BRICK TOWNSHIP - Before every St. Rose girls basketball practice, senior guard Kat Phipps gets shot at by a gun and then returns fire more than 500 times.

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That would be the contraption informally known as "The Basketball Gun,'' a machine that sits under the basket, collects rebounds and fires the ball back to the player to work on her shooting. Phipps has it at a setting where a new ball launches at her every second in order to work on making her shot release lightning-quick. Her goal every day is to make 500 total shots from 16 spots on the floor before practice even begins.

"She makes 500 and then she's done,'' St. Rose coach Joe Whalen said. "Other girls make 100 and they're like (panting). She's a machine."

St. Rose senior guard Kat Phipps buried six 3-pointers on her way to a 24-point night that put the Purple Roses back into the Shore Conference Tournament championship game. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"With 'The Gun,' we started with two seconds and now it's one second in between each shot, so that definitely helps,'' Phipps said about her split-second release.

Phipps has also studied video of Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Reddick from back when he was leading the nation in scoring at Duke to see how he added a step-back jumper and more ball fakes after teams began to throw the kitchen sink at him to stop him.

All that hard work was on full display in Tuesday night's Shore Conference Tournament semifinals at Brick Memorial when Phipps came out firing, burying her first five 3-point attempts during a 20-point first half on her way to a game-high 24 points in a 69-49 win over fifth-seeded Middletown South. The top-seeded Purple Roses (25-0) are now back in the SCT final for the second straight year and the third time in four seasons. They will get a rematch with defending champion Manasquan in the third meeting in the last four SCT finals between the two teams at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Monmouth University.

Sophomore guard Jen Louro added a career-high 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting to complement the big night by Phipps, a St. Francis (N.Y.) recruit who put on a shooting clinic in going 6-for-8 from 3-point range to give St. Rose a 38-25 halftime lead that it never relinquished. Senior Jess Louro, a Middle Tennessee State recruit, also chipped in with 14 points and 6 rebounds.

The Eagles (20-5) kept pace in the first quarter, only trailing 19-15 thanks to seven of junior Stephanie Karcz's team-high 17 points. However, Phipps cranked it up a notch in the second quarter, going 3-for-5 from 3-point range on catch-and-shoot opportunities in transition, skip passes and kickouts off penetration. As a team, St. Rose shot 8-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half.

"I think we had a little nerves, but I think after we got settled in and got into the flow of the game, that helped us out,'' Phipps said.

Middletown South likes to get up and down the floor in a hurry, but St. Rose more than matched the Eagles at their own game with their army of long-range shooters and penetrators.

"We're a transition team,'' Whalen said. "We'll shoot threes in transition, we'll get the ball and go, but we really tried to limit their leak-outs. I think they only got two or three, but that's two or three too much."

Sophomore guard Jen Louro added a career-high 19 points to help St. Rose pick up a 20-point win over Middletown South in the SCT semifinals. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"They're definitely a great transition team,'' Phipps said. "That's how they get a lot of their easy points. One of our points of emphasis from coach Whalen and (assistant) coach (Raheem) Carter was to beat them down the court and not let them get those easy points."

The Purple Roses blew the game open in the third quarter, taking a 59-40 lead into the fourth thanks to 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting by Jen Louro. She was getting open looks with all the attention on Phipps and her older sister, plus St. Rose did a great job of reversing the ball quickly before the Eagles could react.

"You can't just guard one of us,'' Phipps said. "You literally have to give everyone respect on the perimeter, everyone respect on the inside, so we're an extremely difficult team to guard."

"I've been a lot more comfortable in the bigger games,'' Jen Louro said. "I feel like myself, (freshman forward Elizabeth Marsicano), and (sophomore guard) Ellyn (Stoll), we've all stepped up in the bigger games, and we've got more looks because there's been so much pressure on Jess and Kat."

Jess Louro dropped in six of her 14 points in the fourth quarter to help wrap things up for the Purple Roses, who will now try to wrest the SCT title back from Manasquan after losing 61-41 in last year's championship game. St. Rose beat the Warriors in a regular-season game on its home floor this season thanks to a 34-point outburst by Phipps, who poured in 19 of the team's 21 fourth-quarter points to get the win.

However, despite being ranked No. 1 in the state by various outlets and No. 14 in the country by MaxPreps, the Purple Roses still feel like they have something to prove on Friday rather than being the team with the bull's-eye on its back.

"I really feel like even though we have the first rank I think we're still going to be the underdog in the Shore Conference final,'' Phipps said.

"Not a lot of teams and people believe in us because of our schedule and our division is not that great, but we like to go out and prove to everybody that we are the No. 1 team,'' Jen Louro said. "We have to get it back from last year. We're a whole new team, and I think that's going to be a great test."

Box score

St. Rose 69, Middletown South 49

Midd. South (49: Karcz 7 3-7 17, Valkos 1 5-8 7, Balsamo 4 1-2 10, Dalonzo 3 2-6 9, DeBartolome 0 0-2 0, Curtis 2 1-3 6, Naughton 0 0-0 0, Cook 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 12-28 49.

St. Rose (69): Phipps 8 2-3 24, Jess Louro 5 4-4 14, Marsicano 3 1-1 7, Stoll 2 0-0 5, Jen Louro 8 0-0 19, Markham 0 0-0 0, Dillinger 0 0-0 0, Coakley 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 7-8 69.

Midd. South (20-5)  15  10  15  9 - 49

St. Rose (25-0)       19  19 21  10 - 69

Three-pointers: (M) Balsamo, Dalonzo, Curtis. (S) Phipps 6, Jen Louro 3, Stoll. Fouled out: None.

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