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MARLBORO - The Marlboro boys basketball team - ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - was supposed to open its season against a top-five team in the Shore Conference but an opening-night showdown with Christian Brothers Academy was postponed when Marlboro had to quarantine as part of COVID-19 protocol.

To make up for it, the Mustangs replaced a top-five team in the Shore Conference with a top-five team in the state to start their anticipated 2021 season.

For 26 minutes, Marlboro had the No. 5 team in the Top 20 fighting for its life, but St. Peter's Prep closed the game with a dominant fourth quarter as the Mustangs ran out of gas in a 63-49 Marauders win.

"There were good signs here and there in the game," Marlboro junior Jack Seidler said. "You hate to lose, obviously, but we like where we're going."

Marlboro took a 42-41 lead into the fourth quarter against a St. Peter's team playing without top senior scorer and Fairleigh Dickinson commit Ratshawn Ford. For the first three quarters, the Mustangs did not look like a team that practiced just once after a two-week layoff but in the fourth quarter, conditioning might have gotten the better of them.

"We had a pretty good practice (on Wednesday)," Marlboro junior Jon Spatola said. "It was our first practice in two weeks so we really just had to come out and play hard. We have experience back so we were able to do a lot of the stuff we normally do but it was tough having to go out there after being off for so long."

Seidler entered the fourth with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting but did not make a shot in the fourth and finished with 20. Spatola converted a critical three-point play in the fourth quarter as part of a 14-point game, but that was his only basket of the final quarter.

Junior Zack Molod, meanwhile, also delivered a huge driving layup to cut St. Peter's Prep's lead to 48-47, but he cramped up on the play and was not able to shake the pain despite returning to the floor for a brief stint.

Marlboro also lost a starter when senior center Nick Malucelli fouled out with 4:50 left.

"That was a change to the game but you still have to step up and figure out how to win," Spatola said. "We still played hard but losing those guys definitely made it tougher."

Seidler and Spatola sparked Marlboro's surge during the second and third quarters. A 13-2 run flipped a 20-11 St. Peter's lead in the first quarter to a 24-22 Marlboro lead by the early stages of the second. After Spatola hit a three-pointer to open the third quarter and pull Marlboro within 22-19, it was not until a 7-0 run to open the fourth put St. Peter's ahead, 48-42, that either team led by more than four points.

With Ford out, juniors Mark Armstrong and Alif Bass stepped up for the Marauders. Armstrong - a heavily-recruited 6-foot-2 guard with 16 offers from mostly-high-major programs - finished with a game-high 21 points and Bass poured in 16 to back up Armstrong.

Not only did Marlboro miss out on opening its season vs. CBA while it was shut down but shutdowns by Manalapan and Freehold Township knocked those teams off Marlboro's schedule for this week and next week as well. The Mustangs will instead host two more games - Monday vs. Colonia and Thursday against No. 2 Ranney.

Marlboro is coming off a heart-breaking loss to South Brunswick at the buzzer in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game and has designs on pursuing a championship again this year after one just slipped out of its grasp a year ago.

"For me personally, I couldn't sleep last night," Seidler said. "We were all just excited to get out there. It's been over 300 days since we were last in the gym together."


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