Boys Basketball – Spence Scores 33 to Make it 61 Straight A South Wins for TR North
TOMS RIVER - Most long winning streaks in sports are accompanied by mounting pressure to maintain them, but Toms River North's 60-game winning streak against Class A South competition is less a streak for its current senior class and more a way of life.
Against one of the primary threats to the four-plus season streak Thursday, Toms River North - the No. 4 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - showed once again that they are prepared to bulldoze through Class A South, topping Toms River East, 64-52, on opening night behind a 33-point outburst by senior Jakari Spence.
Thursday's victory extends the Mariners' winning streak within Class A South play to 61 games - a run that dates back to Feb. 2015, when the current group of seniors was in seventh grade.
"Winning A South for is like a given around here," Spence said. "We have done it so many years, it's like a tradition. We're expected to win A South. When we win a game, it's like. 'Whatever, you're supposed to win.' It's good because every time we win, it makes teams come at us even harder and that means we have to be ready every night."
Spence's scoring outburst in the second quarter stretched Toms River North's lead out before halftime and another one in the fourth quarter put the game on ice. Spence scored 11 of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter and capped the game with 14 in the fourth.
The senior guard shot 5-for-10 from the three-point line for the game, even after missing his first three.
"It was highly anticipated for us - everybody wanted to come see us play," Spence said of the opener. "It just made it even better to be facing a team from just across the way. They were on Twitter talking pretty hot so we wanted to come in a prove a point."
Toms River East was within 16-14 in the middle of the second quarter when Toms River North made its move. Senior Colin Baker found junior Jake Kazanowsky for a layup and Spence followed by scoring eight of the next 10 Toms River North points. Senior Mike Van Sprang added a basket to cap the Mariners run at 14-3 to close the half.
The Raiders chipped their deficit down to 40-30 late in the third before Spence again sparked a sizable Toms River North run by converting a three-point play with a little under a minute to play in the quarter. He then scored eight of the first nine points of the fourth quarter to close out a 12-2 run that made the Mariners lead 52-32.
Toms River North overcame first-half foul trouble on senior center Najae Hallenbeck, who found his scoring touch in the third quarter with eight of his 15 points. Hallenbeck also grabbed seven rebounds.
With Hallenbeck saddled with foul trouble for most of the second quarter, Toms River North's guards stepped up, with freshman Jaiden Fraser providing key minutes off the bench. Baker was all over the stat sheet as well for the Mariners, racking up seven points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
The Mariners defense was suffocating for the first near 27 minutes and gave up 20 points over the final five-plus with the game all but decided. They held senior Mike Goodall - the top returning scorer in the Shore Conference this season - to 21 points on 6-for-15 shooting, with the Raiders guard also battling leg cramps for a large portion of the game.
"We were a little lackadaisical on defense," Spence said. "Some of their players were hurt so we probably let down a little bit. They hit some tough shots so I can't take anything away from them."
Seniors Riley Engelhard and Ryan Goodall each added eight points, with Engelhard also grabbing 10 rebounds for Toms River East.
With five players back who started multiple games last season, Toms River North figures to be among the many Shore Conference Tournament title contenders and hopes to finish off an elusive South Jersey Group IV title run after losing to eventual sectional champion Cherokee in the sectional quarterfinal.
Hallenbeck exited that game with a wrist injury and the Mariners could not recover and while that loss is another in a recent history of heartbreaking losses in late-round tournament games, it is more fuel on the fire for a motivated, senior-heavy team.
"We're expected to win games in A South," Spence said. "We can win 26 games, but if we don't go home without any hardware, it means nothing at the end of the day."