TOMS RIVER - Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas said he believes as 6-6 Mustangs senior Dan Weiss goes, so goes his team. So when the senior did not score a point in Marlboro's second meeting against Freehold Township during the regular season, the Mustangs could only go so far without one of their top scoring threats involved.

Sunday at Pine Belt Arena, in Marlboro's first Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal appearance, Weiss quickly put to rest any notion that third-seeded Freehold Township would shut him down once again and, in the process, helped ignite perhaps the biggest win in program history.

Weiss came out firing with 11 of his 20 points in the first quarter and sophomore Dylan Kaufman wore out Freehold Township on the interior with 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead the No. 6 Mustangs past their Class A North rivals, 69-59, and into the SCT semifinals for the first time in program history.

"I have a short-term memory, so I was locked in on today. We all were," Weiss said. "It was almost a statement game for us. Obviously, it was the quarterfinals, but we really wanted to beat (Freehold Township) really bad. I just had to stay aggressive and play my game."

Marlboro senior Ryan LaRocca (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Marlboro senior Ryan LaRocca (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Senior P.J. Ringel added 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals and senior Ryan LaRocca had 14 points, four assists and four steals, including three of his four three-pointers in the second half.

Freehold Township beat Marlboro in both regular-season meetings between the teams this season and the Mustangs struggled from the field in both games. With Weiss starting strong, Marlboro had no such trouble. The Mustangs shot 26-for-51 (51 percent) for the game and 8-for-18 (44 percent) from three-point range.

Weiss led that effort by shooting 7-for-13 from the field and 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) from behind the three-point line - including 3-for-6 in the first half.

"Weiss was unbelievable today," Nausedas said. "I've never seen him play a basketball game like he did today. Outside, inside, strong, getting to everything today. He was huge for us. I can't speak to how amazing he was today. Strong as hell."

"He could do that every game if he wants to," Ringel said of Weiss. "He's stepping up now, so that's big for us."

LaRocca went cold after knocking down a first-quarter three, but found the stroke again late in the third quarter. After missing five straight three-pointers, the senior guard connected in the final minute of the third quarter to push Marlboro's lead to 49-41 and hit his last two to finish up 4-for-10 from behind the arc.

"I think the difference was the guys who can shoot really shot the ball well today," Ringel said. "I was distributing. I took a back seat and just let the other guys shoot because they can shoot."

"We take a lot of shots," Nausedas said. "When it's going in, we look great and when it doesn't, things get a little dicey. But we have guys who can knock down shots and they have to shoot it with confidence and I think they came out confident today. We shot the ball well in the second half against Lakewood (on Thursday) and I think it carried over to practice and to the game today."

Kaufman helped LaRocca close out the game by scoring six points in the fourth quarter and leading a rebounding effort that yielded 11 offensive rebounds, seven of which Kaufman collected. With Freehold Township trailing by eight with three minutes to go, Kaufman converted a three-point play to push Marlboro's lead to 61-50 and LaRocca followed with a three that pushed the lead back to 14 and effectively buried Freehold Township's chances at a comeback.

"That's a great team and a great part three we just played," Kaufman said. "In a game like that, a lot of times it just comes down to who wants it more and who's going to give that extra effort to get a hand on a loose ball or make a play on defense or get that extra rebound."

Marlboro jumped out to leads of 10-0 and 22-10 during the first quarter and a three-pointer by Ringel stretched the lead to 34-17 during the midway point of the second quarter - Marlboro's largest lead of the game. The Mustangs held a 38-24 lead going into halftime.

Freehold Township chopped the Mustangs lead 45-41 on a Ryan Cardone three-pointer with two minutes left in the third, which was as close as the Patriots came to tying the game.

Senior Steve Staklinski led Freehold Township with 16 points and seven rebounds, but was limited by foul trouble. He sat most of the second quarter with two fouls and fouled out with 4:49 left.

Staklinski also sat for the entire second quarter of Freehold Township's 42-41 win over Marlboro on Feb. 7 because of foul trouble and his return in the third quarter of that game helped Freehold Township turn a 23-13 deficit into a 32-25 lead. His return to the floor on Sunday also gave the Patriots a boost, but it was not enough to make up the difference before Staklinski fouled out.

Senior Ryan Zyskowski added 13 points, sophomore Greg Billups had nine and senior Bobby Weise added eight points, six rebounds and five assists in the loss.

Marlboro's defense also came through by forcing 18 Patriots turnovers while the Mustangs themselves committed 12 - two of which came with the reserves on the floor in the final minute.

"We came out and pressed, which we didn't do the first two times we played them," Nausedas said. "We are good in our press, but we don't usually start the game with it. I told our guys, 'They're not expecting it, so we're going to start the game with it, but we have got to fully commit to the press.' They had to buy into the press from the opening tip and they really did."

Sunday's loss was just the second of the season for Freehold Township, which also lost to Christian Brothers Academy during the regular season. The two A North public-school rivals could very well meet for a fourth time in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, with Freehold Township as the No. 1 seed in the section and Marlboro No. 4.

"Not winning (the A North division title) was tough," Weiss said. "That was probably our biggest goal of the season, so that hurt a little bit. Freehold Township deserved it, they had a great season, but we just had to move on to the postseason. We told ourselves we'd get it back."

Marlboro will now turn its attention to Tuesday's semifinal game against No. 2 Ranney, which rolled to a 79-63 win over Middletown North on Sunday. The Panthers boast an all-sophomore starting lineup that includes two five-star recruits in Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, and a third standout in Ahmadu Sarnor. Antoine scored the 1,000th point of his career in Ranney's win on Sunday.

"To be in the top four of the Shore after some of the adversity we've been through, I'm so proud of these guys," Nausedas said. "We're playing loose, they're happy, but you know what? We've got a game on Tuesday. We're not backing down from anybody. That's a great team, great players and we're going to be ready."


Box Score

Marlboro 69, Freehold Twp. 59

Marlboro (16-5)2216121969
Freehold Twp. (21-2)1212171859

Marlboro (69): P.J. Ringel 4 1-5 10, Ryan LaRocca 5 0-0 14, Dylan Kaufman 9 4-9 22, Justin Marcus 0 0-1 0, Dan Weiss 7 3-3 20, Brian Levine 1 1-2 3, Noah Turner 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 9-20 69

Three-pointers: Ringel, LaRocca 4, Weiss 3

Fouled Out: Marcus, Weiss

Freehold Twp. (59): Bobby Weise 2 2-2 8, Ja'zeem Foster 2 2-2 6, Ryan Zyskowski 5 3-4 13, Steve Staklinski 6 4-4 16, Ryan Cardone 1 2-2 5, Greg Billups 3 2-5 9, Brian White 0 0-0 0, Brandon Hasner 0 0-0 0, Seth Meisner 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 15-19 59

Three-pointers: Weise 2, Cardone, Billups

Fouled Out: Staklinski


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