Manasquan edges Marlboro, 58-56, in pod ‘A’ championship game

  1 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Zack Molod dribbles the ball through two Manasquan defenders during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game on March 5 in Manasquan. Manasquan defeated Marlboro 58-56 in overtime.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jonathan Spatola drives towards the basket during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game against Manasquan High School on March 5 in Manasquan. Marlboro finishes the season with a record of 9-4.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jack Seidler knocks down a jump shot during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game against Manasquan High School on March 5 in Manasquan. Seidler scored a team-high 19 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
×
  1 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Zack Molod dribbles the ball through two Manasquan defenders during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game on March 5 in Manasquan. Manasquan defeated Marlboro 58-56 in overtime.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jonathan Spatola drives towards the basket during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game against Manasquan High School on March 5 in Manasquan. Marlboro finishes the season with a record of 9-4.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Marlboro High School boys basketball player Jack Seidler knocks down a jump shot during the Shore Conference Pod A championship game against Manasquan High School on March 5 in Manasquan. Seidler scored a team-high 19 points in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The Marlboro High School boys basketball team was back in a championship game for the second year in a row on March 5. This time the Mustangs were facing Manasquan High School.

In a season that was impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Shore Conference did away with its traditional divisions and the Shore Conference Tournament. Teams were placed in what were described as “pods” and played for a pod championship. Marlboro was placed in pod “A.”

In postseason play, the Mustangs handed the Ranney School of Tinton Falls its first loss of the season on March 3 in the pod “A” semifinals. The win advanced Marlboro to the pod “A” championship game against undefeated Manasquan on the Warriors’ home court.

The Mustangs competed valiantly, but fell just short of their goal of winning a championship as a last-second layup propelled Manasquan (12-0) to a 58-56 overtime victory.

Marlboro (9-4) won seven of its last eight games of the 2021 campaign.

“We did the best we possibly could,” Marlboro Coach Michael Nausedas said after the game. “I’m so proud of my guys. We had a great season. Dealing with all the COVID-19 issues, we are just happy to be here and to get the chance to play against Manasquan is amazing.”

Marlboro trailed by 10 points at halftime, but started the third quarter with an 11-0 run. Junior Jonathan Spatola knocked down a fadeaway jumper to put the Mustangs up, 37-36.

“Down by 10 at halftime is nothing to us,” Nausedas said. “Our guys don’t quit. Our motto was to win the first four minutes of the third quarter and that’s what we did.”

From that point on, the Mustangs and the Warriors traded baskets and were tied 47-47 going into the fourth quarter.

Junior Jack Seidler was on a mission in the fourth quarter to bring home a championship for Marlboro. When the Mustangs needed a basket, Seidler had the answer. His layup tied the game, 51-51, with 3:19 left in the fourth quarter.

With Marlboro trailing, 53-51, with under 2:00 to play, Seidler hit a floater to tie the score at 53-53. No one scored from that point forward and the teams went to overtime tied, 53-53.

In overtime, in less than a minute, Seidler fouled out on a charge call with the score still tied. Manasquan then broke the tie with a basket to go up 55-53.

“Losing one of your top scorers in overtime hurts,” Nausedas said of Seidler. “It’s a huge loss.”

At that point, Spatola took the reins. The junior tied the game, 55-55, with a step-back jumper and put Marlboro up 56-55 by hitting one of two free throws with :39 left.

Manasquan tied the game, 56-56, on a Connor Walsh free throw. Walsh missed his second free throw attempt, but Jack Collins tracked down the loose ball with :25 to play.

The next sequence felt like a flashback to the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament championship game which the Mustangs lost in the final seconds to South Brunswick.

With the clock running down, Manasquan’s Brandon Roy drove to the basket and dished a perfect pass to Andrew Solomon, who hit the game-winning layup with :01 left for the 58-56 final.

The Warriors prevented Marlboro from getting a final shot and for the second year in a row the Mustangs’ season ended in heartbreak.

“We went at (Manasquan) in the second half and that was the difference in the game,” said Nausedas.

Seidler led Marlboro with 19 points and finished the season averaging 20.2 ppg. to lead the Mustangs. Spatola scored 16 points and junior Jay Ratner added 12 points.

Nausedas said he believes the loss to Manasquan will fuel his players’ fire to win a championship even more during the 2021-22 season.

With four of five starters expected back and good talent coming up the ranks, Nausedas said the Mustangs will be back in the championship picture. He said these type of tough moments will, most importantly, make his players more strong-minded in life.

“These guys are going to be great young men when they grow up, being knocked out like this two years in a row,” the coach said. “In the end, they are going to know how good they are. Building a program to where we are now recognized in the conference and the state are huge positives right now. I’m excited to come back next year.”