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RED BANK - Putting away a battle-tested team looking for its first win of the year is no easy task and the Freehold Township boys basketball team tried unsuccessfully to shake free from Red Bank Regional and the stress of a close finish Monday afternoon.

When the Patriots had to, though, they made free throws, broke the Bucs' full-court pressure got defensive stops just enough to walk out with a much-needed victory as it pertains to their postseason hopes.

Senior Joe Lardaro scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, grabbed 11 rebounds and converted three straight clutch free throws after a rough start to the game from the stripe as Freehold Township survived Red Bank's comeback effort with a 49-46 win.

Freehold Township senior Joe Lardaro shoots over Red Bank junior Patrick Murray. (Photo by Tom Smith |

Freehold Township ambushed the Bucs in the third quarter and stretched its lead to 34-24, but Red Bank responded with an 8-0 run to pull within two. Patriots sophomore Malachi Harris ended the run with a contested 19-foot jumper to beat the third-quarter buzzer and send Freehold Township to the fourth with a 36-32 lead.

Red Bank got back to within two at 38-36 with under three minutes to play and had a three-on-one fast break that give the Bucs a chance to tie the game. Senior Nick Ferrogine's layup rolled off the rim and Freehold Township raced back down the floor for a layup by sophomore Jayden Holmes-Cotter.

Freehold Township sophomore Jayden Holmes-Cotter. (Photo by Tom Smith |

Senior Enoch Hutchinson drew Red Bank even closer with a three-pointer to cut Freehold Township's lead to 40-39 with 1:49 left. Lardaro then stepped to the line with 1:09 left having shot 3-for-6 from the charity stripe to that point and knocked down two big free throws to make it 42-39.

Junior Patrick Murray answered with a pair of free throws for Red Bank but Freehold Township quickly broke the Bucs pressure, with senior Zach Orrico hitting Lardaro with a long pass and Lardaro finding Holmes-Cotter for the layup and a 44-41 lead. Senior Jayce Schapiro then hit two free throws to extend the lead to five and Freehold Township beat Red Bank's transition defense down the court for a layup by senior Matt Cardone that made it 48-41 with 23 seconds left.

Red Bank had one last push left, with Ferrogine drilling a three-pointer with 15 seconds left and Freehold Township turning it over on the other end. Murray drove for a layup that cut the deficit to 48-46 with seven seconds left and the Bucs sent Lardaro to the free-throw line with four seconds left.

Red Bank senior Matt Keegan. (Photo by Tom Smith |

Lardaro made his third straight foul shot to make it 49-46 but his missed second attempt gave the Bucs a chance to tie the game. Murray got a clean look from 25 feet but his last-ditch effort missed long and Freehold Township walked off the floor a winner while Red Bank suffered its fourth straight loss to open the season.

Schapiro finished with 11 points and three steals for Freehold Township and Holmes-Cotter finished just shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.

Murray led Red Bank with 10 points while Ferrogine and fellow senior Matt Keegan added nine points apiece.

Freehold Township has plenty of work to do to get back to the cusp of the top tier of the Shore Conference postseason but the Patriots have a schedule that gives them a chance to get there. With two shots this week to beat Christian Brothers Academy - the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - Freehold Township could win its way into the picture with a win over a top-five team.

The top eight teams in the Shore Conference, as chosen by a committee of selected coaches in the conference, will play a week-long tournament to determine the de facto champion of the conference in 2021.