By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023 will go down in the Ocean Township High School record books as two titles were won in two sports on the same night. The first title was won by the girls varsity basketball team, their first since 1997. The second was the boys basketball team winning their first title since 1979. Unfortunately, the opponent in both games were the Blue Devils of Shore Regional.
Ocean hosted the Lady Blue Devils on Tuesday night as they battled for the Shore Conference C-South title. It was the second meeting of the two teams, back in January Shore had won 38-32. However, Shore had lost to Monmouth Regional and the Spartans had beaten the Falcons, leading to the second meeting between Shore and Ocean would determine the divisional champion.
First quarter was tight for both schools. They were playing very physical ball under the boards and aggressive on the outside shooters with Ocean taking a 10-6 lead going into the second quarter. Closing out the first half Ocean outscored Shore 16-10 taking a 26-16 lead into the halftime break.
Third quarter the Spartans put away the game outscoring the Devils 19-8. During the final eight minutes of the game both teams allowed their bench players into the game and Ocean bested Shore 9-4, taking the 54-28 victory and title.
Leading the Spartans were the Clark sisters. Eli, junior guard, had 14 points, six assists, one rebound and one steal. Kayden, sophomore guard, finished with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists, and one block. Gamila Betton, junior forward, had eight points, seven rebounds and two steals. Also getting eight points was Jineen Ayyash, junior forward, who pulled down five rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal. Sofia Chebookjian, junior forward, had four points, but was strong under the boards with five rebounds, one assist and one steal.
With the victory, Ocean improved to 18-1 overall and 14-1 in the division. Since that game, the girls went north and faced one of the best teams in the state, New Providence, who beat the Spartans 48-22. Michael Lazur, said that his young team got their butts kicked, but gained valuable experience.
Lazur, who is in his ninth year as head coach said he entered this season with more losses than wins. “We knew we were going to have a few down years, but we also knew that we were building something special here with this group of players,” said Lazur.
Preparing for the second game against Shore, Lazur threw in some new plays. “She is a different kind of animal as they play an unorthodox defense. We put some special plays in for them, and we had them in our game plan the first time we played them but didn’t execute them. Tonight, we improved on our spacing, we looked for extra passes and that’s what our team is really good at, finding that extra girl.”
Shore had one player with double digits in scoring. Rylee Drahos, senior guard, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block. Reese Fiore, sophomore guard, scored nine points, had five rebounds, one assist and two steals. Alana Merten, senior forward, had four points and Antonette Russo, junior forward, had three points. With the loss, Shore dropped to 17-3 overall and 12-2 in the division. They are coached by Will Wishart, an alumni of Ocean Township.
Over in West Long Branch, the Blue Devil boys hosted the Spartans and were also playing for the C-South Divisional title. That game was much tighter than the girls, as Shore had a 15-12 advantage in the first quarter. Shore outscored Ocean 11-10 in the second. Going into the halftime break, Ocean was up 25-23.
Third quarter was close, with Ocean besting Shore 15-14 and in the final eight minutes outscored the Devils 13-10 taking the 53-47 win and public school title for the C-South.
Three Spartans scored in double figures. Brandon Loughlin finished with a double-double, 18 points and 12 rebounds. Also getting a double-double was Ron Richardson with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Zayier Dean scored 15 points, had seven rebounds and six assists. Ocean improved to 15-5 overall and 11-5 in the C-South. It was their first divisional title 44-years.
Leading the Blue Devils was Alex George with 20 points. His teammates Donovan Hughes and Liam Gajewski each scored 11 for Shore in the loss. They slipped to 12-4 overall and 10-4 in the division.
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