Special season for Marlboro girls’ basketball ends in state sectional semifinal

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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Sammy Jay surveys the court during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament on March 7. Montgomery defeated Marlboro, 61-55. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Katherine Sanchez shoots a free-throw attempt during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament. Sanchez scored a team-high 11 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Dani Schlesinger dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals on the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament. Marlboro finishes the season with a record of 22-6. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Sammy Jay surveys the court during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament on March 7. Montgomery defeated Marlboro, 61-55. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Katherine Sanchez shoots a free-throw attempt during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament. Sanchez scored a team-high 11 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School girls' basketball player Dani Schlesinger dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Montgomery High School in the semifinals on the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament. Marlboro finishes the season with a record of 22-6. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

A shot at a second straight trip to the state sectional final was in the Marlboro High School girls’ basketball team’s sights on March 7 against Montgomery in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament.

Falling short in an 80-77 overtime loss against Middletown High School South in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state final last year, Marlboro was stocked with talent this winter to make another run to the sectional final.

The Mustangs were one of the top teams in the Shore Conference this season, stacking up a 12-game winning streak midway through the season to get them out to a 15-2 record.

Marlboro went on to finish the regular season with a mark of 18-3 and posted a perfect 12-0 record in Shore Conference A-North Division play to secure its second straight division championship.

“It’s our goal to be the best team we can be in every game and in every practice,” said Marlboro Brad Hagensen. “It’s not easy to play the way that we play for an entire season. It takes a lot of heart, effort and pride to do that. They did an incredible job.”

The key to Marlboro’s success was its talented group of underclassmen, led by junior Jessica Riepe and sophomore Dani Schlesinger.

Riepe was a three-point making machine for the Mustangs, racking up a total of 97 shots made from behind the arc this season.

The junior led the team in scoring by averaging just over 13 points a contest.

Schlesinger was the team’s second go-to scorer by knocking down just under 12 points a game this season, while leading the team in rebounds.

Junior Sammy Jay led the show from the point guard for the Mustangs, leading the team in assists and played great defense out on the perimeter, reckoning havoc with a team-high 88 steals.

Strong contributions by junior Lauren Morehead, freshman Erica DiSimone and seniors Katherine Sanchez and Samantha Nocco filled out the rest of Marlboro’s deep lineup that led them to success this winter.

“The girls come to play every single day,” Hagensen said. “They have great attitudes and are great people. They’re so much fun to work with.”

Marlboro advanced to the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament, where the Mustangs fell to eventual conference champion, Saint John Vianney High School, 67-25.

Being the No. 1 overall seed in the Central Jersey, Group 4 bracket, Marlboro was in good position to make it back to the sectional final and were impressive to begin the sectional tournament.

The Mustangs rolled to a 86-51 victory over South Brunswick High School in the first round of the tournament on March 3, and followed it up with a solid 58-45 victory over Trenton Central High School in the quarterfinals on March 5.

Next up for the Mustangs was a rematch of last year’s sectional semifinal against Montgomery, where Marlboro defeated the Cougars, 80-45.

Things turned out different unfortunately for Marlboro this time around.

Fourth-seeded Montgomery got revenge and upset the top-ranked Mustangs to advance to the state sectional final for the second time in three years.

Marlboro couldn’t overcome Montgomery’s 14-3 burst to begin the contest and went on to fall to the Cougars, 61-56.

Schlesinger, Riepe and Sanchez all scored a team-high 11 points in the season-ending loss.

Marlboro finished the season with a 22-6 mark.

Coming up short of a second straight sectional final appearance, Hagensen believes his squad will be set to make another run next year and that the sectional semifinal loss doesn’t discount what the team was able to achieve this season.

“One game does not define our season. Our season was defined by the whole body of work,” Hagensen said. “It’s just an incredible accomplishment to still be playing at this point in the season. We have to give ourselves credit for that.”

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