Marlboro tops undefeated Ranney School to reach pod ‘A’ championship game

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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Nick Malaucelli drives past a Ranney defender during a game played on March 3 in Tinton Falls. Marlboro defeated Ranney 71-65 to advance to the Pod A championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jack Seidler dribbles the ball on the wing during a game played on March 3 in Tinton Falls against Ranney. Seidler scored 20 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jay Ratner shoots the ball from the corner during a game played against Ranney on March 3 in Tinton Falls. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Nick Malaucelli drives past a Ranney defender during a game played on March 3 in Tinton Falls. Marlboro defeated Ranney 71-65 to advance to the Pod A championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jack Seidler dribbles the ball on the wing during a game played on March 3 in Tinton Falls against Ranney. Seidler scored 20 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jay Ratner shoots the ball from the corner during a game played against Ranney on March 3 in Tinton Falls. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The No. 1 goal for the Marlboro High School boys basketball team in 2021 was to have the opportunity to play for a championship.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, teams were only permitted to play 15 regular season games. The Shore Conference eliminated its traditional divisions an placed teams in what were termed “pods.”

On March 3, Marlboro traveled to Tinton Falls to face the Ranney School in the semifinals of the Shore Conference postseason pod “A” tournament.

Led by juniors Jonathan Spatola and Jack Seidler, the Mustangs handed Ranney (8-1) its first loss, winning 71-65 to advance to the championship game of their pod tournament.

Marlboro (9-3) is on a seven-game win streak and will try to achieve its goal of winning a title when the Mustangs face undefeated Manasquan in the pod “A” championship game on March 5.

“We expected to be in the championship game. There were some bumps in the road, but these guys have been together forever and they are a true team,” Coach Michael Nausedas said. “They demand excellence from each other. The competitive nature in practice is unbelievable. Our bench can compete with any starting five out there. We have a great group.”

Against the Ranney School, Seidler drove the Mustangs to a 21-18 lead midway through the second quarter. He scored 11 of his 20 points in the first half and led the team with three three-point field goals in the game.

Entering the contest averaging 20.4 ppg., Seidler has been a force all season.

“I really worked hard on my game during the off-season,” he said. “I tried to get into the gym as much as I could and it has paid off.”

Ranney answered the Mustangs and senior Kyle Rhoden converted a three-point play to cap a 15-6 run for the Panthers, who led 33-27 at halftime.

The Mustangs saw their opportunity midway through the third quarter and did not look back. On a fast break, Spatola hit his only three-point field goal of the night to put the Mustangs ahead 40-36 with just over 3:00 left in the third quarter.

The Mustangs outscored the Panthers, 21-9, in the third quarter and took a 49-42 lead into the final eight minutes of play.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and that it was going to be a hard game,” Seidler said. “We had to stick to the game plan. Everybody who got in did a great job.”

The Mustangs went on an 11-3 run to begin the fourth quarter and extended the lead to 60-45.

The Panthers chipped away and trailed by six with just under 2:00 to play. That’s when Spatola used the free throw line to keep Marlboro in control. He went 6-6 from the line down the stretch to send Marlboro to the championship game.

Spatola scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. It was his second straight game with 25 points as the junior has stepped up in two postseason contests.

“I couldn’t do it without my team,” Spatola said when talking about his performance. “We played hard. We are a good free throw shooting team. We practice a lot on that because at the end of the game you have to close under pressure and make free throws to win the game.”

The Mustangs shot 11-16 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

Junior Jay Ratner scored nine points in the victory for Marlboro. Senior Nick Malaucelli added seven points and junior Vincent Spatola contributed six points off the bench.

The Mustangs have not forgotten a heartbreaking loss to South Brunswick in the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 championship game. The Vikings won the title on a last-second layup.

The Mustangs will be ready to go against Manasquan on March 5.

“We still have that championship game from last year in the back of our minds,” Seidler said. “We definitely want to come out on Friday night and win that game.”