On Jan. 7 at Christian Brothers Academy, Freehold Township High School passed the ball around, looking for an open shot.
Then, Zach Orrico raced across the baseline, around a screen and got open in the left corner. A Freehold Township boys’ basketball player drove the lane and drew a defender from the corner. The ball handler kicked the ball to Orrico for an open three pointer.
The sophomore launched the three and drilled it. He leaped in the air as his teammates went wild in the Lincroft school’s gym.
Christian Brothers called time out. When play resumed, CBA missed three potential game winning shots.
Orrico’s trey held up as the game winner, 63-62, earning the Patriots their biggest victory of the season.
They stayed undefeated against Shore Conference A North Division opponents, improving to 5-0 in division play and 7-1 overall. They also handed CBA its first A North loss.
Freehold Township continued its momentum in its next two games, beating Marlboro High School, 64-53, on Jan. 10 and Holmdel High School, 51-31, on Jan. 12. After those victories, the Patriots are 9-1 overall and 6-0 in A North play.
As the season approaches the middle of January, Freehold Township looks like a real contender for the Shore Conference Tournament title.
The Patriots have bounced back from a down year last winter, when they went 9-13 and missed the postseason.
“We’re just trying to show everybody that we’re a different team this year,” said Freehold Township senior Greg Billups. “We’re serious and going for everything.”
“It’s crazy. Last year when we came to CBA, we were down 26-2 at the end of the first quarter. But we went in there this year with a different attitude,” Orrico said. “We thought we could beat them. We think we’re one of the best.”
The Patriots look like one of the best teams, too. Their primary lineup features one forward, the athletic Billups, and four guards who can handle, drive and shoot.
Everybody can score from anywhere on the court, which is how the Patriots stayed with the Colts despite trailing for most of that game. Four players, Billups (14 points), Orrico (13), Matt Santangelo (12) and Kevin Kilinskas (10), scored in double figures. Three other players, Zach Barilka (six), Cristian Corcione (five) and Seth Meisner (three), also scored.
“We’ve put in a lot of time and work over the summer. It’s paying off,” Billups said. “It’s the best feeling ever.”
Freehold Township has been winning that way all year. It is averaging 63.3 points per game and has beaten eight opponents by double digits.
The CBA victory was the climactic moment of Freehold Township’s hot start. Now, though, even after two more convincing victories, the Patriots must move forward. The perception of them has changed significantly.
“When you beat CBA at CBA, it’s something to celebrate a little bit. It doesn’t happen very often,” said Freehold Township coach Brian Golub. “But what I just told them is, they got 24 hours to soak it up and then it’s back to work.”
“When you get this victory, it puts you in a driver’s seat, and you don’t want to slip up,” Golub added. “Now there’s a big old target on our backs.”
Golub’s team handled that target well in its next couple games. It will have to keep rising to challenges as the season continues into the postseason.
The coach said before the season that he hoped to make the Shore Conference Tournament and the Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional tournament. Now, his goals for the team can be a little more ambitious. But he is still just focusing on each game.
“We haven’t played a complete game. We’ve played good halves,” Golub said. “I’m hoping a complete game will carry over. We got a war every night in A North. There are no off days.”