Kates, Spinella, Garcia head boys District team

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Despite a huge turnover due to graduation, Freehold Township maintained its grip on Shore Conference A North Division basketball.

This was the year to catch Brian Golub’s Patriots, after they lost all five starters from a year ago. Yet the Patriots were able to stay ahead of the rest thanks to their ability to make plays at the end of the game.

Led by seniors like Chris Ballester and Kevin Fischer and underclassmen such as Matt Devine, the Pats shared the division title with Christian Brothers Academy and were again the best public school in the division.

This was the fifth straight division title for Golub’s Patriots. Township went 15-9 this year.

Colts Neck had the Shore’s best tandem inMitchell Kates and Steve Spinella. As the season progressed, they got everyone involved on the floor, and the Cougars jelled. That led to a 19-8 season and the program’s first-ever Shore Conference Tournament semifinal appearance. Lou Piccola’s Cougars were also in the state sectional semis.

Freehold Borough was a year ahead of schedule. Ben DiBiase’s young Colonials made a huge statement the first night of the season when they upset No. 1 Neptune on the road. There were some inconsistencies on the road, but that upset win proved to be no fluke. They made it to the SCT quarterfinals and the state sectional semis as well, led by an emerging star in sophomore Christian Garcia.

The Colonials were 16-12 a year after a six-win season. DiBiase was named the B North Coach of the Year by the Shore Basketball Coaches.

Kates, Spinella and Garcia head the News Transcript’s 2008 All-Freehold Regional District Boys Basketball Team, First Team. Rounding out the team are Ballester and Manalapan’s Chris Saray. Second Team honors went to Devine and Fischer, Marlboro’s Mike Norber, and Freehold Borough’s Lance McKenzie and Brandon Carter.

Kates won the Kerwin Award as the top player in the Shore, and he earned it with his all-around play. He was the Cougars’ catalyst, whether it was running the fast break in transition or quarterbacking the team half-court, he controlled the tempo of the game. The senior led the Shore in assists, 7.5, as well as steals (4.9). He also scored 16 points a game thanks to an improved pull-up jumper.

Spinella displayed the most improvement of anyone in the Shore as he went from scoring in the mid-teens to the top scorer in the conference (22.8). Combining an inside game with a long-range jumper, he was lethal on the receiving end of Kates’ passes on the fast break.

Equally impressive was the way he attacked the boards, averaging 7.6 a game.

It was no coincidence that the development of Garcia as an impact player coincided with Freehold Borough’s re-emergence as a contender on the hardwood. A solid player on both ends of the floor, he averaged 13 points and seven rebounds a game for the Colonials. He was especially effective on the offensive glass, pulling down 90 offensive rebounds during the season.

Saray is one of the best long-range shooters in the Shore, connecting on 57 threes during the season and 125 over the last two years. But, as his 16.1 points a game average will attest, he could score in other ways as well.

Ballester may have had the shot of the year for the Pats. His put-back at the buzzer beat CBA and ended up allowing the Pats to tie the Colts for the championship.

Ahard worker under the boards, he led the area with an average of 10.0 rebounds a game. While doing all the winning things (setting picks, boxing out and playing solid defense), Ballester averaged eight points a game and was second in steals (2.0 a game).

Devine, a junior, emerged as the Pats’ most consistent scorer, averaging 14 points a game and knocking down 56 threes.He was successful on 52 percent of his shots.

Fischer, who hit some big shots for the Pats last year, stepped in as a starter this year and had a solid season. The senior guard averaged 10 points while hitting on 30 threes.

Carter provided the Borough with an inside presence and important senior leadership for a young team. He averaged eight points and five boards a game for Freehold during its big turnaround season.

The Colonials put the ball in good hands in guard McKenzie, who is a sophomore like Garcia. McKenzie average 9.5 points and 2.7 assists a game for the Colonials. The future is bright for DiBiase’s Colonials.

Norber put together a fine season for the Mustangs. The senior guard averaged 14.1 points a game on a team that showed promise (the ‘Stangs upset Freehold Township early in the season).

Those earning Honorable Mention for their play this year were: Craig Perry and Adam Dombrowski, Colts Neck; Andrew Gerbehy, Freehold Borough; Mat Lit, Corey Csakai and Tyler McKinnon, Freehold Township; Robert McClintock, Howell; and Adam Rice, Manalapan.