A victory of any kind in Saturday's Shore Conference Tournament championship game against Christian Brothers Academy would have been a landmark accomplishment for the program, but the Mater Dei boys basketball team made sure to win their first ever SCT title in an improbable fashion befitting of their story.

Trailing by 18 points with a little more than nine minutes left, Mater Dei rallied to stun CBA, 50-43, to capture the program's first ever Shore Conference Tournament title and cap an improbable rise from near-extinction. The triumph earns the Seraphs their second Shore Sports Network Army Strong Team of the Week honor of the season - the first of which came after the Seraphs clinched their first division title in 11 years.

A year ago, Mater Dei's community was engaged in a furious fund-raising effort to change the course of events after St. Mary's Parish announced the school would be closing its doors following the 2014-15 season. The "Save Our Seraphs" movement raised well over $1 million and the school reopened this year independent of the Parish.

The basketball team also changed direction upon the guarantee of the school's survival and the closing of another - Cardinal McCarrick. Former Eagles coach and St. Anthony assistant Ben Gamble was hired to replace 19-year Mater Dei coach Bob Klatt and four Cardinal McCarrick players - seniors NyQuan McCombs, Bryan Harris and Josh Green, as well as junior Elijah Mitchell - followed their coach to Mater Dei. With five more transfers joining the mix, the Seraphs had transformed into a Shore Conference contender.

For most of the game on Saturday, Mater Dei looked like the Shore Conference runner-up to the Colts, but just as the "Save Our Seraphs" movement changed the school's fate, the final nine minutes did so for the basketball team on Saturday. Harris and McCombs led the furious comeback, with McCombs leading the defensive effort and Harris scoring a team-high 14 points to earn the I'm

Staff Sgt. Ethan O. Newago poses with coach Ben Gamble (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Possible Game MVP Award.

Mater Dei will look to follow up its first Shore Conference title by doing damage in arguably the mos talented section in the NJSIAA Tournament. The Serpahs opened the South Jersey Non-Public B Tournament as a No. 6 seed Tuesday with an 82-48 win over Doane Academy and will next travel to play No. 3 Trenton Catholic in the sectional quarterfinals on Thursday.

While the section contains two of the top-five ranked teams in the state in the Patrick School and Roselle Catholic, both of those teams are on the opposite side of the bracket from Mater Dei and would not face the Seraphs until the championship game.


Past SSN Army Strong Teams of the Week

Week One: Ranney

Week Two: Rumson-Fair Haven

Week Three: Toms River North

Week Four: Manchester

Week Five: Colts Neck

Week Six: Mater Dei Prep

Week Seven: Lakewood

Week Eight: Manasquan