Season of Firsts: Marlboro Boys, Red Bank Catholic Girls Win 1st WOBM Title
The two No. 1 seeds in the WOBM Christmas Classic are ranked among the top 10 teams in New Jersey in their respective sports and each team -- Marlboro's boys basketball team and the Red Bank Catholic girls squad -- have expectations that included competing for and winning championships beginning in late February.
Normally, for teams with a profile like that, the novelty of winning in late December has worn off but for each team, Thursday's WOBM Christmas Classic championship games were not only an important first step in a long 2021-22 season, but also a new experience for two of the Shore's top programs.
Marlboro and Red Bank Catholic each captured WOBM Christmas Classic championships Thursday night for the first time in program history, which might come as a surprise to Shore Conference basketball fans who have watched both programs carve out a spot among the area's elite in recent years, particularly in the case of Red Bank Catholic.
The Caseys have twice won the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and the Shore Conference Tournament six times, but before this season, had never won the WOBM Classic. The WOBM Classic has been a launchpad for several top teams in the Shore Conference, but Red Bank Catholic has been part of the tournament just three times prior to this season and never won it while part of the field. RBC reached the final in 2013, which was the first of three straight championships for Manasquan.
On Thursday, the Caseys again faced Manasquan in the final and this time, Red Bank Catholic finished the job. Manasquan -- ranked No. 4 in the state heading into the game -- crawled to within 33-28 during the third quarter but the No. 7 Caseys closed the game by outscoring the Warriors, 22-8.
No one RBC player stole the headlines with a big scoring game, with senior wing and University of Tennessee commit Justine Pissott and freshman Tessa Carman each scoring 11 points to lead the Caseys' balanced scoring attack.
Pissott became the latest high-major Division I commit to nab WOBM Tournament MVP on the girls side, following in the footsteps of three-time MVP Destiny Adams (North Carolina) of Manchester and sisters Dara Mabrey (Virginia Tech/Notre Dame), Marina Mabrey (Notre Dame) and Michaela Mabrey (Notre Dame) of Manasquan.
Marlboro Ends Tournament Drought
Marlboro's success as a boys program does not extend as far back as Red Bank Catholic's on the girls side, nor is it as decorated. The Mustangs have, however, ascended to the upper tier of the Shore Conference since making it to the Shore Conference Tournament final for the first time ever in 2016.
The Mustangs not only had never won a WOBM title prior to Thursday; they had never won a tournament championship of any kind despite coming painfully close a number of times.
In each of the past two seasons, Marlboro lost close championship games, falling at the buzzer to South Brunswick in the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game and losing to Manasquan in last year's Shore Conference Playoff Championship Pod final in an overtime classic.
The Mustangs also have a memorable WOBM Classic championship game loss among their championship baggage, with the 2018 championship game ending on an improbable buzzer-beater by Red Bank Catholic senior M.J. Wright.
The current group of Marlboro seniors were in the program for all three of those championship losses and while they have designs on winning more hardware later in the year, they cleared a major obstacle by beating Red Bank Catholic, 61-58, to win the 2021 WOBM Classic Thursday night.
Thursday's win did more than give Marlboro a tournament victory to celebrate. It also solidified the Mustangs as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference, with Marlboro entering the game as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 9 in the state, with RBC entering as the No. 2 team in the Shore and No. 12 in N.J.
Marlboro also showed its balance in finishing off its championship run. While the All-Shore duo of Jon Spatola (20 points) and Jack Seidler (16) were again instrumental in carrying their team to the finish line, senior teammate Zach Molod came up huge by scoring 19 points, including 17 of Marlboro's 28 in the first half to keep the Mustangs within striking distance, 30-28.
Thursday's championship games may just be the first installments of the respective rivalries and if the schedule holds up in the face of the recent surge of COVID-19, it most certainly will not be the last time Marlboro and RBC play on the boys side. Marlboro's next scheduled game is a huge Shore Conference Class A North showdown at undefeated Christian Brothers Academy on Tuesday and on Jan. 8, the Mustangs will again face Red Bank Catholic when the two clash in the first game of the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale Community College.
Of course, the Shore Conference Tournament is another potential venue for a rematch on both sides. Marlboro-vs.-Red Bank Catholic remains a strong possibility as a potential championship game, while Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan could very well meet in the semifinals, with St. John Vianney projecting as the No. 1 seed in the SCT as the No. 1 team in all of New Jersey.