Boys Basketball – CBA Continues Perfect Start With Upset of No. 1 Marlboro
MIDDLETOWN -- Pat Lautato and Joe White were an important part of a Christian Brothers Academy defensive effort that stifled the Marlboro boys basketball team during the 2021 season, but also saw what those same Mustangs were capable of when they beat CBA in the Colts own gym later in the schedule.
Armed with the experience of playing against Mustangs seniors Jon Spatola and Jack Seidler, plus the recent success in close games vs. top competition, the Colts had another advantage it did not have last year: fans.
In a loud, lively gymnasium at the Academy, CBA continued its feel-good start to the 2021-22 season by upsetting Marlboro -- the previously-unbeaten and top-ranked team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- on Tuesday, 66-60, in overtime to improve to 6-0.
The win is CBA's first over a No. 1 ranked team in the Shore Conference in at least 16 seasons and should the Colts finish the week without a loss, they are looking at the program's first No. 1 ranking at the Shore since February of 2016.
"I told the guys this is probably the biggest game in this gym in a long time," CBA coach Geoff Billet said. "We played St. Augustine in a state tournament game here (in 2017) when we were both Top 10 in the state, but other than that, this has got to be the biggest game here going back 10 years, maybe more. So this one was special, no question."
"When you're on the court, the fans just keep giving you more energy," Lautato said. "It's endless amounts of energy. They are always cheering you on, wanting you to win and it's always a big lift coming down the stretch when it's a close game and you have the crowd behind you."
CBA benefitted from the absence of Marlboro senior Zach Molod, whom coach Mike Nausedas said is ill and will be "out for a while". Even without Molod -- the Mustangs' third-leading scorer so far this season -- Marlboro still had two First-Team-All-Shore players to lean on in Seidler and Spatola and CBA's defense-first lineup put the clamps on the two Marlboro stars for the second time in three meetings.
On Tuesday, the Marlboro duo combined for 25 points on 7-for-23 shooting, well below their combined average of 39.7 points through three games. Both players scored season-lows on Tuesday, with Seidler scoring 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the floor and Spatola notching 11 points on 3-for-7.
"We just knew we had to pressure them the entire game, because they're good players," Lautato said. "We can't let them get into a rhythm. If they get into a rhythm, it won't look too good for us."
"We have Pat guarding Seidler and I think that's a very good matchup," junior Will Bradley said. "Then we have Joe, who can guard anybody in the Shore. Putting him on Spatola tonight was awesome. He really didn't do much and we keep doing that against good teams. We go into practice and coach already has the matchups we're going to play on the board. It pays off, he's doing a good job."
White emerged as a defensive stopper for CBA as a sophomore last year and was again effective against Spatola. Lautato, meanwhile, drew the assignment of shadowing Seidler, who entered Tuesday averaging 21.7 points per game. Both White and Lautato picked up their fourth fouls late in the third quarter, but both managed to finish the game without fouling out.
"We have faith in our teammates," Lautato said. "We know they are going to step up. Everybody has been playing in big games, so they are just waiting for their time. They guarded the big players at the end and played great."
The defensive effort by the two defensive stalwarts was reminiscent of a regular-season blowout win by CBA at Marlboro last season in which Seidler and Spatola combined for just 13 points in a 75-42 loss. Tuesday's loss was not nearly as rough for the Marlboro duo or the team at large, but it was another feather in the cap for CBA's defensive gameplan against its Shore Conference Class A North division rival.
"We know that we lost our three best scorers from last year, so we know we're probably not going to win a ton of games by a huge number of points," Bradley said. "They are going to be fights, but we do defense. We're the best defensive team in the Shore so every game is going to be close. We have been making free throws, we have been making big shots and we know we're going to get stops, so it's just a matter of finishing games like we have."
Defense was not the only impact Lautato and White made. Lautato finished with a game-high 24 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists -- an impressive follow-up to winning the tournament MVP award at the Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic last week, when CBA defeated No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven and No. 4 Ranney in consecutive rounds to win the championship.
"Coach conditions us well," Lautato said. "When we went into overtime, we saw they were tired and we just knew had to keep pressing them and going after them and we were going to get some easy layups."
White, meanwhile, finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists while Bradley contributed 10 of his 13 points in the first half to help push the Colts to victory. CBA also got another strong two-way effort off the bench from senior James Durney, who contributed nine points -- all of which came in the second half and overtime. Colts freshman Justin Fuerbacher also held his own against the No. 1 team at the Shore by posting six points and seven rebounds.
CBA stormed out of the gate against the shorthanded Mustangs, staking claim to a 9-2 lead that was the largest lead either team had until the Colts went up by nine late in overtime. Marlboro clawed back into the game and even managed to take the lead in the second quarter before CBA jumped back in front, 27-22.
The Mustangs closed the half with a flurry, with senior Vin Spatola stealing a pass and taking it in for a layup with until 10 seconds to go and then doing it again right before the halftime buzzer.
After registering four points and two steals in the last eight seconds of the first half, Spatola was at it again at the end of the third quarter. He stole the ball near midcourt with three seconds left and scored as he was fouled with 0.6 seconds left on the clock. He missed the free throw, but sent the Mustangs to the third quarter with a 45-40 edge.
CBA continued to strike back each time Marlboro appeared to seize control of the game. After the Mustangs started the third quarter with a 7-0 run to go up, 33-27, the Colts came back with eight straight to make it 35-33.
When Spatola's hustle play at the end of the third gave Marlboro a five-point leading going to the fourth, CBA opened the final quarter of regulation with an 11-0 run to surge ahead, 51-45. White keyed that run with a jumper, one-of-two free throws and a left-wing three-pointer that capped the run and forced a Marlboro timeout with 5:03 to go.
The Mustangs again battled back, with senior Jay Ratner working his way for a pair of layups and Seidler earning a trip to the free-throw line, where he knocked down both shots to tie the game at 51 with 2:14 left.
Lautato then found a cutting Durney for a go-ahead layup, only to have Marlboro come right back with a tying score by Spatola on a putback following a Ratner miss with just over a minute to go.
Marlboro got a stop and bled most of the remaining clock in the fourth before Spatola left a floater well short with four seconds left. Bradley -- who race up the court to earn a game-tying trip to the free-throw line in the final seconds of regulation against Ranney on Thursday -- again found himself with the ball in a dramatic last-second situation, but his halfcourt heave was off the mark and the game continued into overtime.
Lautato took over in the extra session, scoring eight of his game-high 24 in the final four minutes. The senior overmatched Spatola in the post to open the scoring, then drove to the hoop in transition for a 58-53 Colts lead. He then buried both ends of a 1-and-1 and closed out his big game with a putback on a free-throw miss to make the score 64-57.
"For some reason, in overtime, we have been good," Billet said. "I'd love to say it's coaching. One thing I will say, and I told these guys nobody is better conditioned than them and I think that conditioning benefits us, especially when you have to go into overtime."
While CBA managed to keep Seidler and Spatola relatively in-check, Marlboro got big performances from Spatola and Ratner when the Mustangs desperately needed them. Spatola finished with a team-high 17 points and five steals while Ratner contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in a losing cause.
"I'm not going to make excuses," Nausedas said. "CBA had a hell of a game. They are always methodical, disciplined on offense. Their defense was on-point tonight.
"Having five days off with no practice and then no Zach, it was kind of hard to fill that void. He is a big void. He's the smartest player we have. He is like a coach on the floor."
Marlboro was coming off a hard-fought win over No. 2 Red Bank Catholic in the championship game of the WOBM Christmas Classic Thursday in Toms River and is slated to take on the Caseys again Saturday in the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase, with Molod likely still unavailable. Marlboro will first have to get through Middletown South on Thursday.
"I told them it's fine," Nausedas said. "We're fine. If it's going to happen, let it happen now. We'll get (CBA) again at our place and it will be another great game in a great environment. Either team could have won tonight, even without Zach, so we can feel good about that. But we have a target on our back now and we have to learn how to play with it."
CBA, meanwhile, will look to finish out the week unbeaten and claim the No. 1 spot in the SSN Top 10, which would be CBA's first time in the top spot since it entered the Shore Conference Tournament No. 1 in the rankings in 2015-16, although CBA was not seeded No. 1 in that tournament. Mater Dei Prep was the No. 1 seed in the tournament and mounted a historic comeback to beat CBA in the SCT championship game and that was the last time the Colts were at the top of the Shore Conference in any capacity.
This year's CBA squad has designs on getting back to that SCT final and took a big step toward that goal on Tuesday, even if there remains a long way to go. The Colts will not only play Marlboro one more time, but also had a date with Red Bank Catholic scheduled for Jan. 15. The Colts handled RBC in the 2021 Shore Conference Playoff Championship Pod quarterfinals.
Prior to that game, however, the Colts will play Manalapan on Thursday and could have an unexpected day off on Saturday as Ranney has withdrawn from its Boardwalk Showcase game vs. CBA, according to a message Billet received after the win over Marlboro.
Whatever becomes of this week, CBA would like to be No. 1 at the end of it and well beyond.
"We're pumped but our guys are hungry for more," Bradley said. "We're 6-0 but we want to be 12-0 or 15-0. We want to win the Shore Conference. We're showing we're capable and we just have to keep getting better."
"Obviously we love to win games and winning a lot of games will put us number one in the Shore, so we welcome that," Lautato said. "Honestly, we're just thinking about the postseason. All these games in the regular season, they don't matter once you get to the postseason. If we can keep winning, we'll get a good seed in the playoffs so that's what we're aiming for. We're not striving to be number one in the Shore in January. We want to win the Shore Conference Tournament."