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As my seasonal-affective disorder goes to another level and the snow piles up in the endlessly cold, Snowpiercer world that we now live in, let's relive a great night of Shore Conference basketball from Wednesday's state playoff action.

For all the talk of this being a down season in Shore boys basketball, the conference is in line to win three sectional titles and possibly five if Christian Brothers Academy can get out of a tough Non-Public South A section and Toms River South can make a run in South Jersey Group III as the only public program from the Shore still standing in any of the South Jersey brackets.

I'll start with Central Jersey Group IV, which has morphed into the Freehold Regional District tournament. If Howell had been able to finish its comeback and beat 13th-seeded Hillsborough last night, the final four would have been the Rebels, Marlboro, Freehold Township and Colts Neck, none of which has ever won an NJSIAA sectional title. As it is, unless Hillsborough can finish off its Cinderella run, one of those three remaining Shore teams is going to make history.

Colts Neck travels to Freehold Township tomorrow in what should be a great atmosphere with two good fan bases and a trip to the sectional final on the line. That place is going to be wild. On paper, the winner of that game is the favorite to bring home the championship and will get a home game in the final, so it's a big one. Freehold Township reached the final in 2007 but fell short against South Brunswick in its best season in program history, while Colts Neck has lost to Neptune, Middletown North and Burlington Township in sectional finals to come up just short of its own history.

Tyree Wilson's big night put Freehold Township two wins away from its first NJSIAA sectional title. (Photo by Larry Murphy, Sports Pix NJ)

Both teams are playing well, with Freehold Township handling Trenton thanks to late heroics by senior Tyree Wilson, and Colts Neck edging North Brunswick by three as Tom O'Reilly had 15 points to lead a balanced scoring effort.

Marlboro has never played in a sectional championship game but now will be on its home floor against Hillsborough on Friday with a chance to do just that after stunning top-seeded Montgomery, 59-56, thanks to 20 points by Matt Ringel and 14 by George Elghoul. If Hillsborough wins the title, it will have cut a path through the Freehold Regional District to do it, as it has already beaten Manalapan and Howell and would have to beat Marlboro and then the Freehold Township-Colts Neck winner to win the whole thing.

I took in Hillsborough's 47-38 win over Howell last night in front of the most packed and loud crowd at Howell in years. It was a tough ending for the Rebels, but it also showed how far they have come in generating enthusiasm in the program because that atmosphere was a lot of fun. Even the Hillsborough players were talking about it afterward. It was the first home playoff game in Howell history, and the "Howell Rebellion" student section made it a memorable one by showing up in force.

Also, senior Aaron Trimble became Howell's first 1,000-point scorer since Ryan Keegan in 2011 by nailing a 3-pointer in the first quarter to reach the milestone. The Rebels then played catch-up for the next three quarters as they struggled against Hillsborough's 2-3 zone. Howell's daunting challenge now will be replacing this strong senior class led by Trimble, center Will Kocsis and guard Gino Palummo.

Hillsborough might only be 13-12, but it is a dangerous team. You have to guard everyone because all of the guards can shoot and the forwards are crafty and will work for backdoor layups and hit the offensive glass. If you try to pack it in the lane, they will make 16-footers until the cows come home. The Raiders also are not an easy team to pressure because they pass the ball pretty well. They have already done it to Manalapan and Howell, so the next to accept the challenge is a veteran group of Marlboro guards.

Another bracket where three of the four semifinalists are from the Shore is Central Jersey Group II, where Rumson-Fair Haven, Matawan and Manasquan are right there for a title. Rumson will host Bordentown, which stunned No. 1 Lakewood last night, while defending champion Matawan and Manasquan will duke it out on the other side of the bracket.

Matawan-North Plainfield photo gallery by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ

Matawan is playing with the urgency of a team whose top players are seniors unwilling to give up that crown easily. The Huskies have won two games on the road as the 11 seed and are two wins away from turning a forgettable season into a memorable one. Senior guard Jason Dunne dropped 11 of his 18 in the fourth to knock off third-seeded North Plainfield last night, and now they face a Manasquan team that beat them at the Boardwalk Showcase in early January. However, both teams are much different from that game, as Manasquan didn't have its full lineup, while Matawan's complementary players around Dunne and senior guard Joe Piscopo were still finding their way.

Senior Joe Piscopo and Matawan are not giving their Central Jersey Group II crown up without a fight as they showed last night in a road win over third-seeded North Plainfield. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

Manasquan beat Spotswood by 15 with a balanced scoring effort led by Aidan McMenaman and stifling defense that limited the Chargers to 35 points. On the other side of the bracket, no-brainer Player of the Year Brendan Barry continues to just dismantle teams as he dropped another 29 points in a seven-point win over Manchester. Rumson now gets a home game in the semifinals because of Bordentown's upset, which concluded a disappointing season for Lakewood in which the Piners were the No. 2 seed in the SCT and the No. 1 seed in CJ II and won a total of one tournament game.

If Matawan can pull the upset and Rumson takes care of business, we would have a rematch of last year's championship in which the Huskies beat the Bulldogs at Matawan. This time the game would be at Rumson, with the Bulldogs as the heavy favorite. If Manasquan defends its home court and advances, it would be an interesting final because the Warriors have been Rumson's Kryptonite this season. Manasquan beat Rumson twice in Class A Central to give Rumson two of its four losses.

The biggest win of the night overall belonged to Holmdel, which went into Red Bank as the 15 seed in Central Jersey Group III and shocked the No. 2 Bucs with a 63-58 win in which they rained down 13 three-pointers.

Never underestimate a Sean Devaney-coached team as a low seed, as the Hornets have done that multiple times in recent seasons and reached the sectional final in 2012. It goes all the way back to the 1990s when I was a sophomore reserve at Red Bank Catholic and a Holmdel team coached by Devaney became the first No. 15 seed to ever beat a No. 2 seed in the SCT by shocking us in 1992.

Luke Mayell had 21 points and four players hit three 3-pointers for the Hornets, who have a legitimate shot to make a run at the semifinals as they travel to 10th-seeded Middletown North, which ended a 10-game losing streak by beating No. 7 Hopewell Valley in overtime on the road. Sophomore Jules Calhoun had 15 points and the game-winning basket for the Lions, who get a home game and have their own quality chance to advance after going winless for the entire month of February.

The bad news for Holmdel coming out of the win is that the left knee of senior guard Jeff Harris gave out. Harris has been playing all season with a torn ACL in that knee, and he had to be helped to the team bus after gutting it out last night. His season is most likely over, according to Devaney. He left it all on the floor this season and was an inspiration to his teammates.

On the other side, the loss to Holmdel was an emotional ending for Red Bank, particularly the seniors, who have persevered for the last three seasons in the wake of the tragic death of teammate Albert Martin.

Neptune surprisingly went out in the first round at home against Northern Burlington as the fifth seed, but all that did was speed up the inevitable as they would have eventually run into top-seeded Ewing, the heavy favorite. Strange season for the Scarlet Fliers in their first year under coach Joe Fagan. They had a forgettable regular season in Class B North, made a great run to the SCT semifinals and then made a quick exit in the state playoffs.

In addition to CJ IV and CJ II, the other bracket where the Shore looks like a good bet to finish the job is Central Jersey Group I, where Point Beach rolled past Henry Hudson for the third time this season to advance to face Bound Brook in the quarterfinals. The Garnet Gulls and Shore Regional appear to be on a collision course after Point Beach beat the Blue Devils in last season's final to win its second straight sectional title.

In the South Jersey public brackets, the only Shore team left standing is Toms River South, which beat Seneca in SJ III thanks to another brilliant showing by senior guard Tymere Berry, who had 25 points and 11 boards. The Indians host Ocean City in the quarterfinals.

As expected, Christian Brothers Academy and RBC both advanced in home wins in Non-Public South A. Brown University coaches were in the house to get a look at CBA juniors Pat Andree and Jack McGuire in the win over Paul VI, according to Jay Gomes of NJ Hoops. McGuire poured in 29 points and senior Jack Laffey added 25 in the win. Former Manasquan star J.R. Hobbie is currently a standout guard for Brown, so it is no stranger to the Shore.

Joe Montano dropped in 23 for RBC in a win over Immaculata, and if the Caseys can go on the road and upset Camden Catholic on Friday while CBA handles its business at home against Gloucester Catholic, then we will have RBC at CBA for the second time this season after the Colts beat the Caseys in the SCT. The winner of that would most likely face top-seeded St. Augustine in the championship game.

On the girls side, the headline win was Marlboro winning the grudge match with Freehold Township behind 22 points from Nicole Shatsky to reach the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. All the other high seeds won, with the top individual performance being a 32-point eruption by Middletown North's Kamani Williams in a Central Jersey Group III win over Northern Burlington to set up a third meeting of the season against top-seeded rival Middletown South, which won the first two.

Also, Manasquan, which cruised to a win in CJ II last night, is now up to No. 9 in the nation by MaxPreps after beating St. Rose in the SCT final last week.


Barnegat senior defensive back Ricky Gerena, an All-Class B South selection, is joining the Shore contingent headed to East Stroudsburg after announcing his commitment on Wednesday.


More on Thursday:

  • Colts Neck grad Anthony DeSclafani allowed one unearned run in two innings in his spring training debut with the Reds.
  • A Robert Morris team coached by CBA grad Andy Toole ended the season for Wagner and former Raritan star Mike Aaman, who had 19 points and 8 rebounds in the loss. Robert Morris is now in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals.
  • Middle Township boys basketball coach Tom Feraco reached an impressive milestone with his 700th career win.
  • I would never have thought there was a pro basketball league in Iraq, but somehow cartoon character Marshall Henderson playing in it makes perfect sense.
  • A manager for the Hammonton girls basketball team down in South Jersey who has Down syndrome got into the game on Senior Night and scored a basket for a great moment.
  • A former college lineman at North Carolina is now homeless, living on the street.
  • Good to see the return of Craig Sager and his loud jackets after a battle with cancer.
  • In Finland, the amount of the fine you pay for a speeding ticket is based on your income, so this millionaire got hit with a $60,000 ticket.
  • Imagine someone was taking all your Facebook and Twitter photos and constructing a fake life in another country. That's what happened to this couple.
  • A guy has a rare disorder that converts carbs to excessive alcohol in the blood, so he essentially gets drunk just from eating fries. His wife thought he was an alcoholic and was searching the house for hidden booze. Crazy.

On tap for tonight: Searching San Diego real estate listings online.

As for tomorrow, the state tournament should kick back into gear with another big slate after all the games postponed from today plus the sectional semifinals in Groups II and IV. Plus, the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships start tomorrow at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and continue through the finals on Sunday.

I will end with all the great showings by the Shore Conference student sections last night.