Mustangs top Manasquan, 63-46, to win first Shore Conference hoops crown

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Marlboro High School boys basketball coach Michael Nausedas and his players felt the sting of defeat as they sat in a science lab at Manasquan High School after losing the 2021 Shore Conference Pod A tournament championship game in overtime to the Warriors at the conclusion of a postseason that was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

That loss added to the pain the Mustangs felt in 2020 when they lost to South Brunswick High School in the final seconds of the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament championship game

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Those tough losses were something Nausedas and the Mustangs wanted to avenge in 2022.

The Mustangs’ first chance to do so came against Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game on Feb. 27 at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River. The Mustangs rolled to a 63-46 victory to capture the program’s first conference tournament championship after almost 55 years of basketball.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” senior Jack Seidler said. “Words can’t describe it. The last two years ended kind of rough, but thankfully we got the job done this year.”

Seidler led Marlboro with 22 points and was named Most Valuable Player of the finals, despite struggling with his shot during the first quarter.

Seidler scored one point in the first quarter as Manasquan moved out to a 14-10 lead. He later said he was confident he would find his shot once he got a basket to fall.

His first basket ended up being a three-point field goal that tied the game at 18-18 midway through the second quarter. Seidler scored seven more points to lead an 11-4 run and the Mustangs led 29-21 at halftime.

“I just needed to see the ball go through the hoop once and that was going to get me going,” he said. “I was locked in and I was going to do anything it took to win.”

With 2:30 to play in the third quarter, Seidler connected on a step back jumper that extended the lead to 38-30.

As his shots from the field were falling, Seidler went 6-6 from the foul line in the second half. The Mustangs are 13-0 this season when the senior has scored 20 or more points.

Leading 40-33 to start the fourth quarter, the Mustangs found their rhythm from long distance to put the game out of reach. Senior Zack Molod connected on his team-leading 44th three-point field goal to push the lead to 46-36.

Molod had a tough first half as he was whistled for three early fouls. He delivered a strong performance in the second half, hitting two three-point field goals and scoring 10 of his 14 points over the final two quarters.

“My coaches kept telling me to leave (the fouls) behind and just keep playing smart and my teammates would find me,” Molod said. “That’s what happened. I knew this was our last ride and we didn’t want it to end like it did the last two years. It is absolutely amazing to be the first team in school history to win a conference championship.”

Following Molod’s three-point field goal, senior Jay Ratner struck from three-point range. His second three-point basket put the Mustangs up 49-36 with 5:00 to play.

The Mustangs finished the game with eight three-point field goals.

Ratner finished with nine points and seven rebounds. Senior Jonathan Spatola contributed 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.

The Mustangs slowed the pace in the second half to keep Manasquan’s fast-paced style of play at bay.

“We were going to make them adjust to our pace,” Nausedas said. “It was a chess match. It was a game of runs and pace.”

Marlboro extended the lead to 55-40 with under 2:00 to play as the feelings of redemption became a reality.

The tough moments of the past two seasons fell to the wayside as the starting five of Seidler, Ratner, Molod, Jonathan Spatola and Vincent Spatola headed to the bench.

The tight-knit group of seniors who had twice experienced heartbreak were now feeling the joy of winning a championship.

“We finally got over that hump of winning a championship,” Jonathan Spatola said. “It’s a good feeling. We are going to celebrate this and then get ready for the state tournament.”

Marlboro (23-2) is the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament and will host No. 16 seed Sayreville War Memorial High School on Feb. 28 in the first round.

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