There’s no doubt that the 2019-2020 season will be remembered forever in the Marlboro High School boys’ basketball program’s history.
In the mind of Marlboro boys’ basketball head coach Michael Nausedas, it’s the best team ever in program history.
The Mustangs took the program to new heights this winter, becoming the first team ever to win over 20 games in a single-season with a 23-7 mark and make it to a state sectional championship game.
“When I took over eight years ago, they had one win and ever since, we’ve just kept building and building,” Nausedas said. “We changed the culture of Marlboro boys’ basketball. We’re where we want to be at the pinnacle of the state championship. It’s really amazing to take something like that and build it up to this.”
Marlboro came out to start the season as a scoring machine, averaging just under 80 points a game and shooting out to a 10-3 record.
Continuing their up-tempo pace of play to fuel one of the best offensive units in the Shore Conference, the Mustangs rolled to a 17-5 record going into the conference tournament.
Senior Alex Ratner led Marlboro’s high-octane offense, scoring a team-high 22.6 points a game this winter.
During Marlboro’s five-game stretch from Jan. 23 – Feb. 1, Ratner was nothing but incredible, scoring 27 points or more in each game, recording two 36-point efforts during that span.
Ratner scored 36 points in the team’s loss to Christian Brothers Academy on Jan. 23 to eclipse the 1,000 career point milestone. He also led the team in assists.
“Alex (Ratner) helped put this program on the map,” Nausedas said. “Our guys have to build off of what Alex started,”
Surrounding Ratner was a group of talented sophomore players, led by Jack Seidler.
Seidler was a force to be reckoned with on the block for Marlboro, averaging just under 19 points a game, which ranked second behind Ratner.
The sophomore was the team’s leading rebounder.
Jonathan Spatola stepped up to have a big sophomore year for the Mustangs by adding more fire power in the backcourt next to Ratner.
Spatola averaged over 11 points a game and was a great defense threat on the wing, leading the team in steals.
Ratner’s brother Jay, was another sophomore who contributed a lot to the team’s success this winter.
Junior Aleksy Friedman helped give Marlboro a nice big-three with Seidler and Ratner.
The junior averaged just under 15 points a game this season and played stellar basketball in postseason play, knocking in a season-high 25 points in Marlboro’s 82-70 victory over Point Pleasant Beach High School in the first round of the conference tournament on Feb. 18.
“This is a great team,” Nausedas said. “They love each other. When you love each other and want to play for each other, you’re going to win games.”
Marlboro advanced to its first Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal since making it to the conference finals three years ago. The Mustangs lost to runner-up Toms River High School North in the quarterfinals on Feb. 23, 114-85.
Coming into the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament as the No. 3 seed, Marlboro knew it had a chance to make a run at its first sectional championship in program history.
Getting past Hillsborough High School and North Brunswick Township High School in the first two rounds of the sectional tournament, a date with second-seeded New Brunswick High School on March 7 on the road in the sectional semifinals was set for Marlboro.
Under the lead of two 20-point performances by Alex Ratner and Seidler, the Mustangs pulled off the upset with a 77-72 victory to advance to their first sectional championship game.
The victory became even more sweeter later that day for Marlboro with the No. 4 seed, South Brunswick High School, knocking off the No. 1 seed, Middletown High School South, in the semifinals, giving the Marlboro the opportunity to host the sectional final on March 10.
Playing in front of an electric crowd against the Vikings, Marlboro fed off the home-court energy, bursting out an 8-2 surge and took a 38-34 lead into the half.
One half away from making history once again, Marlboro jumped to an 11-point lead midway through the third quarter.
However, South Brunswick roared back and went on to take a 53-52 lead going into the fourth period on a final-second layup by Devin Strickland.
It’s firm control of the contest gone, Marlboro didn’t panic and fought back to take control of the game as Friedman knocked in a layup to put Marlboro up, 56-53.
Alex Ratner struck moments later with a steal and layup to extend the Marlboro lead to 61-55. A three-point play by the senior put the Mustangs up 64-57 with under five minutes to play.
Again, South Brunswick fought back, roaring to an 11-3 showing to retake the lead with under a minute and a half to play.
After Strickland went a perfect two-for-two at the free-throw line to put South Brunswick up 70-69 with 37.1 seconds to play, Marlboro needed a basket to keep its sectional championship hopes alive.
Alex Ratner’s three-pointer came up short, but relentless effort by Seidler to get the rebound led to Marlboro getting back the lead.
Through contact, the sophomore knocked in the jumper to give Marlboro a 71-70 lead with 16 seconds to play.
Marlboro needed just one stop now to bring home a championship to Mustang Nation, however, South Brunswick had one more big play in them.
With the second winding down, Alex Strange found a wide open Yathmin Vemula under the basket, and the sophomore knocked in the game-winning layup with one second left to send the Central Jersey, Group 4 title to Monmouth Junction and end Marlboro’s historic season.
Friedman scored a team-high 21 points in the contest, while Seidler knocked in 18 points.
Watching South Brunswick celebrate on their home floor, the Mustangs were sad to see a special season end in championship heartbreak, but know that they have what it takes to make it back to the sectional championship next season.
“We’ve got all the pieces to keep moving forward and keep building,” Nausedas said. “To get this experience will only make us stronger. Having this taste in our month will definitely get us going for next season.”
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