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Fast start carries Marlboro to 60-41 victory over Middletown South

Marlboro High School girls basketball player Alyssa Tropeano dribbles the ball past Middletown South's Amanda Paterno on her way to the hoop during a game played on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Marlboro defeated Middletown South 60-41.

MARLBORO — You can throw out the records when the Marlboro High School and Middletown South High School girls basketball teams meet on the court.

The Shore Conference A North Division rivals had split their previous eight games during the last four years heading into a contest on Jan. 28 in Marlboro.

Middletown South came into the game riding a 10-game winning streak, while the Mustangs were battling to get their record back to .500.

The challenge of facing a talented squad that was carrying a 10-1 record into the game did not phase the Mustangs, who took the action right at the Eagles from the opening tip and rolled to a 60-41 victory to improve to 7-7 in the 2021-22 season.

“We were so proud of their effort,” Coach Brad Hagensen said of his players. “They did everything we asked them to do and stuck to the game plan. All the credit goes to them.”

Marlboro began the game with an 11-0 run as junior Amanda Castro hit two three-point field goals and scored eight points during the team’s blazing start. The Mustangs carried a 12-2 lead into the second quarter.

Castro struck again from three-point range in the second quarter and extended the lead to 26-12 with just under 2:00 to play in the frame.

“We knew we had to come out strong against (Middletown South) because they are an amazing team,” said Castro. “We knew we had to prove ourselves today. It felt really good.”

Marlboro’s tremendous first half ended in buzzer-beating style when Erica DiSimone put up a shot from halfcourt as time was winding down.

Senior Sam Slofkiss, who was running the floor, realized DiSimone’s attempt was not going to reach the basket. Slofkiss caught DiSimone’s shot as it fell short of the mark and banked in a layup as the buzzer sounded to give the Mustangs a 28-18 lead at the half.

“I saw five seconds on the clock and knew I had run down the court as fast as I could to be there,” Slofkiss said. “I grabbed the ball and tried to get it up before the clock ran out. It gave us so much momentum coming out of the half.”

Slofkiss scored 10 points in the first half, including six points in the second quarter. She finished with 17 points.

Slofkiss is averaging more than 11 points per game while pulling down seven rebounds per game.

“The goal is always to try to score as many points as you can, but you have to take the right shots and make them when you are open,” Slofkiss said. “Being able to make those shots for my teammates is the best feeling. Seeing them cheer me on is what matters the most.”

Senior Dani Schlesinger leads the team at 14.4 points per game. Schlesinger scored eight points against Middletown South, including two three-point field goals to run her season total to 31 three-pointers.

Marlboro connected on nine three-point field goals against the Eagles. Castro drained four shots from downtown. Her final three-pointer came as the third quarter ended and allowed the Mustangs to take a 42-27 lead into the fourth quarter.

The junior finished with a season-high 20 points in the victory.

After missing time early in the season with an ankle injury, Castro said her performance against Middletown South shows she is back to her “old self” and that she can be the third scoring piece alongside Schlesinger and Slofkiss to help Marlboro get on a roll as the season continues.

“I have been really working on my shooting because I wanted to make a good comeback,” Castro said. “I’m still recovering a little bit, but I definitely feel myself coming back.”

The win over the Eagles gave the Mustangs three wins in their last four games. Marlboro will play Trinity Hall of Tinton Falls on Feb. 2.

Defeating the Eagles was a big win for the Mustangs, but Hagensen knows his players still need to stick to the process he has laid out for them so they can be ready for postseason play.

“We tell them to take it one day at a time and to try to get a little bit better each day,” the coach said. “We try not to focus on the future and who we are playing next. We want to focus on now and be the best team we can be that day.”

Marlboro High School girls basketball player Amanda Castro rises up on the wing to knock down a three-pointer during a game against Middletown South on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Castro scored a game-high 20 points in the contest.
Marlboro High School girls basketball player Dani Schlesinger backs down Middletown South's Lara Brennan on the block during a game played on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Marlboro won 60-41
Marlboro High School girls basketball player Sam Slofkiss knocks down a free-throw attempt at the line during a game against Middletown South on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Slofkiss scored 17 points in the contest.
Marlboro High School girls basketball player Erica DiSimone dribbles the ball up the floor during a game against Middletown South on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Marlboro won 60-41.
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