By Jeff Appelblatt
The third time was a charm for Marlboro High School’s boys’ basketball team.
The team lost a pair of close battles with Freehold Township High School during the regular season — one on each team’s court. But the Mustangs took care of their Shore Conference A North Division rivals on the neutral court at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, defeating the Patriots, 69-59, Feb. 19 in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Marlboro took a 38-24 lead to the locker room at halftime. The Mustangs had a 21-13 lead after two quarters the last time the teams met, and the Patriots outscored them 13-4 in the third to go up by one, which would be the difference in the game.
That wasn’t the case this time. Freehold Township did outscore Marlboro in the third, 17-12, but the Mustangs refused to give away the game. The Patriots got within four points in the third, but Marlboro stretched the lead back to nine before the quarter ended. With their top scorer, Steve Staklinski, going back and forth to the bench because of foul trouble prior to his fouling out in the fourth with nearly five minutes remaining, the Patriots just didn’t stand a chance.
“They played better than we did,” Freehold Township coach Brian Golub said after the game. “It was just their day. They shot the ball real well, [and] they rebounded real well.
“Hats off to Marlboro.”
After each win against the Mustangs, Golub couldn’t help but rave about Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel. But in the loss, Freehold Township’s coach recognized what a team effort Marlboro was really capable of.
“They were well balanced,” Golub said, bringing up the 22 points and 14 rebounds Dylan Kaufman collected for the Mustangs, as well as the 20 points Dan Weiss scored. “They’re an excellent team. They outplayed us. They wanted it more.”
Weiss made seven of his 13 shot attempts, knocking down three of the eight shots he took from deep. Ryan LaRocca joined him behind the arc, sinking four of the 10 shots he took from deep.
While Ringel had a more reserved role on offense than he had been used to as of late, he still put in a rather full stat line with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Back when Freehold Township beat Marlboro Jan. 13 in the first meeting of the teams this year, Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas said he knew his team would face the Patriots at least a few more times. There could even be a fourth matchup — it would be in March in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament.
Freehold Township’s coach has seen the bracket, and he knows the possibility. But he won’t look past the first few rounds.
“We’ve got to win two games before we even worry about that,” Golub said, noting that bouncing back from losses isn’t something his two-loss team is too familiar with. “We didn’t have many [losses]. We’ll see what we’re made of now.”
The Patriots (21-2) play at Long Branch High School Feb. 23 at 5:30 p.m. Then it’ll be back to the feeling of the playoffs. Freehold Township, the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey, Group IV, hosts Middletown High School South (7-16) Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the tournament’s first round.
Marlboro (16-5) hopes it survived the matchup with the team from Ranney School (20-3) Feb. 21. The winner of that semifinals matchup will continue on to the Shore Conference finals Feb. 25.