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MARLBORO -- There is no scenario the Marlboro boys basketball seniors have not seen, so trailing by nine points with under six minutes to go on Wednesday was nothing the experienced Mustangs had not overcome together.

When the alternative to winning is the season ending, however, the pressure is on for a team of five senior starters.

As Marlboro showed again on Wednesday in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals, when the pressure ratchets up on Marlboro, Marlboro ratchets up the pressure.

Trailing eighth-seeded Howell by nine points with 5:45 left, the top-seeded Mustangs unleashed their full-court press and dominated the final stretch of the game to turn back the Rebels, 77-64.

To rally from a 61-52 deficit, Marlboro turned to the three seniors who have been starters over the last three seniors -- Jack Seidler, Jonathan Spatola and Jay Ratner. Seidler led the Mustangs with a game-high 25 points, while Spatola and Ratner each added 18 and did most of their damage during a 25-1 run that took Marlboro from the brink of being upset to breathing easy in the final minute.

"We didn't want our season to end like this," Seidler said. "We have been playing those kids from Howell for a while and we know them so well. We knew that we just had to come out and pressure the ball, get some steals and get back the momentum and get the Stang Gang going and that's what we did."

Ratner got the run started with a drive to the basket and Seidler made it 61-56 with a post-up. Spatola was up next, deflecting a long pass near Marlboro's own basket to force the turnover and driving for a layup to make it 61-58.

After a Howell free throw, Spatola hit a jumper, followed by a pair of Ratner free throws to tie the game at 62. Ratner then cashed in a three-pointer to put Marlboro up, 65-62, and Spatola followed with a three-point play to extend the lead to six and send the Marlboro crowd into a frenzy with 2:20 left.

"In the Shore Conference Tournament, we were down eight against CBA and came back, so I think it helped knowing we could do it," Seidler said. "We knew exactly what we had to do. Hopefully, this is the last time we'll be down like that, but things happen and we just have to keep fighting no matter what because we don't want this to end yet."

In all, Ratner and Spatola each scored nine points during the decisive 25-1 run, with Ratner piling up 11 of his points over the course of the entire fourth quarter.

After senior Joe Dupuis finished a pass from classmate Nick Gallo to put Howell ahead, 61-52, with 5:50 left, Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas took a timeout to prime his team to put on the press for the final five-plus minutes.

"Depending on the situation in the game, sometimes we need to be more cautious and other times we need to push things a little more," Spatola said. "We're a very aggressive team and we're very fast, so even if we don't go to the press as much as we maybe used to, we still know we can do it."

Following the Marlboro timeout, Howell turned the ball over on eight of its next 10 possessions, leading to 11 Marlboro points.

Dupuis led Howell with 18 points and three of his senior teammates joined him in double-figure scoring. Dylan McVeigh scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half, Gallo poured in 12 and Zach Emery scored nine of his 11 on three second-half three-pointers.

Altogether, Howell went 10-for-24 as a team from three-point range and was 10-for-20 after Emery's last three made it 57-50 early in the fourth quarter. Marlboro, meanwhile, shot 5-for-17 from three-point territory, with senior Zack Molod going 3-for-5 for his nine points -- all in the first half.

Wednesday marked the third time this season that Marlboro has defeated Howell and each of the last two victories required a strong finish from the Mustangs. It took overtime for Marlboro to ward off Howell in the second regular-season meeting, with the Mustangs trailing in the final two minutes of that 67-58 win.

In winning the Shore Conference Tournament last week, Marlboro's last three SCT victories came against three teams -- Jackson Memorial, Christian Brothers Academy and Manasquan -- that each start only one senior. Howell, on the other hand, starts four and the Mustangs were challenged by a team that has played together about as long as the Marlboro group has.

"We have been playing those guys since we were all 13 (years-old) and they have always given us tough games," Spatola said. "They play very hard, they have a good coach, so it's always going to be tough to beat a team like that."

Next up, this Marlboro core of seniors will have a chance to exact some revenge against No. 4 South Brunswick in the Central Group IV semifinals Friday in Marlboro. Two years ago, South Brunswick went into Marlboro in the Central Group IV championship game and beat the Mustangs with a layup at the buzzer to deny Marlboro its first ever sectional title.

The Mustangs will be playing their fourth game in six days, but with a sectional championship two wins away, the players are not thinking about fatigue.

"Playing all of these games, it's draining," Seidler said. "Shoutout to our athletic trainer (Anais Mixson) for helping us stay ready. We've tried to rest as much as we can in between games and we came ready to play. Thankfully, we were able to pull it out today and keep our season going."

"It's part of the playoffs," Spatola said. "It's the time of the season where you've just got to push through it."


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