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MIDDLETOWN – Middletown South girls basketball coach Tom Brennan did not want to give his team any sort of special game plan to take to the court at Collins Arena on the campus of Brookdale College on Saturday against Rumson-Fair Haven in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

Brennan just wanted the best version of his team to show up, and he knew their best against Rumson would be good enough because he had seen it before.

Juniors Stephanie Karcz and Julia Valkos scored 15 points each and the fifth-seeded Eagles limited No. 4 Rumson to 17 second-half points en route to a 55-48 win over the Bulldogs to advance to Tuesday's Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

Middletown South's starters celebrate their win over Rumson after the final buzzer Saturday at Brookdale College. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Middletown South will take on top-seeded St. Rose at Brick Memorial High School after beating Rumson in the SCT quarterfinals for the second time in three years. The Eagles beat the Bulldogs in overtime two years ago to advance to the SCT semifinals, that time as a No. 4 seed against No. 5 Rumson.

“We’ve been in situations like this before where we didn’t win the game and those stick out as much as the times we’ve won,” said Karcz, who also grabbed 12 rebounds. “It’s in your head how much you want it and how important it is to everyone on the team, and this game definitely meant a lot to us.”

Middletown South limited Rumson to 16-for-43 (37 percent) shooting from the field and forced the Bulldogs into 14 turnovers. During the second half, Rumson shot just 5-for-21 (24 percent) as the Eagles won the second half, 26-17, to pull away.

“We didn’t have much of (a game plan) and that might have been part of our success,” Brennan said. “Our kids didn’t really have much to think about other than just playing like we play, which is being aggressive, getting to the rim and being strong with the bounce. We’ve been struggling with that all year and I thought everyone played, within that philosophy, about as well as they have all year.”

With Middletown South clinging to a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Valkos scored on two run-outs in transition with less than two minutes left and Angela DeBartolome added a third lay-up in transition to make it a 7-0 run that put Middletown South ahead, 53-45 with 1:06 to play.

“We knew they like to trap off of made baskets and we knew they would try to trap us when they were playing from behind,” Karcz said. “It was on the white board before the game, we saw it on film, so no matter what part of the game we were in, if they were going to try to trap us, we wanted to beat them down the court if they gave it to us.”

The eight-point lead was the largest either team held during the game and the largest lead before Middletown South’s 7-0 fourth-quarter run was a 12-7 Eagles lead in the first quarter. Rumson junior Nicole Morris hit a runner to tie the game at 41 inside of four minutes left in the game.

Middletown South reclaimed the lead for good when Karcz hit one of two free throws and went up by four on a three-pointer by DeBartolome to make it 45-41. Rumson chopped the Eagles lead down to 46-45 behind a pair of free throws by freshman Tori Hyduke and a lay-up by sophomore Hannah Scanlan off a feed from Hyduke. From there, Middletown South hit the Bulldogs with the deciding 7-0 run.

“It was a great feeling to have a lead late and to be able to close the game out,” said sophomore Haley Dalonzo, who finished with 10 points. “They are a great team and it took everyone on the floor to get stops and make shots when we needed them.”

Angela DeBartolome (right) shoots over Rumson freshman Tori Hyduke. DeBartolome scored nine points and made a key basket late in the fourth to help the Eagles put the Bulldogs away. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Although Middletown South closed the game out with defense, both teams started the game hot. The Eagles led 17-16 after the first quarter behind fast starts from Valkos and Rumson senior Grace Stant, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points. Valkos scored on three drives to the basket for her six points in the quarter, while Stant knocked down threes on consecutive possessions to put Rumson ahead, 16-14.

Karcz responded with a three-pointer of her own to put the Eagles ahead 17-16 and cap a five-point quarter for her.

“(Karcz) is a big-time player and this was a big-time game, and you saw players on both teams come out and shoot lights-out early,” Brennan said. “As a coach, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see a back-and-forth game like that out of the gate, but if I was just in the stands watching, I would have loved it.”

The five Middletown South starters played nearly the entire game and did not wear down despite facing a deeper Rumson team that went nine-deep, with eight of those players scoring. Middletown South, meanwhile, got all of its scoring from the starting lineup, with DeBartolome adding nine points and sophomore Alexandra Balsamo chipping in six.

“Our concern was the bench because they can bring in a lot of players, whereas we don’t have as much experience because of injuries and things like that,” Dalonzo said. “We knew if (the starters) could stay in it, we would have a good shot.”

After advancing to the semifinals two years ago, Middletown South fell to top-seeded Red Bank Catholic. On Tuesday, the Eagles will take on the undefeated Purple Roses, who are currently ranked No. 1 in the state by the Star Ledger after defeating Manasquan on Feb. 14.

“It’s definitely in the back of our heads that we can beat anyone with the effort we put out today,” Karcz said. “It definitely showed two years ago when we came back and won on a back door lay-up in overtime, and we proved we could do it again today.”

Box Score

Middletown South 55, Rumson-Fair Haven 48






Middletown South (20-4)






Rumson-Fair Haven (15-6)







Middletown South (55): Angela DeBartolome 4 0-0 9, Haley Dalonzo 4 1-2 10, Alexandra Balsamo 1 4-6 6, Stephanie Karcz 5 4-6 15, Julia Valkos 6 3-6 15, Madison Curtis 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 12-20 55

Three-pointers: DeBartolome, Dalonzo, Karcz

Rumson-Fair Haven (48): Nicole Morris 4 0-0 11, Janae Mayfield 1 0-0 3, Grace Stant 4 4-6 15, Sam Sabino 0 1-3 1, Stephanie Lesko 2 0-0 6, Tori Hyduke 1 2-2 4, Hannah Scanlan 3 0-0 6, Emma Miller 1 0-0 2, Sydney Sabino 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 7-11 48

Three-pointers: Morris 3, Mayfield, Stant 3, Lesko 2