Toms River, NJ- The Middletown South Eagles girls basketball team is headed back to the finals of the WOBM Christmas Classic for the second year in a row following a 46-43 win over Red Bank Catholic.

Coming into the contest the Eagles were without their leader on the bench in head coach Tom Brennan due to medical issues so the Eagles played with heavy hearts and, as a unit, played for their coach. Leading scorers Stephanie Karcz and Haley Dalonzo each scored 13 points apiece and found the extra motivation late in the fourth quarter that led to the Eagles come from behind win over the Caseys.

"As a team before the game in the locker room we talked to coach on the phone and shared a tear and used his absence as motivation," Dalonzo said. "Coach always says 'Don't play for me, play for yourselves.' Tonight we didn't listen and left it all on the court to win for him."

"Our veteran leaders stepped up tonight and it showed late in the game as we continued to chip away," Karcz said. "This was a huge win for us tonight but more importantly this was for coach."

The Eagles jumped out to a 16-14 first quarter lead behind Brennan's daughter, freshman Isla, who hit two 3-pointers during the surge. The Eagles came out fast and aggressive, which the Caseys matched late in the quarter to climb back in control. With the Caseys trailing by two headed to the second quarter, coach Montano changed the offensive rotation and things started to click for Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys took the lead over the Eagles two minutes into the quarter and finished the half with a 27-23 lead.

The Caseys continued their defensive pressure into the third quarter and maintained their lead over South and entered the fourth with a 38-33 lead. But Red Bank Cathoilc could not put Middletown South's group of motivated players away and after three straight turnovers midway through the fourth the Eagles pulled to within one. The teams would trade the lead for a two minute stretch of great basketball, but when the Caseys had the chance to put the Eagles away they couldn't.

Red Bank Catholic, normally a good ball control team, committed 13 turnovers against the Eagles with four of them coming in the fourth quarter.  Also hurting the Caseys was their 6-for-16 showing from the free-throw line.

"I am so proud of these ladies," said coach Jessie Chalmers, who served as Middletown South coach in Brennan's absence. "Tonight, they came out with heavy hearts for Tom and leaned on each other late in the game which shows their trust in one another."

Middletown South will be looking to get a revenge win against Manasquan who defeated Sayreville in the second semifinal. Last season,  Manasquan defeated the Eagles, 62-27, to clinch their second straight WOBM title. With tonight's with the Eagles improved their record to (overall 5-0 and division 2-0) while the Caseys fell to (overall 5-1 and division 3-0)

 

 

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