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MIDDLETOWN - The Mater Dei Prep boys basketball team found itself Thursday night with a chance to end the Shore Conference's longest winning streak for the second time in a span of 13 days.

A little less than two weeks ago, the Seraphs melted down over the final eight minutes. On Thursday night, they rose to the occasion.

Senior Pete Gorman hit a driving, left-handed shot in the lane as time expired and the 15th-seeded Seraphs stunned No. 2 Middletown South, ending the Eagles' 19-game winning streak and earning a trip to the SCT quarterfinals for the fourth time in five years.

"It's all starting to come together with this team," first-year Mater Dei Prep coach Rich Buckheit said. "They are buying into a new system with a new coach and things are finally clicking."

Mater Dei senior Pete Gorman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Mater Dei senior Pete Gorman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Gorman hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left to put Mater Dei ahead, 55-52, and Middletown South senior James Anderson tied the game with a leaning three-pointer with 12 seconds left.

Mater Dei senior Tahaj Parland brought the ball up, drove into the lane and shuffled the ball off to Gorman, who worked his way into the lane and hit an off-balanced shot that dropped through the cylinder as the final buzzer sounded.

Parland finished with 13 points, Gorman added 11 and junior Andreas Von Fricke led Mater Dei (15-9) with 15 points.

"We have three seniors who are tough," said Buckheit of Gorman, Parland and Sean Turner (seven points). "When you go on the road and play a 22-1 team in their gym and their crowd is getting rowdy, you need tough-minded seniors that just have that will to just kind of keep going regardless of what's happening around them."

Anderson led Middletown South (22-2) with a game-high 23 points, while junior Luke Albrecht and senior Bobby Pirie chipped in nine points apiece. Pirie also grabbed nine rebounds.

Mater Dei led Middletown South early in the fourth quarter of the Feb. 8 meeting between the two teams at Mater Dei before the Eagles closed the game on an 18-1 run to win, 58-42. On Thursday Mater Dei rallied to erase a six-point halftime deficit and tie the game up heading into the fourth quarter.

Seniors Jack Sheridan and Mike Dabas were the difference-makers for Middletown South two Saturdays ago. Sheridan scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter while Dabas posted 19 points and 16 rebounds in the Middletown South win.

On Thursday, Mater Dei limited each to six points, with Dabas fouling out of the game as well.

Mater Dei senior Tahaj Parland. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Mater Dei senior Tahaj Parland. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We were able to limit Sheridan and that was the key," Buckheit said. "We have seniors who understand what the plan is and what their assignments are and that makes a big difference."

Middletown South entered play Thursday averaging 72.6 points per game but has scored under 60 in each of its meetings with Mater Dei.

"We have a point guard who can handle pressure - they want to speed us up with their pressure and he handles it," Buckheit said, alluding to Parland. "On the other hand, we were able to get them in the half court and win the battle of the boards. They obviously have great shooters but what makes them so hard to play is how tough they are around the basket. They go hard after every rebound and every loose ball and when a team shoots as many threes as they do, you have to be able to rebound and we did a pretty good job getting the rebound tonight."

The Seraphs will head back to the quarterfinals to take on No. 7 Red Bank Catholic in the quarterfinals on Sunday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River. The two schools have developed a fierce football rivalry over the past two years, with Red Bank Catholic beating Mater Dei in the 2018 Non-Public Group III championship and Mater Dei returning the favor this past fall in the sectional semifinal.

Parland and backup guard Kyree Drake were key players for the football team, while RBC is led by football players Kevin and Alex Bauman - the former of whom is committed to Notre Dame for football.

The last time the two teams met in the SCT, Mater Dei routed RBC, 78-35, in the 2017 Round of 16. Mater Dei went on to win the second of two straight Shore Conference Tournament titles before losing in the 2018 final and falling out of the ranks of SCT contenders last season.

Former coach Ben Gamble left Mater Dei for Marist prior to last season and after a season under Dennis Kazimir, Buckheit - who is also the Mater Dei Prep athletic director - took over the program and has the Seraphs back in the final eight in the Shore Conference Tournament.


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