TOMS RIVER - When it comes to big game heroics, the Manasquan Warriors all had a part in a come-from-behind, 61-58, win over Rumson-Fair Haven Monday at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.

None was bigger than sophomore Dara Mabrey, who buried a three pointer with 5.6 seconds left on the clock to give the Warriors a 50-49 lead.  Rumson-Fair Haven came into the game knowing they had to shutdown Mabrey and keep her from taking over the game in order to have a chance at getting back to the Shore Conference Tournament finals for the first time since 2007, and the Bulldogs' plan worked for the first half.

Mabrey was held scoreless until 6:35 mark in the third quarter when she buried her first of three 3-pointers. The sophomore guard finished with 9 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds, but it was her movement off the ball that kept the Bulldogs defense on the move all night and opened up looks for the rest of the Warriors.

"I don’t know what to say I practice those shots all the time so I had 100% confidence I could make it but it still gave me goose bumps after it went in,” Mabrey said.

Thanks to the concentration on Mabrey, junior Stella Clark took full advantage and made the Bulldogs pay finishing with a game high 26 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Clark showed her veteran leadership on both ends of the court and with Mabrey shutout in the first half it was Clark who kept the Warriors in the game with five 3-pointers on her first five attempts.

Manasquan's Stella Clark dribbles against Rumson. (Photo by Eric Braun)

Coach Lisa Kukoda's group was not just a two-man show as she got valuable contributions from Addie Masonius, Faith Masonius, Carly Geissler and Nikki Stevens.  Addie contributed as usually with her aggressive defense and added 7 points, Faith stayed out of foul trouble in this one until late in the game and was huge on the boards pulling in 10 rebounds to go with 12 points, Stevens was big early on with 4 points in the first quarter. Geissler, the unsung hero on this years squad, nailed the biggest shot of her career when she hit a 3-pointer late in overtime to break a 52-52 tie.

"Carly has been a huge part of our success this season," Kukoda said. "It all started in preseason when she and I talked and I told her she was going to be the person that we feed off of and will make several big shots for us, it's great to see her hard work paying off."

The game wasn't all perfect for Manasquan as Rumson-Fair Haven played their game plan to perfection early. The Bulldogs took Mabrey out of the game and were able to create their own offense through Nicole Morris, Hannah Scanlan and Megan Volker. After Manasquan opened the scoring, the Bulldogs went on a 12-3 run and looked to be ready to snap their SCT Championship drought.

Rumson's Nicole Morris drives against Manasquan's Stella Clark (photo Eric Braun)

Rumson would close out the first quarter with a 16-12 lead behind 6 points from Morris.  Manasquan would not go away and over came two 7-point deficits in the first two quarters, but then started to settle in. Clark finished the half with 15 points, all on 3-pointers, and Faith Masonius added 6 more points. The Bulldogs would close out the first half with a 30-25 lead but the crowd at Pine Belt could feel the momentum slipping away from Rumson.

The second half opened with the caged animal breaking out as Mabrey nailed her first two shots of the quarter, both from 3-point range to go along with scoring from Addie Masonius and Clark to cut the lead to 38-37. Rumson would add another basket before the end of the quarter to take a 40-37 lead into the fourth and just eight minutes from making the finals.

In the fourth Manasquan's battle tested group and guidance from their calming coach lead the Warriors comeback. With just under four minutes to play the Warriors got back to their game plan of ball control and passing that took off nearly two minutes of clock on consecutive trips that resulted in Clark scoring on a conventional three-point play when she hit her layup, got fouled and hit the free throw to take a 43-41 lead.  Faith Masonius would add to the Manasquan lead when Geissler hit her with a no-look pass under the basket for the easy layup and a 45-41 lead.

Manasquan's Dara Mabrey drives against Rumson's Tori Hyduke (photo Eric Braun)

The next 1:30 saw back-and-fourth action that led to the play of the game. After Rumson's Madison Maguire hit her first two free throws of the year and gave the Bulldogs a 49-47 lead with 26 seconds left, Mansquan came down court and set up their offense for one last shot. Every player on the Warriors offense touched the ball before Clark found Mabrey open way off the three point line and the sophomore buried the shot of the game to give the Warriors a 50-49 lead. Rumson still had a chance for the win when Morris took the inbounds pass coast-to-coast and was fouled on the layup. With the basket no good, Morris went to the line with 1.7 seconds left and hit one of two to force overtime at 50-50.

Manasquan, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, took advantage of several missed Rumson shots and built themselves a five-point lead before holding off the No. 3 seed Bulldogs for the 61-58 victory. With the victory Manasquan will now make their third straight trip to the finals and fourth in five years. The Warriors will look to win their third straight title to match Asbury Park, Neptune and their finals competitor Saint John Vianney as the only other teams to win three straight SCT crowns.

The Warriors (20-5 overall and 9-3 in A Central) will now take on No. 1 seed and No. 1 team in New Jersey Saint John Vianney (24-1 overall and 12-0 A-Central). In their two previous meetings this season, the Lancers topped Manasquan 52-48 and 61-55.

"Getting back to finals is a great feeling as a junior I am going back for third year and such a huge team accomplishments from practice to games, as underdogs we are proving people wrong," said Clark, who was named the I'm Possible Training Player of the Game.

Manasquan's Stella Clark takes home the SSN Player Of the Game award, picture with one of her young fans Cassidy Salway. (Photo by Eric Braun)

Also when asked about what it means for kids looking up to her, Clark added: "Kids looking up to me shows I must be doing something and it is such a great feeling to have kids ask for autographs and photos its great to be able to share this time with them as well."

BOX SCORE:

MANASQUAN PLAYER TOTAL PTS
5 Addie Masonius 7
11 Stella Clark 26
14 Carly Geissler 3
30 Faith Masonius 12
10 Dara Mabrey 9
20 Nikki Stevens 4
GAME TOTALS 61
RFH PLAYER TOTAL PTS
11 Tori Hyduke 11
22 Nicole Morris 15
44 Hannah Scanlan 10
53 Megan Volker 9
31 Katie Foos 9
21 Madison Maguire 2
24 Stephanie Lesko 2
GAME TOTALS 58
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