Despite a Loss, Boys Varsity Basketball Makes History at the Group IV State Championship Game with Fans by Their Side

Kaylee Dillon, Staff Writer

Even before the 2018-2019 basketball season was in full swing, people were talking about the sunny outlook for this season’s team. Freehold Township fared well in last year’s season, but struggled when it came to early season injuries that took out vital players. Still, looking at what the boy’s team has achieved this year makes last year’s accomplishments pale in comparison, and for all the right reasons.

Prior to the playoffs, the beginning of the season was pretty smooth sailing, thanks to hard work in the preseason. Rolling past teams such as Howell and Freehold Boro, to upsetting league rival Christian Brother’s Academy early on in the season, provided Freehold Township with an extra boost for morale. And with each stride, the fan section was consistently booming with students wearing blue and white to cheer on the team. Whether it was a quiet Tuesday afternoon game or a roaring Friday night, the Bleacher Creatures kept it loud.

Even when things got rough, Township basketball kept at it. When the team lost in a stunner to Middletown South, they righteously fought back and got a win later in the season. Up and down the Jersey Shore, Freehold Township basketball was seeing the greener side of a season they had been anticipating, or at least that’s what they thought.

Often times during the season, it felt as though nothing could be better. Each win felt better than the next. When the Patriots battled all the way to the semifinals in the Shore Conference Tournament, and faced off with the number one team in the state, Ranney, they put up a good fight and it almost felt like a bittersweet, justified end for the Patriots’ season. The Bleacher Creatures drove 45 minutes to cheer on their team, make some noise, and kept the energy going even when the outcome of the game was clearly not in Township’s favor. To a spectator, it seemed like the Patriots had hit their peak for this year’s season.

Clearly, this assumption was wrong, as the state playoffs were just beginning. Freehold Township has notoriously missed the break when it comes to making strides in the state playoffs, so to think the season was pretty much over wasn’t pessimistic, but just realistic when looking at the team historically. In seasons past the game has always been the same, and the effort has always been equal. This year, however, Freehold Township finally broke the seal.

The first three wins along the Central Group IV bracket weren’t a piece of cake for the team; they came about through endurance and dedicated offensive and defensive work. Freehold Township’s win against Monroe (58-47) was especially electrifying, as it was the team’s last home game of the year. And for a majority of the players and fans alike, it was the last home game at Freehold Township period. Such a strong win for the senior’s seemed like enough, but there was still more basketball to be played.

Playing against defending champion Trenton in the Group IV final seemed much more like a dream to Freehold Township than anything else. The fan bus packed up to fill the bleachers at Trenton while others watched live at home, and Freehold Township delivered an upset that made history. What could’ve been another buzzer-beating heartbreaker turned into Freehold Township’s first sectional title. When the buses came back to town, they were escorted by firetrucks and greeted at the doors of Freehold Township by their friends and fans.

History had been made, sure, but there was even more basketball to be played. Township was back where they had been just the week prior, a semifinal where the outlook was not exactly favorable to either side. Once again, fans packed into buses and cars of their own to make an hour and a half long drive to see their team play against Cherokee in Egg Harbor Township. The team didn’t disappoint, and kept Township on a winning streak towards the championships with a close 44-42 win over Cherokee.

Freehold Township was never expected to win the championship over Newark East Side on Sunday, March 10th. They were never expected to make it that far in the first place; they were always the underdogs from the Shore Conference. East Side didn’t underestimate the defensive power of Freehold Township, and took the Patriots down 69-44. It was a loss that stung in the moment, but was vastly overshadowed by the history made this year by the boy’s basketball team.

This year’s team was the first to step foot into Rutgers Athletic Center as sectional champions. The Patriots were marked by the maturity of their senior leadership (Greg Billups, Zach Barilka, Cristian Corcione, Seth Meisner, Matt Santangelo, Kevin Kilinskas, Greg Solla, Max Gluck, Jeremy Thorn, Ben Tirabassi) and the spirit of their sophomores (Zach Orrico, Jayce Schapiro, Joe Lardaro), on and off the bench equally. The remarkable thing about Township’s team this season has been how far the roster goes. Where other teams may rely on the effort of the starting five, Freehold Township’s bench has been actively participating in every game, often times making shots that secured wins.

What has also made Freehold Township especially unique this year is the energy surging from the crowds at each game. From the peaks of making history over the past week to the low of losing a grasp on a potential championship title, the fan section has been bellowing with heart and soul for the team every single time. When the time on the clock was running down at Rutgers on Sunday and the starting five retired one last time to the benches to watch their teammates play, between the cheers, some tears were shed in the fan section.

These tears weren’t over the loss, because there wasn’t any feeling of anger or disappointment that loomed over the end of the court were the fan section stood. Instead, there was a sense of overwhelming sadness that, for the Bleacher Creatures, this was the end. No matter win or lose, a season of screaming, chanting, and having fun together as seniors was ending. The emotions and memories felt together will be lasting and unique to the Class of 2019. Wherever the senior class ends up as basketball season rolls around again next year, one thing is for certain: no season will feel the same as the 2018-2019 boy’s basketball season.