Girls Basketball – Manasquan Holds on To Reach SCT Semi Finals
MIDDLETOWN - Manasquan opened its Shore Conference Tournament Championship title defense in convincing fashion Thursday against Donovan Catholic and continued it with a hard-fought, 47-36 quarterfinal win over Red Bank Catholic (18-6 overall, 13-1 B-North).
Coach Lisa Kukoda’s team faced some questions coming into the season thanks to the graduation of Marina Mabrey and now stands just two games from a third straight SCT title. The Warriors (19-5 overall, 9-3 A-Central) all season long worked together and relied on the motivation and determination of every player in the their locker room to achieve their goals.
"Entering the season, we were very young as a unit and not many people gave us a shot," Kukoda said. "As a coach, I am extremely proud of how these young ladies have grown together and each time they step on the court they get better and better.”
This growth showed up early when the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 5-2 lead two minutes into the game, when the veteran leadership of junior Stella Clark and sophomore Dara Mabrey jump-started the Warriors offense. The duo would connect on back-to-back scoring opportunities and give the Warriors their first lead of the game at 8-5
Manasquan’s resiliency continued to show early and often in this one as the Warriors young freshman Faith Masonius picked up her second foul early in the second quarter. Faith who entered the game as a major contributor on both ends of the court averaging 13.2 ppg, 4.5 steals, 2.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds went to the bench for the remainder of the quarter. The Warriors did not panic as they went to the next player up and closed out the half on an 11-0 run when Mabrey nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
“We rely on each other to pick up the player that is struggling or getting discouraged," Masonius said. "Tonight was my night to be picked up after getting into early foul trouble. It just shows how close we are as a family, everyone has each others backs.”
The Warriors would start out the second quarter right where they left off the first as Clark buried her first three of the game to push their scoring run to 14-0. Red Bank Catholic’s scoreless steak would end just under eight minutes when Katie Rice would convert on one of two from the free throw line and cut the lead to 16-6. The Warriors quickly struck when Mabrey connected on a conventional three point play when she drove the lane for the layup and after getting fouled on the play converted on the free throw to push Manasquan’s lead to 19-6.
The Caseys group finally woke up and started to make a comeback when Haily Moore would cut the lead to 19-9 after a free throw on one trip down the court followed up by a Manasquan turnover and her layup on the second trip.
Turnovers and fouls would start to mount up against Manasquan late in the second quarter as Faith would pick up her third foul, but the Caseys were unable to take advantage her absence. Coach Joe Montano’s group has relied on free throw shooting all season, would struggle majorly against Manasquan. Maureen Coakley who entered as one of the top free throw shooters at the Shore Conference finished the night just 1 of 6 from the line and the Caseys as a team finished 12 of 23.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Warriors looked to have found their grove when Clarke buried her second 3-pointer of the game, but then the Warrior when on their own scoreless streak which allowed the Caseys to climb back into the game.
With Manasquan up 29-17, Red Bank Catholic’s Josie Larkins and Tia Montagne cut into the Warriors 11 point lead after Larkins went one of two from the line then followed it up with a layup and Montagne layup to get to within 29-24 headed into the final quarter of play.
“We were missing something early in the second half and the Caseys showed why they are a talented group and they took advantage of our mistakes," Kukoda said. "It was a hard game for the players and coaches with the fouls and turnovers but the girls did a great job of staying focused and working through the adversity for the win.”
Neither team shot the ball well in the third quarter with the two of the Shore Conference’s top scoring teams scoring a combined 12 points in the quarter (RBC 7, Manasquan 5). It was a defensive battle that created turnovers but the fouls kept this game from playing wide open.
Manasquan put the game away at the line going 11 for 15 from the line in the fourth quarter and 14 of 18 for the game. After her early foul trouble Masonius would come alive when needed in the fourth quarter with seven points and five rebounds.
Stella Clark would lead all scorers with 13 points followed by Mabrey with 10 and Carly Geissler and Masonius with 9 points apiece. The Warriors defense held the Casey to a season low 36 points, who were led by Katie Rice and Amanda Hunt with 7 points a piece.
"There is no single player we lean on to carry the team, every night it is someone different," Clark said. "Tonight it was my turn to and just happy we got the win.
“It sounds cliché but we are really close as a family which allows us to feed of each other on the court.”
The Warriors will look to get back to the finals but will need to get through Rumson-Fair Haven Monday night at Pine Belt Arena. This will be the third meeting of the season with the two teams splitting their regular season matchups. The winner play Saturday night at Monmouth University against the other semifinal winner, which includes St. John Vianney and St. Rose. One thing is certain: there will be a representative from Class A Central in the finals.