Get our free mobile app

TOMS RIVER -- The Marlboro boys basketball team does not like to wait around, but the last two years have forced the Mustangs to exercise patience.

Twice in the last two years, they were on the cusp of winning the first tournament championship in school history, only to be sent into the offseason with the bitter taste of defeat and nearly a year to think about it.

On the cusp of finally exorcising those demons Sunday against Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament final, Marlboro had to show its patience on the court and delivered like a team that learned how to turn its tragedy into triumph.

For the third straight game in the Shore Conference Tournament, Marlboro -- the No. 2 seed in the SCT -- closed with a dominant fourth quarter and beat No. 5 Manasquan, 63-46, to win the program's first ever postseason tournament championship.

PHOTO GALLERY: Marlboro vs. Manasquan SCT Final by Ray Rich Photography

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley
loading...

Senior Jack Seidler led the way with 22 points to claim the game MVP award, with senior Jonathan Spatola adding 16 points, six rebounds and four assists and classmate Zack Molod pouring in 14 points for Marlboro.

"This group has been through everything together," Seidler said. "We've won a lot of games, and of course, we had those tough losses and those only brought us closer together. That's how this team is. We're brothers, we have each others' backs and from the time we lost last year, we have been working to get back here. Once we got to the fourth quarter, there was no way we were losing this game."

Last year, Manasquan beat Marlboro, 58-56, in overtime in the unofficial Shore Conference Playoff championship game when the Mustangs went into Manasquan as an underdog against the unbeaten No. 1 seed.

One year earlier, Marlboro had a championship game in its gym and was just seconds away from winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship before South Brunswick won it on a layup at the buzzer.

"We talked about it at practice last night: it hurt," coach Mike Nausedas said of the near-misses. "Being in that science lab at Manasquan after losing. You never forget the room you're in and we were upset. It hurts and we have been through a lot, but you go back to halftime against CBA (in the semifinals), it's like 'We're not losing this game.' You go back to that room at that time and how did that feel? You just need little reminders and they come out losing their minds and ready to run through a wall.

"This is just a special group. They are really special."

PHOTO GALLERY: Marlboro vs. Manasquan SCT Final by Ray Rich Photography

Marlboro senior Jonathan Spatola. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Marlboro senior Jonathan Spatola. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
loading...

Now the No. 2 seed in the tournament after entering the 2021-22 season as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, the Mustangs did not let the pressure of being the top seed affect them, nor the heartbreak of the last two years break their spirit.

"The past two years, we have had that feeling of losing," Spatola said. "We just wanted revenge this year. We wanted this. We have been in close games, especially in the past two years. We have probably played in more close games than any team in the Shore Conference, in front of the most people and we really felt like all those games have prepared us to win this game."

During this Shore Conference Tournament championship run, Marlboro (23-2) has made a habit of falling behind in the opening minutes, only to close with a storm in the second half -- particularly in the fourth quarter. In the quarterfinals against Jackson Memorial, Marlboro took the lead by the end of the first quarter and in the semifinals vs. Christian Brothers Academy, the Mustangs grabbed the lead by the middle of the third quarter after trailing by seven at halftime.

"I think we know we’re a second-half team," Spatola said. "Our style is to run the ball because we are not the biggest team. Credit to them, they are a very good team, they have a very good coach, but we just felt we had to play our game by pushing the ball."

On Sunday, Manasquan (21-5) jumped out to a 10-5 lead on the Mustangs and went up 20-18 on a basket-plus-a-foul by freshman Griffin Linstra with a little more than three minutes left in the half. That play was significant because Molod picked up his third foul on the play, forcing the Mustangs -- who typically stick with their starters in big minutes -- to go to the bench.

PHOTO GALLERY: Marlboro vs. Manasquan SCT Final by Ray Rich Photography

Marlboro senior Jack Seidler defended by Manasquan junior Quinn Peters. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Marlboro senior Jack Seidler defended by Manasquan junior Quinn Peters. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
loading...

In those three minutes, however, Marlboro outscored Manasquan, 11-4, with Seidler scoring eight of the 11 points and Spatola hit a three-pointer for the other three points.

"I was just frustrated," Molod said. "Picking up three fouls in the first half is not good, especially since we don't sub much. Earlier in the year, I was out and it was a problem, but A.J. (Schwartz) came in and gave us great minutes and the guys really stepped up. That gave us a huge lift going into halftime."

"We have had 41 practices this year and those guys on the bench come out every day in practice and they battle," Nausedas said. "They're on defense a lot and they battle They need to be recognized. I can't thank them enough for what they've done. We don't get here without those."

Marlboro pushed its lead to 40-30 late in the third and 43-33 early in the fourth before Manasquan cut the deficit back down to 43-36 with a little more than six minutes left. Marlboro then bled nearly a full minute off the clock before Molod got an open look from the top of the key and hit the three-pointer for a 46-36 Marlboro lead.

"I felt like last year I completely played below my expectations," said Molod, who kept up his trend of hitting momentum-building shots for Marlboro on Sunday. "I had a terrible year, couldn’t shoot the ball and it was just more of a confidence thing. Having all of my guys out there with me, that’s all I need."

Senior Jay Ratner followed with a three from the wing to go up 49-36 and push the Mustangs to the brink of victory. Ratner finished with nine points and 12 rebounds and held Manasquan senior forward Matt Solomon in check with seven points.

"Jay Ratner, he’s Dennis Rodman," Nausedas said. "I don’t know how he does it. We play against 6-7, 6-8 kids all season and he always comes out on top. He just lives for this."

Freshman Darius Adams led Manasquan in scoring for the third straight game, finishing with 14 points.

Marlboro also held its third straight opponent to under 50 points, an accomplishment it had achieved eight times in 21 regular-season games and just twice in the last 10 regular-season games. On the flip side, the way Marlboro scores points, the Mustangs often don't need to shut teams down. When duty called, however, the defense showed up.

"Our defense has been up-and-down all year and it's put us in some close games that shouldn't have been as close," Seidler said. "We know when we need a stop, we have five guys who can all d-up their guy and these last few games, it was time to step up. We have been waiting almost a year for this so we were going to do whatever it takes."

About 24 hours after winning its first ever SCT championship, Marlboro will begin its pursuit of a Central Group IV title, when it hosts Sayreville Monday as the No. 1 seed in the section.

"We're going to enjoy this," Seidler said. "I know it's a quick turnaround, but we're going to be ready for (Monday). This was one of our goals but we still have one left."

PHOTO GALLERY: Marlboro vs. Manasquan SCT Final by Ray Rich Photography

Marlboro senior Zack Molod. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Marlboro senior Zack Molod. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
loading...