MIDDLETOWN - Sophomore Mikayla Markham hit big shots as a freshman on the St. Rose girls basketball team last season and as a first-year starter this year, she has a chance to take a lot more of them.

Saturday at Collins Arena on the campus of Brookdale Community College, Markham nailed six three-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the Purple Roses - the No. 4 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament - to a 63-40 win over No. 5 Middletown South in the first game of the SCT quarterfinals.

St. Rose will play either top-seeded St. John Vianney or No. 8 Colts Neck in Monday's first SCT semifinal at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, which tips at 6 p.m.

"It's great because I've wanted this opporunity play and have a chance to have the ball in my hands and I have that chance this year," Markham said. "We have a really good team with a lot of players who can score and shoot so I just try to do my part."

St. Rose junior Jen Louro scored eight points to go with nine rebounds and five assists while also leading the Purple Roses defensive effort. (Photo Eric Braun)

Markham finished 6-for-16 from behind the three-point line after shooting 4-for-6 from long distance in the first half. She hit her first three-pointer just before time expired in the first quarter, which the first of four consecutive makes from behind the arc for the sophomore guard.

Markham hit a three on three consecutive trips down the floor, which ignited a 13-0 St. Rose run to start the second quarter. That 13-point burst was the bulk of a larger 23-4 run that helped St. Rose turn an early 10-3 deficit into a 26-14 lead.

St. Rose's Mikayla Markham moves up court against Middletown South (photo by Eric Braun)

“We have more of an inside-out team on offense and that has been where a lot of the offense has come from," St. Rose coach Joe Whalen said. "Believe me, I give her a lot of the credit, but that freed her up a lot.

"She can create her own three too. She can shoot off the dribble, she can come off screens and she did a great on defense too, ball-hawking. She played a total game."

As a team, St. Rose shot 10-for-31 from beyond the three-point arc, with sophomore Elizabeth Marsicano hitting two and junior Jen Louro and junior Ellyn Stoll knocking down one each.

Sophomore Lucy Thomas anchored the interior attack for the Purple Roses with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Marsicano, meanwhile, finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

Louro spearheaded the St. Rose defensive effort by defending Middletown South leading scorer Stephanie Karcz. Louro held Karcz to nine points and contributed eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. Junior Alexandra Balsamo led Middletown South with 17 points and freshman Isla Brennan added eight.

"When Karcz had the ball, we played pack-line defense," Whalen said. "We she didn’t, we were up on everybody, taking away every pass. Everybody sinks in to take away the drive. We told Jen to guard her before she gets it, guard her when she gets it and you make it hard for her to give it up and she did a great job."

St Rose's Lucy Thomas goes up for a layup against Middletown South (photo Eric Braun)

"She's probably one of the best players in the Shore Conference right now," Louro said of Karcz. "My team relies on me the play the best player on the other team and that was a struggle for me early in the season. That was a big test for me and my team really helped me out with that."

Karcz also had 13 rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks for Middletown South, which has been playing without injured starters Julie Valkos and Haley Dalonzo, the latter of whom tore the ACL in her left knee at the end of January, according to coach Tom Brennan.

Brennan, himself, has been away from the team for most of the year due to health issues and Saturday was his fifth game back with the team. He sat on the bench while assistant Jessie Chalmers continued her role as the acting head coach.

Middletown South held St. Rose to just three points over the first five minutes of the game and used a 7-0 burst to take a 10-3 advantage. St. Rose, however, increased its defensive pressure and began trapping the ball on the sideline beyond the three-point line. In total, the Purple Roses forced 22 turnovers, including seven in the third quarter alone.

"We had to feel our way through and see who was going to be their ball-handler," Whalen said. "To play a team like us, and to know (the pressure) is coming, then when it’s not there, you tend to get a little casual. Next thing you know, there it is."

The Eagles made one last push to get back into the game early in the fourth quarter. They held St. Rose scoreless over the final three minutes of the third and scored eight straight points to pull within 43-37 early in the final quarter. Brianne Naughton and Brennan each hit a three in the third and Balsamo drove for two to cut the deficit to six on the first Middletown South possession of the fourth.

St. Rose, however, countered with seven straight points to push the lead back to 13 and finished the game on an 18-3 run. Stoll scored on an offensive rebound to start the run, followed by a driving layup by Markham. Marsicano capped the surge with a three-pointer from the top of the key.

In order to win the Shore Conference Tournament for the second time in five years, St. Rose will have to go through the top-seeded Lancers - who are also the No. 1 team in N.J. - and potentially defending champion Manasquan, all after beating the defending Group III champion Eagles.

"In the span of two weeks, we could play the top three teams in the state because in our state bracket is Rutgers Prep and Gill St. Bernard’s to go along with Vianney in this tournament," Whalen said. "But that’s what you want. We can play with anybody. We make the extra pass, we look for each other, we defend – it’s a good team."


Box Score

St. Rose 63, Middletown South 40

1 2 3 4 F
Middletown South (18-3) 14 10 11 5 40
St. Rose (22-3) 13 17 13 18 63


Middletown South (40): Isla Brennan 3 0-1 8, Emily McCarthy 0 0-0 0, Brie Naughton 2 0-0 6, Stephanie Karcz 3 3-7 9, Alexandra Balsamo 6 3-3 17, Even Pirie 0 0-0 0, Gabby Cook 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 6-11 40

Three-pointers: Brennan 2, Naughton 2, Balsamo 2

St. Rose (61): Mikayla Markham 8 0-0 22, Ellyn Stoll 3 0-0 7, Lucy Thomas 6 4-5 16, Elizabeth Marsicano 3 0-0 8, Jen Louro 3 1-4 8, Kayla Dillenger 0 0-0 0, Danielle Jordan 0 0-0 0, Ariana Dalia 0 0-0 0, Lauren Lithgow 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 5-9 61

Three-pointers: Markham 6, Stoll, Marsicano 2, Louro