TOMS RIVER - For three quarters, the WOBM Christmas Classic final was not pretty, and that is exactly how Freehold Township's defense has made life for its opponents.

In Friday's WOBM Christmas Classic final between the third-seeded Patriots and top-seeded host Toms River North, Freehold Township again took on a high-octane offense and slowed it to a crawl.

Senior Steve Staklinski scored a game-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds Friday and the No. 3 Patriots separated from the Mariners early in the fourth quarter to win their first ever WOBM Christmas Classic, 45-39.

"Our coaches kept telling us what a great team they (Toms River North) were and we had to be ready," Staklinski said. "We just had to do what we do - play (defense). Honestly, it was just a great team game."

Photo by Ray Richardson

The Patriots clamped down on Toms River North's top offensive threats, holding senior Jaden Rhoden to eight points and senior Mike Nyisztor to six. In total, Toms River North shot 13-for-48 (27 percent) and committed 15 turnovers. After scoring eight points before halftime, Rhoden did not score in the second half.

The Patriots' effort Friday capped a superior defensive tournament for Freehold Township, which held all three WOBM opponents under 40 points and to an average of 37.5 per game. Only one Freehold Township opponent this season has crossed the 40-point plateau and it was only 42 points by Neptune in a 66-42 Patriots win.

"It doesn't surprise us," Staklinski said of Freehold Township's defense so far. "Just in practice, you can see the amount of hard work we put in. Everyone is working together and we always know someone is going to be there on the backside with help. As a team, it's great to be able to play 'D' like we have."

"As good as the results have been, I don't think we're a great team right now," Freehold Township coach Brian Golub said. "I give us an A on the defensive end, but our offense has to find ways to score besides off our defense. But our defense has been awesome. This is one of the only tournaments we've been in and haven't won."

To make Friday's showing even more impressive, it came against a Toms River North team averaging 68.8 points per game heading into the championship game. Freehold Township also held a Manasquan team averaging 65 points in its other six games to 39 in Thursday's semifinal game.

The Patriots' game plan was not as singularly focused as the one that held Manasquan's Devin Jensen to 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting on Thursday, but it was varied in its man-zone mix and equally disruptive to the Mariners shooters and any Toms River North player who tried to score near the basket.

Photo by Ray Richardson

"Even last year, we started off playing a lot of fullcourt press and it wasn't working out too well for us, so we had to push it back to half court," Staklinski said. "This year, you can see we're all coming together based on last year's experience playing good halfcourt defense when we need to."

As for the offense, Freehold Township grew more effective over the course of the game and excelled by relying on one hot hand. Staklinski scored 13 of his points in the fourth, including a thunderous two-handed dunk as he was fouled. The three-point play capped a 7-0 burst to open the quarter, giving Freehold Township a 34-26 lead.

"Once I saw the outlet pass, I was immediately thinking dunk," Staklinski said. "I bobbled it a little, but I still went up for it."

The Patriots built their lead as high as 12 at 45-33, which followed a first 24 minutes in which neither team led by more than five points - a 16-11 Freehold Township lead in the second quarter.

Senior Ryan Zyskowski added nine points and seven rebounds for Freehold Township. Junior Holden Petrick, meanwhile, led Toms River North with 11 points.

Freehold Township extended its unbeaten start to 7-0 amid a difficult stretch for Golub, who has been helping tend to his ill father since the start of practice in November. Golub said his father was a regular at Freehold Township games in years past.

With Golub away from the team, assistant Todd Smith ran the team through practice Friday morning and did the heavy lifting installing the gameplan.

"Todd deserves this win," Golub said. "He did all the hard work getting our guys ready to play. I just showed up to the game and yelled at the refs."

Box Score

Freehold Twp. 45, Toms River North 39

Freehold Twp. (7-0)81271845
Toms River North (5-1)51651339

Freehold Twp. (45): Bobby Weise 1 2-3 4, Ryan Cardone 1 0-0 2, Steve Staklinski 9 4-5 23, Ryan Zyskowski 3 3-4 9, Greg Billups 2 2-4 6, Ja'Zeem Foster 0 1-2 1, Brian White 0 0-2 0, Brandon Hasner 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 12-20 45

Three-pointers: Staklinski

Toms River North (39): Darrion Carrington 1 2-8 4, Hunter Petrick 4 0-0 11, Travis Holland 1 1-2 3, Jaden Rhoden 2 4-6 8, Mike Nyisztor 2 0-0 6, Mark Mogarte 3 0-0 7, Elliot Daks 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 7-16 39

Three-pointers: Petrick 3, Nyisztor 2, Mogarte

Fouled Out: Carrington


WOBM Christmas Classic Awards

Tournament MVP: Steve Staklinski, Freehold Twp.

Chuck Kearney Memorial Award: Brendan Hueth, St. Rose


First Team

Brendan Hueth, St. Rose

Devin Jensen, Manasquan

Jaden Rhoden, Toms River North

Mike Nyisztor, Toms River North

Ryan Zyskowski, Freehold Twp.

Second Team

Steve Geis, Wall

Ryan LaRocca, Marlboro

Bobby Weise, Freehold Twp.

Holden Petrick, Toms River North

Connor Costigan, Point Boro