By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
Thursday morning, December 28, the Spartans of Ocean Township, top seed in the White Bracket of the 5th Annual Blue Devil Holiday Invitational and defending champions, beat fourth seed Freehold Township, 76-43. The Patriots had entered the tournament with a perfect 5-0 record.
Ocean entered the tournament with a 3-1 record, their only loss occurred at Manasquan, which is the eighth ranked team in the state. The Spartans are also highly ranked in the state as they returned all five starters from last season, where they won their division for the first time in 26 years with an overall record of 23-6.
Michael Lazur, head coach of the Spartans, has a team of highly skilled ball handlers, who possess speed, are tremendous defenders, and can hit the boards. He also has a bench where he can pull in players to give his top five a rest.
The starting five for Ocean are sisters Eli and Kayden Clark. Eli is a senior and Kayden a junior, both guards. Sofia Chebookjian and Jineen Ayyash, both senior forwards and Gamila Betton, is senior center for the Spartans. There is no friction between these five girls, they all have roles and duties, and can instantly switch roles which is very hard to defend.
That was obvious during the opening eight minutes on Thursday morning. Ocean took a commanding 20-8 lead on Freehold Township. Kayden Clark had seven of her game-high 24 in the first quarter. Betton had five points, Ayyash scored three and Eli had one.
In the second quarter, Ocean was firing on all cylinders. Six players scored a total of 23 points and only allowed the Patriots to add five to their total. Kayden had 10, Chebookjian scored six, Eli Clark, Betton and Ayyash all had two points and Caroline Bariscillo made one of four foul shots. Ocean took a 43-14 lead into the halftime break.
The Patriots had their best eight minutes starting the second half. They scored more points in the third quarter than they did the entire first half outscoring Ocean 24-13. Going into the final quarter of action, Spartans held a 56-37 lead.
Ocean was back on track in the fourth quarter, where they added 20 points to their total and only allowed six points, taking the 76-43 victory. Ayyash led the Spartans in the fourth with seven points, Bariscillo and Chebookjian each had four, Kayden scored three and sister Eli had two.
The Spartans did lose something in the fourth quarter. Betton was hit with an elbow causing a gash on the bridge of her nose. It was bleeding profusely, and required the game to be stopped while the Shore Regional athletic trainer attended to Betton and the Freehold Township player who suffered a cut to her elbow. The Patriots player returned to the game, Betton did not.
Kayden Clark was high scorer with 24 points, five rebounds, three assists and five steals. Ayyash, who provided a spark on offense and defense as an aggressive player, finished with 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal. Chebookijan had a great game as she scored 12 points, had three rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Betton finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Eli Clark had 10 points, one rebound and seven assists, and two steals.
The Spartans are now 4-1 and in first place in the Shore Conference B Central division, which has Donovan Catholic, Monmouth Regional, Shore Regional, Lakewood and Jackson Liberty in that order.
Freehold Township suffers their first loss of the season and are 5-1 and on top of the A North division. They are followed by Howell, Trinity Hall, Manalapan and Marlboro.
Ocean Township will play Howell in the finals of the Blue Devil Holiday Invitational on Saturday, December 30, at 4:00 p.m. in the main gym at Shore Regional High School.
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