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MARLBORO -- Exactly 724 days had passed between March 10, 2020 and Friday and you don't have to check the match because Marlboro senior Jack Seidler has checked it several times over for you.

That 724 days marks the span of time between Marlboro's NJSIAA Tournament matchups against South Brunswick in Marlboro, the first of which ended with the Vikings claiming the Central Jersey Group IV championship at the buzzer to deny the Mustangs their first ever sectional title.

On Friday, Marlboro -- running on fumes while playing its fourth elimination game in six days -- continued its redemption tour by beating fourth-seeded South Brunswick, 55-46, to reach the Central Jersey Group IV final for the second time in three years.

"That was a really tough, fun game to coach in," Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas said. "Joe (Hoehman) is a great coach, they have a great, program and they are a defending state (sectional) champion.

"It's crazy how things are falling into place. We lost to Manasquan (to end 2021) and we played them again (in the Shore Conference Tournament final). We lose to South Brunswick and we played them again. Now, we're going to the final off that. It's destiny. I was fired up all day. We couldn't wait to play this game. You don't get a lot of second chances in life and these guys got a second chance."

The top-seeded Mustangs will once again host the sectional final Monday, with No. 7 Trenton coming to town for a 6 p.m. tipoff.

"At the beginning of the year, we wrote down our goals and the Group 4 sectional championship was one that we had on there, so we're excited," Seidler said. "Today was a big step. We got our revenge, but we're not finished."

Marlboro started the game with six points in the first 40 seconds and never gave up the lead. Coach Mike Nausedas put the full-court press on the first Marlboro score of the game and the result was a 13-2 start, nine first-quarter turnovers by South Brunswick and a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"Sometimes, I ask them if they want to press. I didn't ask them today," Nausedas said. "I said 'We're going with the Howell-White press. We're going now. There's no tired now. Be tired in two weeks.'"

Seidler scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the first quarter to lead the offensive effort for Marlboro.

"Everybody knows basketball is a game of runs," Seidler said. "We struck them first and we knew they were going to hit us back. We knew we had the right game plan to get it done, so we just stayed composed and, fortunately, came out with the win and have a chance to win it all."

South Brunswick, however, settled in once Marlboro eased up on its press and chipped its deficit to 27-23 by halftime. The Vikings got as close as 34-32 in the middle of the third quarter before Marlboro senior Vin Spatola sparked his team with a sequence that included a pair of blocks, a putback to make it 36-32 and a corner three-pointer to extend the Mustangs lead to 39-32.

Early in the fourth, Spatola converted a baseline reverse to put Marlboro back up by 10, 45-35, for its first double-digit lead since it was 24-13 early in the second quarter.

"It gets us going when he is making plays like he did today," Seidler said of Vin Spatola. "That three he hit to put us up seven probably won us the game. He got the crowd going and he got us all going."

"You can't leave Vinny," Nausedas said. "How many times have we seen that reverse layup on the baseline? He's so smart. He gets wide-open threes and he doesn't take them because he knows there is a better shot. Then, when you think you can leave him, he hits a big one. Not every player understands that like he does."

Marlboro essentially put the game away with three straight layups by seniors Jay Ratner, Zack Molod and Jon Spatola to go up 53-39. The Mustangs would add one last exclamation point when Jon Spatola hit Ratner for a basket, plus a foul to make it 55-43.

"It's a players' team," Nausedas said. "They are so smart and they listen to me and I definitely listen to them. It's a special group."

Jon Spatola scored 11 points to go with four assists and four steals while Ratner scored nine of his 11 points in the second half to go with eight rebounds and three steals. Molod scored eight of his 10 points in the first half and handed out three assists, while Vin Spatola finished with seven points and three blocked shots.

Damien Downes led South Brunswick with 15 points while Marlboro held Yathin Vemula -- the senior who scored the winning shot as a sophomore in the 2020 championship game -- to 11 points.

With the exception of Vin Spatola going to the bench for a three-minute stretch of the second quarter with two fouls, Marlboro's five starters stayed on the court for 31:11 of the 32 minutes before Nausedas cleared the bench. The Mustangs have been almost exclusively dependent on the starting lineup and that group will get two days to rest before Trenton invades on Monday night.

"Zack is like the iron man, but the other four guys are dead tired," Nausedas said. "(Saturday) is a much-needed day off. I have to figure out Sunday, but it's going to be a lot of film to try to get ready."

Marlboro will be seeking its first ever NJSIAA sectional title in just its second appearance, which is technically two straight appearances since their was no NJSIAA Tournament last year.

Trenton, meanwhile, will play in the sectional final for the third time since 2018 -- all against Shore Conference opponents. The Tornadoes beat Colts Neck, 42-41, on the road, and lost to Freehold Township, 57-56, at home, which marked the first sectional championship for Freehold Township.

Monday, Marlboro will try to become the next Monmouth County team to break through for its first sectional title at Trenton's expense and if the recent trend is any indication, the Tornadoes -- which knocked off No. 3 Jackson Memorial, 57-56, on Friday night -- will keep things interesting.

"We'll get some much-needed rest, watch some film and we'll be ready for Monday," Seidler said. "We all know we have to do on Monday. We have been waiting two years for another shot and now it's here. It's now or never."


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