History. Redemption. There are many ways to describe what the Marlboro High School boys basketball team accomplished on March 7 in front of its hometown fans by winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament championship.
No. 1 seed Marlboro held off No. 7 seed Trenton Central High School to secure a 75-67 victory in Marlboro and win the program’s first state sectional title after almost 55 years.
The Mustangs ended a two-year quest for a sectional championship after losing to South Brunswick High School in the 2020 state sectional tournament championship game.
“It’s a storybook ending,” Coach Michael Nausedas said. “It feels amazing. It hasn’t set in yet, but I’m just so happy for these guys. I am happy for all the guys who have helped the program grow over the past 10 years. They all had a piece in this. We would not be here without them.”
The state sectional tournament title adds to the list of accomplishments the Mustangs set out to achieve during the 2021-22 season.
Early in the season, Marlboro captured its first championship by winning the WOBM Christmas Classic.
As the season advanced, the Mustangs won the Shore Conference A North Division crown.
The Mustangs made history on Feb. 27 when they won the program’s first Shore Conference Tournament championship by defeating Manasquan, 63-46.
All of those accomplishments coincide with Marlboro winning a season record 27 games and winning its 20th straight game by defeating Trenton in the state sectional tournament final.
“This was a redemption year for us,” senior guard Vincent Spatola said. “Every game this year was redemption. We lost to Manasquan last year at the buzzer (in a postseason tournament) and we beat them this year to win the Shore Conference Tournament. We lost to South Brunswick (in 2020) and beat them this year to make it to the (sectional) finals. It was all a redemption year for us.”
In the state sectional tournament championship game against Trenton, a fast-paced first half of action saw senior Zack Molod lead the Mustangs to a 39-32 halftime lead by scoring 14 points. Molod finished the game with 20 points.
Since returning to action after missing four games midway through the season, Molod has delivered a huge spark for the Mustangs in the last 19 games.
The senior guard is averaging more than 13 points per game, and most importantly, Marlboro has won every one of the 25 games in which Molod has suited up.
Out of all those wins, his 20-point performance in the state sectional tournament final will be the one Molod will remember the most.
“There is nothing better than ending your career on your home court with all your friends and winning a championship,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
The Mustangs appeared to have the game in control, but Trenton’s players came out on a mission in the second half to get back in the game.
Junior Davontay Hutson scored seven points to spark a 13-7 run to begin the third quarter as Trenton pulled within one, trailing 46-45. Hutson finished the game with 24 points.
The Mustangs were able to keep answering the Tornadoes’ surge and took a 52-49 lead into the fourth quarter.
Trenton kept battling and the Tornadoes tied the game at 60-60 with 4:36 to play.
With the score tied 62-62 with just under 3:00 to play, senior Jack Seidler led the Mustangs on a 13-5 run to lock up the sectional championship. He started with a basket to give Marlboro a 64-62 lead.
“I knew I had to come through for our guys,” Seidler said. “Once the score got close, we all knew we had to just get some easy buckets and we would come out with the win.”
Seidler led the Mustangs with 22 points (20 in the final three quarters).
Remembering what it felt like to lose in the final seconds of the 2020 state sectional tournament championship game, Seidler was overwhelmed with joy after the victory over Trenton. He called the moment when the Mustangs became the state sectional champions “amazing.”
“Finally getting redemption here in the sectional final feels amazing,” he said. “I can’t even describe it.”
After senior Jay Ratner scored to extend the lead to 66-62 and the Mustangs added two more points to push the lead to 68-62, Seidler made a game-changing play when he dished a great pass to Spatola cutting along the baseline and Spatola scored on a contested layup to put the Mustangs up 70-62 with 1:18 to play.
“I knew no guy could guard Jack one on one, so I knew when he got free that my guy was going to go help,” Spatola said of his late-game layup. “I knew if I went baseline I would get the ball. It felt really good.”
Spatola finished with 10 points and Ratner added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs hit their free throws in the final minute to hold off the Tornadoes and claim the state sectional tournament championship.
Marlboro (27-2) will face South Jersey Group IV champion Lenape High School of Medford in a Group IV semifinal on March 9. The winner will advance to the Group IV state championship game against the North Jersey champion.
Redemption and history are all now captured for the Mustangs, who are playing with “house money” as Nausedas said about advancing to the Group IV semifinals.
“We can win the (state tournament). We can beat anybody,” the coach said.