Township dug in on defense and closed out a 57-56 win over the defending sectional champions on the road. Upon hearing the final buzzer, Golub had to sit down, so he took the first open spot he could find: on the floor.

"I am afraid to check my blood pressure right now," Golub said amid the CJ IV postgame celebration. "I had to sit down (with one second left). I couldn't believe it.”

Freehold Township celebrates its first NJSIAA sectional championship. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The win in Trenton was just the first of two impressive state tournament wins away from home. After ending the sectional title drought, Freehold Township kept its season going by knocking off South Jersey champion Cherokee in the Group IV semifinal, earning a trip to Rutgers for the Group IV championship.

In its first ever Group IV final appearance, Freehold Township got off to a promising start and led Newark East Side, 22-19, in the second quarter before the Red Raiders unleashed an uncontainable 35-6 run to take over the game and end the Patriots’ run in the Group IV championship game.

"I would have signed on the dotted line in late November if you told me we would get to this game," Golub said. "These kids were 9-13 last year with pretty much the same group back and we played as many games over the summer as we did all of last year. I'd be lying to you if I said I thought we be in the Group IV final."

A forgettable final 20 minutes did not diminish what Golub and his Freehold Township squad accomplished in 2018-19 – not even close.

“I have great memories of all the teams I have had here and this team will be no different,” Golub said. “You really remember the seniors and that’s what makes this group special. We have a lot of seniors who went through some hard times last year and came back this year hoping to make history for this program and that’s exactly what they did.”

 

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