Middletown South knocks off undefeated Marlboro, 47-37

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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Renee Wells dribbles through two Marlboro defenders during a game played on Feb. 24 in Middletown. Middletown South defeated Marlboro 47-37.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Lara Brennan looks to pass the ball to a teammate during a game against Marlboro on Feb. 24 in Middletown.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Renee Wells dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Marlboro on Feb. 24 in Middletown. Wells scored a career-high 16 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Isabella Orlando blocks a shot by Marlboro's Amanda Castro during a game played on Feb. 24 in Middletown.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Renee Wells dribbles through two Marlboro defenders during a game played on Feb. 24 in Middletown. Middletown South defeated Marlboro 47-37.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Lara Brennan looks to pass the ball to a teammate during a game against Marlboro on Feb. 24 in Middletown.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Renee Wells dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Marlboro on Feb. 24 in Middletown. Wells scored a career-high 16 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls basketball player Isabella Orlando blocks a shot by Marlboro's Amanda Castro during a game played on Feb. 24 in Middletown.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Shore Conference A North Division girls basketball rivals Middletown South High School and Marlboro High School clashed for the first time during the 2021 season on Feb. 24 in Middletown.

A competitive rivalry between the teams continued to unfold as Middletown South (3-5) handed Marlboro (8-1) its first loss of the season.

Behind a career-high 16-point performance from junior Renee Wells and excellent free throw shooting down the stretch, the Eagles claimed their third win of the season by defeating the Mustangs, 47-37.

“It was overall a good team effort,” Wells said. “We had to stick together, secure rebounds and play smart during the final minutes. To beat an undefeated team … feels awesome.”

Trailing 12-6 in the second quarter, the Eagles soared to an 11-1 run to finish the half and take the lead. Three-point field goals fueled the run as Lauren Winant banked home her only three-pointer of the night to tie the score, 12-12.

Junior Isabella Orlando gave Middletown South its first lead on the next possession, knocking down the first of her two field goals from behind the arc to put the Eagles up 15-12 with 2:41 left in the half.

Middletown South got a boost of momentum from junior Beth Rankin in the final seconds of the second quarter. Rankin eluded two defenders near the sideline and hit a floater just before the buzzer to give Middletown South a 17-13 lead at the break.

“That was big for us to keep the momentum up,” said Rankin. “Staying ahead was important and every point counts.”

Wells was a player on a mission in the second half. Doing what she could to keep her team in the lead, Wells took a nice pass from Rankin and buried her second triple to put Middletown South ahead 28-23 as the third quarter ended.

Wells began the fourth quarter with a basket and two free throws during a 9-0 run that pushed the lead to 32-23.

Wells scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half and said the game was one of her “best performances” at the high school level.

Marlboro clawed its way back to tie the game with a 9-0 run before Rankin put the Eagles up by a point with 3:53 left to play.

Excellent free throw shooting by Wells and Rankin allowed the Eagles to complete the victory.

Wells was 5-6 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter (8-11 for the game). Rankin was 8-10 from the line and finished with 14 points. The Eagles were 16-20 from the line in the fourth quarter.

“There was so much anxiety with the game riding on our free throws,” Wells said. “Just to know that the work we put in during the off-season with free throws made us win was awesome.”

Leading by seven with under :30 to play, Winant made a game-clinching steal for the Eagles.

Middletown South will play Middletown North on Feb. 26 and then await its postseason pod seeding for the final week of the season.

Shore Conference administrators eliminated the traditional divisions for the 2021 season that was impacted by COVID-19 and placed teams in “pods.”

Middletown South Coach Tom Brennan said he is proud of the work and growth his players have shown over the past few weeks.

“Our kids have shown so much growth and that’s what I’m most proud of,” he said after the game. “I love this group. They work hard and are very passionate. They really like playing basketball with each other and they are a great group to be around.”