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In each of the past two seasons, Marlboro boys basketball coach Mike Nausedas had to bid a gut-wrenching farewell to his players on the last day of their season. The silver lining to those goodbyes were that most of them were only temporary.

With five senior starters this past season, however, the bulk of this year’s farewells would all be permanent, so Nausedas wanted to pour everything he could into making sure that whenever the end of the season summoned Marlboro, he and his players could look around the locker room and know they got as much out of their redemption season as possible.

Mission: accomplished.

Marlboro’s five seniors returned this season powered by the motivation that comes with back-to-back heartbreaking losses to end the season and, with Nausedas at the helm, went deeper into the season and won more hardware than any Mustangs boys basketball team ever has.

Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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Nausedas, though, is not the Shore Sports Network Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for the second straight year and the third time overall just because he guided a senior-led team to a championship. Before Nausedas took over the program in 2012-13, the only championship to Marlboro’s credit was a division co-championship in 1971 and a winning season was a great year by program standards.

"When I got here ten years ago, this was nothing,” Nausedas said. “I’m not trying to say I’m Pat Riley or anything, but when I got here, I looked over at that banner (with a single year marking the division championship) and said we need to start adding to that. To be able to say we did it feels pretty good."

By Nausedas’s fifth season, his Mustangs had been to an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinal and a Shore Conference Tournament championship game. Nausedas landed his first Coach of the Year award after taking the Mustangs to the SCT championship game and a top-five ranking in 2016-17, but it turned out that was just a precursor to what was possible with a talented class of players.

It looked like Marlboro would break through and actually win its first championship two seasons ago, when the Mustangs finished second in the Class A North standings behind Middletown South, then made it to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game for the first time ever. A jumper by then-sophomore Jack Seidler in the final 30 seconds had the Mustangs on the cusp of a one-point win, but South Brunswick scored as the buzzer sounded to stun Marlboro.

A year later, there was no Central Jersey Group IV title to pursue due to the truncated season that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. There was still one championship up for grabs and Marlboro got just as close to winning that one as it did the 2020 CJ IV title. The Mustangs got through an even more challenging field than in the year before, beating Holmdel and upsetting Ranney to make it to the Shore Conference Playoff final against undefeated Manasquan. Marlboro hit clutch shot after clutch shot to push the game into overtime, but Manasquan prevailed on a game-winning layup with one second left.

The one silver lining to those losses were that Marlboro graduated just one regular each season – All-Shore guard Alex Ratner in 2020 and part-time starter Nick Malucelli in 2021. That meant the Mustangs returned in 2021-22 with five players who had big-game, starting experience – two of which were First-Team All-Shore players in Seidler and Jon Spatola.

With all that senior talent comes expectations and Marlboro opened the season as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. After winning the WOBM Christmas Classic in late December – officially the first tournament win for Marlboro of any kind – the Mustangs validated the No. 1 ranking but would quickly be tested with the loss of senior Zack Molod to COVID protocol. In four games without its full starting five, Marlboro went 2-2 and dropped in the rankings.

Eventually, Molod returned and Marlboro got back on track. Marlboro rose back to No. 2 at the Shore heading into the Shore Conference Tournament and for the second straight year, it made it to the Shore Conference championship game to face Manasquan. This time, the Mustangs did not let it come down to the last shot, conquering the Warriors, 63-46, to win the program’s first ever SCT championship.

Next up was the state tournament, and the Mustangs faced an early test in the Central Group IV quarterfinals against eighth-seeded Howell. Marlboro’s division rival went ahead, 61-52, with just under six minutes left, but the No. 1 seed exploded for 25-3 run to close out the game and win going away.

Marlboro then got a chance at revenge and seized it with a win over South Brunswick in the sectional semifinals and against Trenton in the championship game, the Mustangs made key plays down the stretch to secure a 75-67 win and raise an NJSIAA sectional championship trophy for the first time in program history.

Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
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Throughout the run to the Central Group IV title, Nausedas managed his team’s fatigue, which stemmed from playing Manasquan in the SCT final on Sunday, Feb. 27, then playing Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the following week for four games in six days.

With his five seniors gutting it out into the second week of March, Nausedas had to rely on his senior five to hang in against Lenape in the Group IV semifinals after falling behind, 25-12, and struggling to hit outside shots throughout the game. Marlboro indeed hung tough, chipped away and took a 49-47 lead into the final seconds.

That meant the Mustangs would have to get a stop to keep their season alive after it ended with last-second shots by the opponent in each of the past two seasons. This time, Marlboro’s defense held and the Mustangs knocked off Lenape and Rutgers commit Derek Simpson to advance to the Group IV championship game – just the second Shore Conference team to make it to the Group IV final since 1981.

Marlboro came fairly close to ending a 41-year drought without a Group IV championship for the Shore Conference, but the Mustangs fell victim to a hot-shooting night by Elizabeth and came up short, 70-63, in the Group IV final at Rutgers.

The year-ending resume made for the best Marlboro has ever constructed and in the running with some of the best public-school teams to ever play at the Shore. Ten years ago, Nausedas would have never imagined that sort of destination for Marlboro boys basketball, but he did hope he could get people thinking about Marlboro in that light.

"It's going to be tough for anybody to duplicate what happened this year: 28-3, WOBM (Christmas Classic), A North, Shore Conference, sectional championship,” Nausedas said. “There was nothing at Marlboro and now there is all that. These kids are legends now. No one will ever do what they did. I hope they do, but this is hard."

What was once an afterthought program is now one of the Shore’s most respected teams and it started with a coach who just wanted to do some redecorating in his team’s gym.