POINT PLEASANT BEACH
Noah Yates has earned a hat trick.
The Point Pleasant Beach senior has played on three NJSIAA Central Group I championship teams. He helped the Garnet Gulls to the boys basketball title last winter and the football crown in 2013.
On Monday night, the guard-forward helped the top-seeded Garnet Gulls to the Central Group I championship, scoring 19 points in their 67-61 victory over Shore Regional in the championship game.
Point Pleasant Beach (28-1) will meet Pitman, which bested A.P. Schalick 58-51 in the South Group I final Monday night, in the Group I state semifinals 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
It was the final career game for Yates and his fellow seniors in the tiny gymnasium, which struggled to contain a standing room only crowd. The Garnet Gulls’ student cheering section got into the act in the game’s final seconds, serenading the Blue Devils with, “Just like football,” referring to Point Pleasant Beach’s win over Shore in the championship game last fall.
“It was our final game and it was definitely emotional,” said Yates, a 6-foot-6, 200-pounder. “We left a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this floor in our games and practices. We will remember this atmosphere for the rest of our lives.”
“In our huddle at practice Sunday, I told our seniors, ‘Come here ready to play and you will not lose,’ ” winning coach Nick Catania said. “It would not have been right for them to walk off the court as losers. They took our program to the next level.”
Best known for his prowess at free safety, Yates last year intercepted nine passes. He will continue his career at Yale University of the Ivy League.
“Yale is a great school,” he said, “and that’s an obvious reason why I’m going there. I made an official visit in December and fell in love with it. The campus is unreal. It’s one of the best schools in the world. To have a Yale degree and to be able to play Division I football is a great combination.”
Catania, whose team blazed away at a 16-for-17 clip from the foul line, including 13 of 13 in the final quarter, said Yates’ intelligence shows on the court.
“He has a high I.Q.,” Catania said. “When I go over stuff, he picks it right up. After playing football, he came right to our practice and had our stuff down in a day and a half–and we run a lot of different sets.
“He’s a great player — one of the best in the Shore Conference by far. He doesn’t get the credit. He’s a competitor. He’s a five-tool basketball player. He does a little bit of everything. He can dribble, pass, shoot, rebound and defend.”
Yates erupted for 16 points in the second half, including 10 in the fourth quarter. He buried seven of seven free throws in the final eight minutes. Yates staked the Garnet Gulls to the game’s biggest lead, nine points at 50-41, with a trey from beyond Noah’s Arc, a shot from the left corner, with 1:42 left in the third quarter.
The shot capped a 25-12 avalanche. Yates scored six points in the surge. Point Pleasant Beach senior guard Matt Farrell put home 11 of his team-high 20 in the run. Farrell put the defending Group I state champion Garnet Gulls ahead to stay, 38-35, with 3:42 to go in the third quarter when he capped a fast break with a 3-point play.
Yates converted a one-and-one with 1:23 left in the game for a 59-51 lead and buried a double bonus with 18 seconds to go, putting the Garnet Gulls in front 65-59.
Another key contributor to the victory was senior center Jeff Bryant, who scored 12 points, including 10 in the second half, six in the fourth quarter.
“Everyone has to step up in the big games — not only myself,” said Yates, whose team buried 13 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter. “We were able to hit our shots. Mike did a great job of handling the ball. Everyone did a great job of rebounding. We hit the big shots when we had to.”
“I felt we started slowly,” Catania said. “We turned it over. We did not play together in the first half and that was due to Shore. In the second half, we played Point Pleasant Beach basketball. We defended, ran, executed in our half-court offense and rebounded. We made our free throws down the stretch. That’s the Point Pleasant Beach combination.”
The second-seeded Blue Devils (21-9) hoped to win their second sectional crown in school history. They captured Central Group I in 1967. Shore led by as many as five points, 32-27, with 6:58 left in the third quarter, but was unable to hang on. Junior guard Kevin Bloodgood paced the Blue Devils with 25 points, including 14 in the first half.
“Their size definitely hurt us a little bit,” second-year Shore coach Dave Emery said. “They have not lost to a Shore Conference team all year. Hats off to them. They are the sectional champions. Our kids did a great job.”