By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A comeback victory by the boys team finished off a great night for the Middle Township High School basketball community Monday.
Matt Marino sank a critical three-pointer with less than two minutes to go in overtime and Middle survived a desperation heave from 35 feet away at the buzzer that nearly found the basket in a 46-44 victory over rival Lower Cape May.
The win capped a special evening at Middle, which honored the back-to-back state championship boys and girls teams from the 1990s prior to the game. As part of the ceremony, the school also retired the uniform number of 1993 graduate Stephano Anderson.
And before those ceremonies, Middle pulled away from a pesky Lower side in the girls game, 45-29.
Miles Sapp’s putback with seven seconds to go in regulation sent the boys game to overtime at 40-40. After the teams failed to score for the first two minutes of the extra period, Marino knocked down a right baseline three-pointer with 1:53 to go to give Middle the lead for good.
“Matt was struggling all night and when we went to overtime he kind of had his head down on the bench and I told him to stay with it, that he was going to hit a big one for us and he did,” Middle coach Anthony Farmer said. “It was huge for us.”
Marino had been 0 for 5 on three-point attempts prior to his important make.
“Like Coach said, you have to stay confident,” Marino said. “I was missing a lot but my teammates were encouraging me to keep shooting the ball and that’s what helped the most. Without them helping me and encouraging me, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to make the big one.”
Middle missed enough free throws to allow Lower Cape May to stay in the game at the finish. The Caper Tigers (11-3) nearly stole victory at the buzzer of overtime but Pat Moore’s 35-footer bounced off the rim.
The win was the third straight for Middle (5-9), which received a game-high 23 points from Marcus Pierce, who hit a monster three-pointer late in regulation to aid the Panthers’ comeback from a five-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
“We have a little win streak going,” Marino said. “We’re going to play Wildwood Catholic Wednesday and we need to prepare for that and just keep getting better.”
Lower’s Martin Anguelov, who entered the game averaging better than 23 points per outing, was limited to 10 points by Middle’s defense, led by A.J. Baez’s tight man-to-man defense. Anguelov had zero field goals in the second half and finished with just 10 points.
“I think you have to give our guys credit,” Farmer said. “A.J. got up on (Anguelov) and made it tough on the kid. We were fortunate that he had a few clean (looks) that didn’t go down, too. But overall I think you have to give us credit. We did a very, very good job on the kid. He’s a really good player.”
Dave Durham led Lower Cape May with 14 points. Moore was also in double figures with 10 points.
Lower made only 3 of 9 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
Sapp finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Middle.
In the girls game, Kira Sides netted 13 of her game-high 17 points in the second half to lead Middle Township (10-4), which led from start to finish. Kate Herlihy was also in double figures with 11 points and Maddie Barber chipped in with nine.
Winter Favre sank nine points for Lower (5-8).