TOMS RIVER - There was not much Middletown South girls basketball coach Tom Brennan could say to comfort his players immediately following the final game of the most successful season in program history, which - as most seasons do - ended in a loss Tuesday against Franklin in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

He did have one piece of advice before the Eagles' 66-38 loss to the Warriors, however, that will stick with the seniors who combined to go 90-20 over their four years and the returning players who will attempt to defend Middletown South's first ever Group III championship in 2016.

"We talked pregame about the T.O.C. game being a trap," Brennan said. "You don't want to lose the polish of what you accomplished in winning a group championship, especially when you don't perform the way you want to perform in the T.O.C. Everybody understands that only one team is walking out of this, but you do want to compete and that's what stings right now. We'll reflect pretty quickly on what was the most successful season ever here."

Middletown South coach consoles senior Angela DeBartolome as she exits her final high school game, a 66-38 loss to Franklin Thursday that ended the most decorated season in program history. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Middletown South overcame a season-ending injury to senior center and St. Francis recruit Jill Falvey right before the season started to win Group III and were again tested by the injury bug on Tuesday. Junior Julia Valkos broke her left ring finger in the Group III semifinals against Timber Creek on Thursday, played through the injury in the Group III final before the pain worsened over two more days, according to Brennan.

"She probably shouldn't have played Sunday," Brennan said of Valkos. "She gave us everything. She was a huge difference-maker Sunday in denying (Old Tappan senior Kait) Sytsma opportunities to get clean looks from three and I thought that was a huge factor in Sunday's game. She gave us gravy on Sunday, and afterward, the pain was just too much and it wasn't worth it. It was her decision and we totally supported it."

Without another starter, the Eagles had to delve deeper into a rotation that typically went six deep with Valkos while still relying heavily on its starting five. The major strategic impact of the Valkos injury was it forced the Eagles' hand defensively with a short bench, as Brennan opted to open up the game in the 1-3-1 zone that has been so effective for Middletown South as a change of pace.

With the Eagles in the zone from the first possession, Franklin quickly acclimated itself and wound up shooting 14-for-19 from the field in the first half and buried Middletown South in a 40-18 halftime hole.

"When we do that zone, that's our change up," Brennan said. "We come out, get you man-to-man, then throw that in off a timeout or coming out of the quarter. Coming out in it gave them a lot of time to figure it out.

"Down another player, the 'low fuel' light is blinking glaringly. I just felt like zone was the best way to get through the game and unfortunately, they go 14-for-19 in the first half."

Senior swing and LaSalle recruit Adreana Miller scored 20 of her career-high 33 points in the first half, including four of her five three-pointers. Miller shot 13-for-20 from the floor Tuesday and 5-for-9 from beyond the three-point arc.

"We had to bring out our offense a little (farther from the basket), attack with the dribble and that sideline would be open," Miller said, describing Franklin's approach to beating the Eagles defense. "Usually, I was the one who was open there and everyone kept saying, 'Shoot!'. If it's open, you've got to take advantage of it, and that was it."

Franklin will take on top-seeded Manasquan Thursday as it tries to build upon its already-historic season. The Warriors are in the Tournament of Champions for the first time ever after winning the Group IV title for the first time ever last Thursday and will return to Pine Belt Arena Thursday with something more to prove. Franklin defeated St. John Vianney - which is seeded one spot better than the Warriors in the T of C - 41-27 during the regular season 12 days before the Lancers beat Manasquan in the first of three meetings between the teams. Manasquan won the second two meetings, the latter of which was in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

"We still have a chip on our shoulder because of that, but beating teams of that caliber just raises our confidence in situations like this," Miller said. "It shows us that we can beat anyone.

"(Manasquan) is the number one in the state, and we're below that, of course. We're going to show them what we have and give them a run for their money."

While Franklin shot 52 percent from the floor for the game, Middletown South could not find the range, going 14-for-54 (26 percent). Junior Stephanie Karcz shot 6-for-9 to amass her team-high 15 points, but the rest of the team combined to shoot 8-for-45 (18 percent), including 1-for-10 from three-point range.

Middletown South will return four starters - Karcz, Valkos, sophomore Haley Dalonzo and sophomore Alexandra Balsamo - while looking to replace key senior contributors Angela DeBartolome and Madison Curtis, not to mention Falvey. The departing senior class was part of a program that during its four-year stay went 90-20 overall with four Shore Conference Class A North division titles, two consecutive Central Jersey Group III chamionships, two Shore Conference Tournament semifinals appearances and an overall Group III championship and accompanying Tournament of Champions appearance for the road.

"There's a lot to emulate about this senior class and the emphasis is on the word 'class,'" Brennan said. "Their legacy for this school and within this community is untouched."

 

Box Score

Franklin 66, Middletown South 38

1

2

3

4

F

Middletown South (26-6)

8

10

6

14

38

Franklin (24-5)

20

20

12

14

66

 

Middletown South (38): Angela DeBartolome 2 0-0 4, Haley Dalonzo 3 2-2 8, Alexandra Balsamo 1 4-4 7, Stephanie Karcz 6 2-5 15, Madison Curtis 1 0-0 2, Brianne Naughton 0 0-0 0, Gabby Cook 1 0-0 2, Roberta Montes 0 0-0 0, Hannah Fite 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 8-13 38

Three-pointers: Balsamo, Karcz

Franklin (66): Mary Trossi 1 1-2 4, Tahira Scott 1 0-0 3, Jaeda Wildgoose 3 6-6 12, Alexandra Jackson 5 2-2 12, Adreana Miller 13 2-2 33, Monique Davis-Campbell 1 0-0 2, Camille Gray 0 0-0 0, Danica Antes 0 0-0 0, Kristen Vladyka 0 0-0 0, Tyler Drew 0 0-0 0, Brianna Rodrigues 0 0-0 0, Kayla Jackson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 11-12 66

Three-pointers: Trossi, Scott, Miller 5