Feb 19, 2019 | Basketball, Middletown Township


By Mike Ready


MIDDLETOWN – Eighth-seeded Middletown South advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals Thursday for the first time since 2010, taking down ninth-seed and division rival Marlboro, 63-49, on the Eagles home court.


The two A North combatants split the regular-season series with each winning on the road and could meet a fourth time in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV bracket if both teams win their first-round games.


The Eagles jumped out to an early 9-2 lead and led, 16-8, after one quarter with sophomore guard Luke Albrecht and junior forward Mike Dabas doing most the damage.


With Marlboro big-man Dylan Kaufman on the bench in concussion protocol and the Eagles struggling to hit from the outside, they turned to their inside game with Albrecht and Dabas taking over underneath getting to the rim and penetrating to the basket.


“We had played them two times this season so we knew what we had to do going into this game,” said Albrecht. “Also, with Kaufman being out I knew I would be able to facilitate more, get to the rack and get to the rim and that’s what I did.”


“When you don’t’ shoot the ball well you have to do other things in the game to help you win,” Dabas said. “So, when shots aren’t falling you have to go hard to the rim, rebound and do the little stuff to win. No matter who was there we were going to go as hard as we could to the boards and fight as hard as we possibly can no matter who’s there.”


In the first quarter alone, Albrecht scored four points, had three assists, four rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot, while Dabas added seven points and three assists. One play in particular stood out as Albrecht one-hopped a three-quarter-court pass to a charging Dabas for an easy layup that gave them the 9-2 lead.    


“We’re so fortunate to have seven guys that can step up in their roles,” said Middletown South head coach Jim Anderson. “We know there’s going to be days where Jack Sheridan and James Anderson aren’t going to be hitting shots and we have to go to our interior play so guys can score inside.


“One of the things we talked about was getting paint touches against Marlboro,” Anderson added. “Without Kaufman we thought we could get the ball to the inside and we knew we could out-rebound them. Mike Dabas is a spectacular offensive rebounder – for a 6-foot-1 guy, his rebounding is freighting.”


The Luke Albrecht show continued into the second quarter as he scored the Eagles’ first five points helping South maintain a comfortable lead.


However, Marlboro’s Alex Ratner’s three-pointer trimmed the Eagles lead to 25-20 with 2:36 left in the half, but Albrecht followed a Bobby Pirie mid-range jumper with five-points of his own to close out the third quarter.


Albrecht finished off his mini scoring spree by pulling down a rebound and going coast-to-coast for the basket to give the Eagles a 12-point, 32-20, lead at the half.  


“Luke had a good day,” Anderson said of his sophomore guard. “Luke is the fastest guy we have; he gets paint touches on the dribble and had a good shooting day. Once he gets that confidence it adds to his whole game. It gets his offense going; it gets his defense going. He’s grown up a lot and he demonstrates that on the court.”


The Eagles went up by 17 points, 40-23, after a putback by senior center Dan Mitchinson midway through the third, but the Mustangs closed the gap cutting it to eight, 44-36, on freshman guard Jonathan Spatola’s three-pointer with 1:00 left in the third.


Junior guard Richie Boyko, however, put South back up by 12 on consecutive baskets in the closing minute of the third.


Junior guard James Anderson came down with an offensive rebound and bounced a perfect pass to Boyko who buried it and then Albrecht dished one to him for two points pushing their lead to 48-36, entering the fourth quarter.  


“At the end of the game I feel like we kind of lost our mentality of stepping on their throats,” said Albrecht. “But we still got back up and stayed ahead and that’s all we needed to do.”


Pirie opened the fourth quarter hot, scoring six of Eagles’ first eight points to put the Eagles up by 15 with just over five minutes left in the game to seal the 63-49 win. Albrecht found him for two then he grabbed an offensive rebound for a putback and finished off his scoring spree with a layup off a pretty dime from Albrecht.


“Bobby’s a great player when he wants to be,” said Albrecht. “When he gets his motor going and his mind set he can do things a lot of big men can’t do. He can step back and shoot the three but he can also get in the paint and be tough.”


“Bobby Pirie had a spectacular second half,” said Anderson. “I laid into him a little bit to play harder and get after it. He’s so athletic at 6-foot-4, he’s a game changer and he certainly stepped up. When Marlboro made their little run it was his rebound and putback that gave us some distance.”


Albrecht scored a team-high 17 points along with four rebounds and seven assists while Dabas added 13 points, 10 boards, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Pirie added 12 points, three rebounds and an assist and Boyko contributed eight points second-half points, three rebounds and two assists.


After scoring 23 points against Middletown North in the Eagles’ last game, Anderson had an off night shooting but chipped in with eight rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot while Mitchinson chipped in with four points and four rebounds.


Ratner had a game-high 19 points, including four three’s for Marlboro.  


The Eagles’ prize for winning is a date with Ranney – ranked No. 14 in the country in the USA Today’s Top 25 – in Sunday’s first quarterfinals matchup at 11 am at Toms River North.   


“It should be a good one,” said Albrecht when asked about the matchup with Ranney. “It will set us up for the future and get us ready to play better teams later on.”


The Eagles start three juniors and a sophomore and their top two players off the bench are juniors so playing a nationally-ranked opponent that has squared off with some of the top teams in the country is a golden opportunity for growth as they head into state playoffs and look towards next season.


“We love the challenge of playing Ranney,” said Anderson. “We’re going to coach it up and the guys are going to buy into it.”