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The Shore Conference Tournament championship game is still two months away but we may have already gotten a look at the semifinal match-ups with a championship preview on deck for Monday night in Toms River.

The WOBM Christmas Classic championship game has featured some showdowns between ranked teams in the past but Monday night’s match-up between Shore Sports Network Preseason No. 1 Manasquan and No. 4 Toms River North looks to be the most star-studded final in the tournament’s 36-year history, as well as a battle between the top-two teams when the next SSN Top 10 comes out on Jan. 1.

The anticipated final between the tournament’s top two seeds comes after Toms River North disposed of a red-hot, six-seeded Marlboro squad, 94-81, in the first semifinal game on Saturday night, followed by Manasquan’s more methodical, 67-47, breakdown of fourth-seeded Middletown South in semifinal No. 2 at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

PHOTO GALLERY: WOBM Galleries by Paula Lopez

Manasquan senior Kieran Flanagan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The last four teams standing at this year’s WOBM Classic will most certainly be ranked among the top-five in the next SSN Top 10, which means anyone who watched the two semifinals and plans on watching the championship game – which will be streamed live on Shore Sports Network TV from RWJ Barnabas Arena Monday night – may be setting themselves up for a bit of déjà vu in February, when the arena host the SCT semifinals.

Before losing to Toms River South, No. 10 Marlboro defeated the Nos. 5 and 6 ranked teams at the Shore in Christian Brothers Academy and Wall – the latter of which came in the WOBM quarterfinals by a score of 84-69. The Mustangs have scored at least 81 points in each of their first four games with senior guard Alex Ratner averaging 28.7 and breakout sophomore Jack Seidler averaging 22.2.

Middletown South opened this season No. 3 in the SSN Top 10 and ran into the Manasquan buzz saw in the WOBM semifinal. The Eagles grabbed a first-quarter lead and trailed by 10 after the fourth quarter, but the Warriors opened the final quarter with an 8-0 in the first minute to break open the game.

The Eagles have shown their balance early in the season, with senior James Anderson starring as the top scorer while senior forwards Mike Dabas and Bobby Pirie have played like two of the most improved players at the Shore to go with the guard quartet of Anderson, Luke Albrecht, Jack Sheridan and Richie Boyko.

While both Marlboro and Middletown South have validated their status as team’s to watch come February, Manasquan and Toms River North have left no doubt that they were deserving of the top two seeds in the tournament and will be championship contenders in the SCT and in their respective NJSIAA sectional tournament brackets.

Toms River North’s senior-dominated lineup has been led by another improved player in guard Jakari Spence. Coming off a Second-Team All-Shore season as a junior, Spence has looked like one of the area’s top players over the first two weeks of the season, during which he has averaged 25.7. The senior also recorded the 1,000th point of his varsity career early in Saturday’s semifinal win over Marlboro.

Mariners senior center Najae Hallenbeck has also had a monster WOBM Tournament, leading Toms River North in scoring in two of the three tournament wins. His last game was his biggest, with Hallenbeck scoring 30 points to go with 11 rebounds in the win over Marlboro. Senior Colin Baker has also turned in a strong start to the season on both ends of the court and just posted the best offensive game of is career when he scored 26 points in the offensive outburst against Marlboro.

As impressive as Toms River North was in cooling off Marlboro to improve to 4-0, no team in the Shore Conference has looked as imposing as No. 1 Manasquan. The Warriors are off to a 5-0 start that not only includes a dominant run to the WOBM final but also includes a 68-61 win over Newark East Side – the defending NJSIAA Group IV champion and the No. 6 team in the state to open the season, according to NJ.com.

Senior Alex Galvan is a Louisville baseball commit with a low-90-miles-per-hour fastball and before he locks in on baseball in the spring, he just might win be the Shore Conference Player of the Year in basketball. The 6-7 senior is averaging 19 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through five games, which includes a big 32-points, 11-rebound showing vs. East Side.

Sophomore Ben Roy continues to develop into one of the Shore’s top players while averaging 18 points over the team’s 5-0 start while Kieran Flanagan remains a less-heralded hero for the Warriors. Despite playing with a broken bone in his shooting hand, Flanagan has posted 10.8 points and four assists per game while playing lock-down defense. The Warriors have also gotten strong performances from senior Jack Collins and junior Connor Walsh in their first season in the rotation and 6-8 senior Tim McEneny has come back off of Tommy John Surgery to give Manasquan another front-court option alongside Galvan.

Both Manasquan and Toms River North will be tested over the course of the season – Toms River North with a showdown vs. Rutgers Prep next weekend and Manasquan with upcoming match-ups vs. West Side Newark and Roselle Catholic. Both teams have aspirations to win a sectional title – Toms River North their first ever South Jersey Group IV championship and Manasquan a second straight Central Group II title – and both hope to win long-awaited SCT championships.

Before any of those happen, each will be gunning for a WOBM title, an unbeaten record and the No. 1 ranking in the Shore Sports Network heading into 2020.

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