Stunning rise of Shore school nets first state basketball championship in 51 years

LITTLE SILVER – It was a championship 51 years in the making for Freehold Borough. And in the end, it was worth the wait.

As the final buzzer sounded inside the Red Bank Regional Field House, the Colonials’ players and coaches, along with a large contingent of fans, converged at midcourt in a joyous celebration after a third straight road upset, shocking top-seeded Red Bank, 67-58, to win the NJSIAA Central Group 3 championship Saturday.

It’s the program’s first state title since winning the 1973 Central Group 1 title. And making the late-season surge that much more improbable is that it comes two years removed from a winless season.

“It’s a matter of being very proud of how we’ve grown and what these kids have done, not only for our school but for our town. It’s amazing,” said head coach Ben DiBiasi.

Freehold (23-7) moves on to face to Mainland, which beat Ocean City, 69-67 in triple overtime, to win the South Group 3 title. That game will be Wednesday at Monroe High School, with tipoff set for 5 p.m.

“We just put the work in every day, playing for each other and playing for the town,” said senior guard Christian DiGiso. “When you get to a stage like this you’re playing for more than just yourself. You represent your school, you represent your town. So to go from where we were, to where we are now, is something special.”

Leading the way for the Colonials with 21 points was junior forward Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk, while junior forward Brian Tassey added 17 points and eight rebounds. Junior forward Qua’Mir Everett had 14 points, including a pair of big 3-pointers in the first half, and DiGiso added 11 points, with his third-quarter 3-pointer giving his team a lead it would never relinquish.

“Two years ago we didn’t have enough, and last year we went 8-16 and had a chip on our shoulder,  but we couldn’t get it done. We didn’t have the key pieces,” Tassey said. “This year we had Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk come in, he didn’t play much last year, and we got Qua’Mir Everett. We played with him as little kids and he finally transferred back to the Boro, and we knew this was the year.”

More: Epic comeback lifts Manasquan boys basketball to 5th straight title: 'Something in the water'

With so much young talent, the Colonials now have the look of a program that could be poised for some sustained success.

“I thought we had the potential to be better than an eight-win team. And last year we were an eight-win team,” DiBiasi said. “At this school, if we buy in, we win. Football in 2008 and 2010, awesome basketball, a division championship in 2010. Those teams bought in. If we do that and we listen and we get better we can win championships. It’s just getting the players to do it, and this team 100 percent did it.”

Red Bank (21-5), looking for its first sectional title since 1993, got 18 points from Braydon Kirkpatrick, while Zayier Dean finished with 11 points. Ryan Fisher added 10 points and Jameson Ackerman hit three triples to finish with nine points.

It was the Bucs jumping out to an early 15-8 lead on the strength of a trio of 3-pointers, along with a 3-point play by Kirkpatrick that pushed the lead to 15-8. But Freehold got a buzz-beating 3-pointer by  Everett to pull within 15-11 after one quarter.

Freehold took control as the second quarter wore on, with a triple by Everett giving them a 19-17 lead. And after Dean answered with a 3-pointer to put the Bucs back on top, it was Hamlin-Woolfolk hitting a triple from the corner to put Freehold up, 22-20 with 3:30 left, as the action heated up. Freehold eventually took a 26-24 lead into the locker room.

DiGiso’s 3-pointer with 1:55 left in the third quarter ignited what turned into a 24-10 run that saw the lead swell to 62-48 in the final minutes. Hamlin-Woolfolk scored 17 points in the second half, while Tassey scored 10 points.


College Achieve Asbury Park 74, Manville 33

College Achieve Asbury Park continued to make a big impression in its first season of existence, with the start-up charter school program winning an NJSIAA sectional title in its first try, as the Knights rolled to a 74-33 victory over Manville in the Central Group 1 final Saturday at Mater Dei in Middletown.

It’s the first Shore-based school to win the section since Point Beach took the title in 2013.

The third-seeded Knights, coached by Dave Boff, who won six Non-Public B championships at Roselle Catholic, won their four sectional games by an average of 44 points, including a 58-point win over Point Beach. College Achieve is not a member of the Shore Conference, but is eligible to play in the state tournament.

Leading the way was guard Deuce Jones, with the LaSalle commit finishing with a game-high 22 points. Forward David Munro added 12 points and Jamir Westry chipped in with 10 points for the Knights. Manville was led by Edryn Morales' 15 points.

College Achieve advances to face South Group 1 champion Pitman on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Monroe High School. It will be the second half of a double-header, with Freehold and Mainland meeting in the Group 3 semifinal in the opener.

Manville (16-13), which won at top-seeded Henry Hudson to earn a spot in the final, was in trouble right from the start, as College Achieve jumped out to a 22-2 lead, extending their advantage to 41-14 at halftime.


Red Bank vs. Freehold Borough preview, prediction in Central Group 3 boys basketball final

LITTLE SILVER – The Red Bank Regional Field House will be buzzing as the resurgent, top-seeded Bucs host upstart Freehold Borough, seeded seventh, in the NJSIAA Central Group 3 championship game Saturday (1 p.m.).

The all-Shore Conference final means an area team will advance to the state semifinals, as one of two finals pitting local teams against each other, with Manasquan coming back to beat Rumson-Fair Haven to win the Central Group 2 title Friday night.

In addition, College Achieve Asbury Park hosts the Central Group 1 final (7 p.m.) against Manville Saturday, while St. Rose faces Bishop Eustace in the South Non-Public B final at Lenape High School Monday.

More: Epic comeback lifts Manasquan boys basketball to 5th straight title: 'Something in the water'


No. 1 Red Bank (21-4)

There’s no way to downplay the impact head coach George Sourlis has had on a program going for its first sectional title since 1993, after the Rumson-Fair Haven girls won 14 sectional championships, and five overall group titles, in Sourlis' 30 seasons there. The Bucs have won 13 of their last 14 games. The loss was on their home court, with Howell upsetting them in their SCT opener.

Red Bank Zayier Dean drives to the basket. Red Bank Regional Boys Basketball vs Robbinsville in NJSIAA Central Group 3 Quarterfinal game in Red Bank on February 27, 2024.
Red Bank Zayier Dean drives to the basket. Red Bank Regional Boys Basketball vs Robbinsville in NJSIAA Central Group 3 Quarterfinal game in Red Bank on February 27, 2024.

Junior guard Zayier Dean has been a difference-maker in his first season with the Bucs. A slasher who can get to the rim or kick it out to an open teammate, as well as being able to hit from mid-range and long-range. He's averaging 15.1 ppg. Senior Jameson Ackerman had four triples in the semifinals against Hopewell Valley, and is their top 3-point shooter. Senior guard Braydon Kirkpatrick is averaging 16.3 points over three state games, including 17 in the semifinals. Junior guard Ryan Fisher rounds out a balance scoring attack. What the Bucs don’t have is a lot of height, topping out with Liam Stack and Trey Moore, both 6-3.

The Bucs are 17-1 at home this season, with a win over CBA their best in the Field House. And they’ve looked like a No. 1 seed so far, winning all three games by double digits, including 56-42 over Hopewell Valley.

No. 7 Freehold (22-7)

As good a story as Red Bank is, it’s hard to beat the Colonials’ backstory as they look for the program’s first sectional championship since 1973, two years removed from a winless season. And they’ve done it by pulling off a pair of road upsets.

What the Colonials have are some tough matchups defensively for the Bucs, with 6-5 junior forward Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk, 6-4 junior guard/forward Brian Tassey and 6-4 junior forward Qua’Mir Everett giving them a solid size advantage. They combine to average 34.3 points and 22.5 rebounds, and their ability to control the game inside will be critical. Pulling the strings is senior guard Christian DiGiso, who had a season-high 24 points against Matawan to open state play, and is their top 3-point shooter along with senior guard Sam Cranwell.

The Colonials are 12-3 on the road this season, which includes a loss to St. Rose. But they’ve pulled off dramatic road wins at Nottingham and Ewing to reach this point, and come in riding a wave of momentum, having won five straight.

Common Opponents

Red Bank has a 6-1 record against common opponents, while Freehold is 5-3, having beaten Ranney twice. They both lost to Manasquan. Red Bank beat Freehold Township and Marlboro, with Freehold losing to both.


Red Bank 52, Freehold Boro 50


No. 3 College Achieve Asbury Park (19-7)

The Knights have made a big impact in the program’s first season of existence, with head coach Dave Boff having previously turned Roselle Catholic into a powerhouse.

How good are they? They recently beat St. Peter’s Prep, which beat Bergen Catholic Thursday night to move into the North Non-Public A final Monday. They have a win over Middle Township, which faced Camden in Friday night’s South Group 2 final. And they beat a Newark Collegiate team that played in a section final Friday.

They’re really good. And they have to be considered the favorite to win the Group 1 title right now. Leading the way is LaSalle commit Deuce Jones, while 6-8 Bergen Catholic transfer and Neptune native David Munro, and 6-9 Eunique Rink have been a force inside. Along with Jones, sophomore Jebron Harris and freshman Anthony Mauro have been a solid backcourt.

No. 5 Manville (16-12)

The Mustangs come off a win at Henry Hudson, knocking off the top-seeded Admirals, 50-43. They have a high-scoring backcourt of junior Edryn Morales and senior Tyler Kesolitz, which each scored 21 points against Henry Hudson. But they haven’t played the level of competition College Achieve has been facing all season, and it’s going to be hard to keep this one close. College Achieve has won its first three state games by an average of 43 points.


College Achieve 80, Manville 46

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Freehold Borough boys basketball wins first state title in 51 years