FREEHOLD TWP. – For the record, Kaylie and Tanya Elsbree are definitely twins. The indistinguishable physical features check all the box for confirmation.

Yet, observe them on the court for Freehold Twp. and the sophomore guards bear little resemblance.Their basketball personalities, at times, can be polar opposites. Tanya tends to be more reserved and composed, busy plotting the Patriots’ course of attack at the point and setting up defenders in prone positions when she drives to rim. Kaylie is instinctual, a hustler on the boards and risk taker on defense who’s willing to sacrifice her own wellbeing for the simple sake of the team.

While their approaches might differ, the intentions are as identical as their likenesses.

When the Patriots were struggling to strike some offensive rhythm, Tanya kept them within striking distance with assertiveness off the dribble that shifted defenders out of position and got her frequent trips to the foul line. And, when 13th-seeded Freehold Twp. got an opportunity to take control in the second half, it was Kaylie Elsbree’s versatility that pushed it over the top in a grity 29-23 victory over 20th-seeded Toms River on Wednesday in the preliminary round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Tanya Elsbree of Freehold Twp. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Tanya Elsbree of Freehold Twp. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Tanya scored all eight of her points from the charity stripe, sinking 8 of her 10 foul-shot attempts while Kaylie, who went scoreless until the midway point of the third quarter, netted seven points over the balance of the contest as Freehold Twp. (14-8) punched its ticket into the Round of 16 on Thursday against defending Shore Conference Tournament champion Manasquan.

Kaylie Elsbree of Freehold Twp. (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Kaylie Elsbree of Freehold Twp. (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

“They balance out for each other,” noted 6-2 sophomore center Hannah Orloff (17.4 ppg., 12.3 rpg., 17 double doubles), who likes to emphasize the often-overlooked importance of the guard rotation for the Patriots, sometimes overshadowed by what she’s accomplished in and around the lane this winter. “They are really important. They are the ones that get me the ball. That’s what makes us a threat. ”

“People will always double Hannah and forget there are four other girls helping her,” said Kaylie Elsbree. “We all join together and that makes us who we are.”

All those pieces - and all sophomores - came together in the third quarter. Trailing from the outset, Freehold Twp. gradually clawed its way back from an early 10-4 deficit. Sophomore guard Emily Tran, who returned to the lineup after missing the last eight games, buried 3-pointer that tied the game at 16-16 and Kaylie Elsbree ensued with a pair of foul shots and a jumper from long range with 2:51 showing in the period to stake the Patriots to a 19-16 lead they never surrendered.

Kaylie Elsbree made certain the advantage stayed intact in the closing minutes. She put her 5-7 frame in peril when she stepped in to take a charge on 6-0 senior forward Shiloh Williams with 2:18 to play then retrieved the carom of her own missed 3-point attempt, ultimately yielding a trip to the foul line where she made the first of two free throws in the final 1:17 that iced the outcome.

“There is one thing I know about Kaylie…she’s not scared of anybody,” said Tanya. “No matter how big the other girls is, she isn’t backing down.”

Tanya Elsbree collected six rebounds, three assists and two steals, Kaylie Elsbree had eight boards, two assists, four steals and a block and Orloff cleared nine rebounds to go with three blocked shots. Add in the return of Tran and defensive work of sophomores Maddie Garze and Lindsay Lloyd, who combined for 11 rebounds and three steals, and the idea why there is so much excitement around what the future holds for the Patriots comes clearly into view.

"I would be lying if I said I knew it was going to happen this quickly," admitted Township coach Mike Stoia. "We knew last year we had a really good freshman class. As sophomores, they’ve taken on leadership roles. Our goal this year was to get to .500 and qualify for both the Shore Conference and state tournaments. Everyone complements each other and has a niche they are looking to expand."

Williams led Toms River South (10-12) with nine points, including her first 3-pointer of the season, and seven rebounds despite missing the final 5:15 of the first half after picking up her second foul. She and junior guard Madison Braun were responsible for five points apiece in helping the Indians to a 10-4 lead after eight minutes. Senior forward Molly LeGrand ended with nine rebounds.

Toms River South (10-12)             10           03           05           05 --- 23
Freehold Twp (14-8)                      04           07           09           09 --- 29

Toms River South: Carroll 1-0-0-2; LeGrand 0-0-0-0; Canfield 0-0-0-0; Braun 1-1-2-7; Williams 2-1-2-9; Hearne 1-0-0-2; Wettner 1-0-1-3.

Freehold Twp.: Lloyd 0-0-0-0; T. Elsbree 0-0-8-8; Tran 0-1-0-3; K. Elsbree 0-1-4-7; Garze 1-0-1-3; Orloff 4-0-2-8.

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