POINT PLEASANT BEACH
Nick Catania seized the moment Saturday.
Point Pleasant Beach’s ninth-year boys basketball coach burst into Classroom 111 and shouted, “Sectional final.” His Garnet Gulls responded with cheers and shouts at the outset of a team meeting.
The top-seeded Garnet Gulls punched their ticket to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I Championship Game with a 60-47 win over No. 4 Shore Regional in the semifinals.
Point Beach (25-3) will host Bound Brook at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Garnet Gulls’ other appearance in a sectional final in school history was in 2010 when they lost to Woodbury in South Jersey Group I.
“This is the greatest feeling there is,” said Point Beach junior forward Noah Yates, who scored 18 points Saturday. “It’s our main goal, what we’ve worked for all season. We’re in the final because we have played defense and rebounded. We have played tough. If we play with 100 percent effort, nobody can play with us.”
The Garnet Gulls unleashed a 13-4 third-quarter avalanche on the Blue Devils (19-7) for a 42-33 lead. The winners scored the first nine points of the quarter.
Riley Calzonetti opened with a layup and a jumper to put Point Beach in front, 33-29, with 7:41 to go. Matt Farrell capped two straight fast breaks with layups. Yates ended the spree with a free throw with 3:08 remaining, putting the Garnet Gulls ahead, 38-29.
“We came out slow and turned it over a few times,” Shore coach Dave Emery said. “They came out and executed well. We got off to a quick start early in the game. We’re coming off three straight sub-.500 seasons. We’re very young. Nobody expected the semifinals. We surprised a lot of people, including ourselves, perhaps.”
“We came out real strong and made a lot of steals at the beginning,” the 6-foot-5 Yates said. “We started to hit our shots, too, and attacked the rim. Everything clicked for us. This gym was packed and it was awesome. It’s a great feeling, especially when you are playing well as a team. When you have the whole town behind you, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The Blue Devils scored their first points of the third quarter on a layup by Jack Byrne to pull to within 38-31 with 2:51 to play. The Garnet Gulls replied with four straight points on a Yates putback and two free throws by Dom Uhl, pushing their lead to 42-31 with 1:41 to go. Shore’s Dan Pillari closed the quarter with a layup with three seconds remaining.
“We pushed up on defense and pressed them,” Yates said. “We worked as hard as we could to deny their passes into their sets. Everyone played great helping defense.”
The teams battled to a 29-29 halftime tie.
“At halftime, I said, ‘We’re not losing this game,” Catania said. “We lost control of our emotions in the first half. We didn’t execute some of our sets. I think it was nerves.”
“We know we are a second-half team,” Yates said. “That’s one of our biggest strengths.”
Matt Farrell led the Garnet Gulls with 20 points. Uhl added 10. Jack Byrne paced Shore with 14. Pillari contributed 12.