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TOMS RIVER - After falling victim to a crossover and floater by Ranney sophomore sensation Bryan Antoine that tied Tuesday's Shore Conference Tournament semifinal with under two minutes to play, Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel gave a wry smile as he looked up at the scoreboard - almost as though he knew something the rest of Pine Belt Arena didn't.

His team's lead may have gone away momentarily, but with under two minutes to play, Marlboro - the No. 6 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament - had the ball with a chance to beat the No. 2 seed in the tournament and the No. 6 team in the latest NJ.com State Top 20.

As it turned out, Ringel had reason to smile.

The senior point guard found classmate Dan Weiss on the right wing in the final minute and Weiss calmly stroked the go-ahead three with 35 seconds left, the deciding shot in a bracket-busting, 50-47 upset that propels Marlboro into its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

"It wasn't a shock to us, to be honest," Weiss said. "We were confident. We've been hot recently. He knew we had to be physical with them and we knew we had to be confident throughout the whole game."

Ranney's all-sophomore starting lineup had lost just three games all year heading into Tuesday - Tampa, Fla. power Sickles, St. Anthony and Mater Dei Prep. Prior to Tuesday, this highly-regarded Ranney class that features Antoine, fellow five-star recruit Scottie Lewis and classmates Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino, had not lost to a Shore Conference opponent other than Mater Dei Prep in their nearly two full years together.

The team that got it done against Ranney features three senior starters in Ringel, Weiss and guard Ryan LaRocca, who finished with a game-high 15 points.

"Seniors get it done," Ringel said. "We battle. That's what it was."

While Weiss's shot was the one that put Marlboro ahead for good, the Mustangs' work was not done. Ranney sophomore center Chris Autino hit a pair of free throws with 21.6 seconds left to pull the Panthers within 46-45.

Ranney elected to foul Marlboro sophomore Dylan Kaufman with 20 seconds left to give him a one-and-one opportunity from the foul line. Despite going 2-for-6 from the stripe up to that point, Kaufman nailed both free throws to extend Marlboro's lead back to three, 48-45.

"I have to credit my whole team because they make me stay after practice and shoot free throws," Kaufman said. "I missed some big free throws (in a loss) against Neptune and that put me in a slump. I wasn't confident. So to go to the line in the most pressure situation you can think of and make them is the greatest feeling in the world."

Antoine then missed a three-point attempt on the other end and it was then Ringel's turn to step to the line after going 2-for-5 up until that point. The senior also drilled his two free throws with 9.4 seconds left to nail down the upset.

*Photo Gallery by Ray Richardson*

Marlboro senior Dan Weiss fires up a three. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

LaRocca led Marlboro with 15 points on four three-pointers, including a go-ahead three to put the Mustangs up, 43-41, with 1:58 left. Antoine answered with his crossover-plus-floater that tied it at 43 before Marlboro ran the clock under a minute to set up Weiss's big shot.

"Coach (Mike Nausedas) kept telling us, 'We have nothing to lose,'" LaRocca said. "Ranney has everything to lose. We went with that mentality and that's what helped us get through and win this game."

Weiss added 13 points and defended standout Lewis when Marlboro was in a man-to-man defense, which was most of the game. Kaufman also threw in 10 points and seven rebounds while Ringel chipped in six points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals and defended Antoine. Lewis finished with 10 points and Antoine scored 15 on 6-for-19 shooting.

"We knew we could match up," Ringel said. "We had good match-ups on them. They are a hell of a bunch. They are going to be the top of the top, but we just knew now is the time to beat them because we're that much older and that much bigger."

During the first half, Ringel and the defense held Antoine scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting before the sophomore caught fire with 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the third quarter. Antoine also threw down a go-ahead slam with 3:34 left to put Ranney up 41-40, which set the stage for LaRocca's go-ahead three.

The Mustangs led Ranney, 22-15, at halftime and with a mix of man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, held the high-scoring Panthers to 4-for-21 shooting from the field.

Sophomore Ahmadu Sarnor aided Antoine in getting Ranney back in the game in the third by scoring eight of the team's 23 points in the period. Sarnor finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Marlboro's season got off to an inauspicious start when Ringel broke a bone in his left hand during a scrimmage against Mater Dei Prep, Marlboro's opponent in Saturday's championship game, and missed the Mustangs' first nine games.

On top of losing Ringel, 6-5 senior forward Emir Anda tore the ACL in his right knee in just the second game of the season. Anda missed all of his junior season with a torn ACL in his other knee and scored a team-high 19 points in a 39-38 season-opening win over Neptune in his only full game of the season.

The Mustangs fell short of winning the program's first division championship since the early 1970's, but the Shore Conference Tournament gave Marlboro new life. The Mustangs knocked off Freehold Township on Sunday after losing to the Patriots twice during the regular season.

While this season has offered up adversity to the entire Marlboro team, it has been a particularly trying season for Ringel despite establishing himself as one of the Shore Conference's more notable multi-sport athletes. Ringel and LaRocca helped lead Marlboro to the Shore Conference Tournament final in boys soccer, which the Mustangs lost to Christian Brothers Academy - the top team in the state.

One day after losing to CBA in the finals, tragedy struck when Ringel's father, Jack - a state-championship-winning high school basketball coach in New York City - died in a car accident.

Around 24 hours after hearing the crushing news, Ringel scored two goals, including the overtime winner, in an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV first-round win over Colts Neck. Ringel would go on to score another overtime winner in a sectional semifinal win over Manalapan as Marlboro reached the sectional final, where the Mustangs fell to top-seeded Hunterdon Central in a shootout.

Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel (right) guarded Ranney sophomore Bryan Antoine (1) Tuesday and held him to 15 points. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

The hand injury capped a bitter ending to 2016 for Ringel, but 2017 has been a new beginning for the senior and his teammates.

"This year has tested us," Ringel said. "Things happen. Life happens. You just have to fight through the sucky things, and that's what we're doing. Every game I'm going into, I'm thinking, 'I wish my dad was here.' But he was here. You could tell: I hit those foul shots. I wasn't making them in the game but at the end, when it mattered, my dad hit them."

Marlboro will attempt to complete a storybook run through the SCT on Saturday against No. 1 Mater Dei Prep, a game that will tip at 7:30 p.m. at Ocean First Bank Arena on the campus of Monmouth University. It will not only be a chance for Marlboro to capture the program's first Shore Conference Tournament title but another opportunity for a Shore Conference public school to prove itself against a non-public power that is ranked among the state's top 10.

"The public schools can play," Ringel said. "We play the same basketball that (non-public) schools play. Summer basketball is the same. So we bring it out here on the high school court. Public, private; we can all play."

 

Box Score

Marlboro 50, Ranney 47

1 2 3 4 F
Marlboro (17-5) 9 13 16 12 50
Ranney (20-4) 7 8 23 9 47

Marlboro (50): P.J. Ringel 1 4-7 6, Ryan LaRocca 5 1-2 15, Dylan Kaufman 3 4-8 10, Justin Marcus 2 0-0 4, Dan Weiss 5 0-0 13, Brian Levine 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 9-18 50

Three-pointers: LaRocca 4, Weiss 3

Ranney (47): Ahmadu Sarnor 6 3-5 15, Alex Klatsky 1 0-0 3, Chris Autino 1 2-2 4, Scottie Lewis 3 4-7 10, Bryan Antoine 6 2-2 15, Sam Metzger 0 0-0 0, Joe Mahoney 0 0-0 0, Kyle Smith 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 11-16 47

Three-pointers: Klatsky, Antoine

 

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