MARLBORO TWP. - Middletown South senior Dave Gervase has not been playing at 100 percent for most of his final high school season due to a recurring ankle injury he even had to gut it out to play in his team's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV first-round game against No. 8 seed Marlboro Thursday night.

If it took guts for Gervase just to play, it took even more for the senior to sink the biggest shot made by a Middletown South player in at least eight years.

Gervase buried a game-winning floater with 0.5 seconds on the clock and the No. 9 Eagles soared to a 64-62 win over the Mustangs for their first NJSIAA Tournament win since winning a sectional title in 2008.

"It was unreal," Gervase said of the final play. "It wasn't supposed to go to me, but I got it, I had one person on me so I took it all the way. It was crazy. I've never hit a shot like that before."

After playing in Middletown South's Shore Conference Tournament loss to Barnegat, Gervase sat out for the two weeks between that game and Tuesday's state tournament opener while resting an ankle that he has twisted on three different occasions this season, according to Eagles coach Jim Anderson.

"It was huge getting Dave Gervase back today," Anderson said. "He could barely walk yesterday and I wasn't sure we were going to have him. But he's a senior and he's a tough kid."

Gervase came off the bench on Thursday to score 14 points and also hit the game-tying free throws with 25 seconds left to set up the dramatic finals seconds.

"We've been in tough situations all year and haven't really been able to pull them out," Gervase said. "We've got a team that is basically all seniors and we just stuck together. We believed in each other, we believed in what we were doing and we pulled it out."

Middletown South trailed Marlboro, 62-57, with less than a minute to go but chipped away at the deficit, beginning with a three-pointer by senior Nick Unrath. Middletown South then forced a turnover and Gervase earned his trip to the line to tie the game.

After Middletown South stopped Marlboro to get the ball back with 7.7 seconds left, Gervase dribbled the ball over midcourt, saw a crease and lofted a floater that dropped in just before the final buzzer. Time appeared to have expired, but the officials put 0.5 seconds back on the clock after granting Marlboro a timeout.

On the ensuing desperation play by Marlboro, Gervase batted away a full-court pass by Mustangs senior Justin Marcus to seal the win.

Unrath led Middletown South with 20 points, including seven during a hot-shooting first quarter for the Eagles, who made their first seven shot attempts of the game. Senior Ryan Purcell also poured in 19 points for Middletown South, including 13 in the second half.

Marlboro responded to Middletown South's 17-8 start with a 24-7 run to close the half and take a 32-24 advantage to the halftime locker room. Middletown South, however, erased that lead by late in the third quarter and took a 42-41 lead into the final eight minutes.

"We've been in spots like that all year and the looking in their eyes at halftime, we knew we weren't defeated," Anderson said. "There wasn't any devastation because we're used to being in situations like that. It was just a matter of hitting a few shots and getting few stops."

Junior Dylan Kaufman led four Marlboro players in double-figure scoring with 21 points. Sophomore Alex Ratner added 15 points and three steals, senior Brian Levine contributed 11 points, six assists and three steals, and senior Eddie Paladino poured in 10 points for the Mustangs.

Anderson took back the reins of the program after giving them up following the 2000-01 season, which ended in a loss to Neptune in the Central Jersey Group III final. Anderson took over a senior-laden team that includes his senior son Jack and his sophomore son James and the old Middletown South coach showed he still has some big-game magic.

"I know this group of guys very well and I felt like I was the best person to coach this particular group," said Anderson, who took over a team that went 8-18 a year ago. "I've been fortunate to have coached some good teams in some big games late in the year and so taking this team over, I thought we could get it turned around pretty quickly. The players know me, they have bought into what we preaching to them and they bought into each other.

"We've had some bumps in the road but nights like this make it all worthwhile. You love to see the kids after a win like this."

The Eagles will try to ride the momentum of Tuesday's emotional win to Thursday's quarterfinal game at Colts Neck. The top-seeded Cougars needed overtime to survive No. 16 Monroe on Tuesday and will now have to deal with a rejuvenated Middletown South squad.

"This is one the kids will never forget," Anderson said. "I told them to enjoy it, but we've got a big day tomorrow getting ready for Colts Neck."


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