Boys Basketball – Toms River North Extends A South Winning Steak to 50
TOMS RIVER - Juniors Jakari Spence and Najae Hallenbeck have contributed to less than half of Toms River North's 50-game winning streak in Shore Conference Class A South divisional play, but when a streak spans parts of five seasons, the achievement belongs to more than one class.
As the streak hits the half-century mark, which it did Saturday in the Mariners' 55-43 win at rival Toms River East, Spence, Hallenbeck and this current crop of players claim a larger share of a run that underscores Toms River North ascension to its current status as Ocean County's top program.
"The older guys who are back home have been coming to practice and to our games at the WOBM (Christmas Classic) and just been encouraging us to keep winning," Spence said. "In practice, coach (Rory Caswell) instills in us to never give up and never let loose."
Hallenbeck scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds Saturday to lead the way and Spence poured in 16 points while handing out four assists in the win.
"Every game is not going to be easy because everybody is trying to knock us down," Hallenbeck said. "The Shore Conference is a tough conference and it's where we want to be at. It's good competition every night so we have to keep grinding."
Hallenbeck started for parts of his sophomore season last year and Spence came contributed off the bench as a sophomore after transferring from Manchester following his freshman year. The two have emerged as the Mariners' latest go-to tandem after graduating its top two scorers in each of the past two seasons.
"It's definitely a challenge to keep it going but a the same time, we all know each other, we all hang out with each other and we have been learning how to win together for the last couple years," Hallenbeck said. "We have a guard like Jakari doing what he is doing. We have a lot of good guards and good leaders and Jakari is definitely one of those guys. I'm proud to be one of the co-leaders of this team with him."
One of those former top scorers - 1,000-point scorer and current Rutgers baseball standout Mike Nyisztor - checked in with Spence prior to Saturday's benchmark win to remind the current Mariners junior that Nyisztor and the rest of the Toms River North basketball alumni who contributed to the early part of the streak have their back.
"Nyisztor actually text me last night and said we can't give up this streak," Spence said.
Toms River North's pursuit of 50 straight A South wins has had included some anxious moments this week, including on Saturday. After barely squeaking by Brick Memorial on Tuesday, 58-56, Toms River North (5-3, 4-0) led just 20-17 at halftime and trailed Toms River East (4-4, 1-3), 36-33, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders took that 36-33 lead with an 11-1 run and Toms River North answered with a 17-2 run to stretch its fourth-quarter lead to 50-38. Spence gave the Mariners the lead for good at 37-36 and scored eight points during the run. Hallenbeck started the run with a pair of free throws and scored six of those 17 points.
While Toms River North's offense struggled over the first three quarters, its defense kept it in the game by limiting the Goodall cousins - juniors Mike and Ryan Goodall - to a combined 15 points. Mike Goodall entered the game averaging 21.6 points per game and finished with 10, while Ryan Goodall entered averaging 17.6 and scored five on Saturday.
"It's just effort and heart," Spence said of the defensive effort. "You can't let your man get by you and you have to challenge everything. When you are struggling to score, you just have to focus on getting stops."
Senior Josh Nicol also scored 10 points to lead Toms River East and added five rebounds and four assists.
On the Toms River North side, senior Nick Duncsak posted six points and 16 rebounds and junior Ryan Schlosser added nine points, including a key three-point play during the 17-2 run.
Three of Toms River North's four A South wins so far this year are over the three teams that finished tied for second place in the division last year - Brick, Brick Memorial and Toms River East. In order to run the table in A South for the fourth straight season, the Mariners will still have to go on the road to both Brick teams and get by improved Central Regional and Jackson Memorial squads.
The Mariners are also playing without injured junior starter Colin Baker. The challenges are several, but Toms River North remains focused on a fifth straight division crown and finishing the season with the streak intact. Should the Mariners make it through 2018-19 without an A South loss, the streak would swell to 60.
"Five years in a row we never lost to East so we wanted come up with a great win and go undefeated in A South," Spence said. "We want to play into March. That's the ultimate goal."