GIRLS BASKETBALL: SCT QUARTERFINALS PREVIEW, PREDICTIONS

Saturday, Feb. 17

At RWJBarnabas Health Arena, Toms River

8-Donovan Catholic (20-3) vs. 1-St. John Vianney (22-1), 11 a.m

Shore Sports Network Top 10 ranking: Donovan Catholic is No. 9. St. John Vianney is No. 1.

Shore Conference Tournament titles: Donovan Catholic, 0. St. John Vianney, 13.

The breakdown: No team has been hotter than Donovan Catholic. The Griffins ride into the quarterfinals boasting an 18-game win streak with the most recent extension a 69-68 overtime gut check against ninth-seeded Jackson Memorial in the Round of 16. That win exemplified one of their greatest assets that must be utilized in what will be the biggest test of the season for this group.

Donovan Catholic can balance the floor on offense and tap into the strengths of multiple assets, a point it emphasized against Jackson Memorial with four players scoring in double figures. The senior backcourt tandem of 5-4 Molly Collins (13.0 ppg., 49 3-pointers) and 5-8 Alyssa Hirschy (12.4 ppg, 48-3 pointers) pose an issue along the arc as a pair of deadly streak shooters capable of extending a defense. They will demand St. John Vianney to contest every jumper and close out strong on the perimeter.

Sophomore Paige Slaven (9.0 ppg.) can find scoring avenues inside the arc, senior Melissa Buxton takes heady angles to rim or can fire from distance and 6-0 sophomore Jayda Kearney gets after it inside.

The Griffins have to expect their 58.7 scoring rate to be somewhat diminished against a Vianney defense that’s active, disruptive and unforgiving. Thus, every possession must be cherished and meticulously executed. Conversely, Donovan Catholic’s resistance will hinge on denying penetration and limiting St. John Vianney to one-and-done trips down the floor with Kearney, Hirschy and Buxton leading a unified charge on the glass.

Good luck with all of that. The Lady Lancers are a cohesive group that shrewdly spaces the floor to create gaps for junior guard Sarah Karpell to explore. Once the playmaker accesses the underbelly of a defense, she can be merciless whether finishing drives, slickly dishing to Sarah Furch or Brelynn Bellamy on the weakside block or kicking out to senior guard Madison Doring or junior swing Sajada Bonner for clean looks on the exterior. But, what truly makes Vianney so tough to defend is the versatility in its halfcourt. Flash too quickly on Karpell, Doring or Bonner, and each can blow by on the dribble. Give them a cushion along the 3-point line and you’re just asking them to show off their polished perimeter touch.

Donovan Catholic must be able to withstand the hounding defensive pressure SJV can apply on the ball and avoid paying the consequence the Lancers can inflict in transition. A daunting task to say the least.

Prediction: St. John Vianney

5-Manchester (20-3) vs. 4-St. Rose (21-2), 12:45 p.m.

Shore Sports Network Top 10 ranking: St. Rose is No. 3. Manchester is No. 5.

Shore Conference Tournament titles: Manchester, 0. St. Rose, 4.

The breakdown: Manchester is in unchartered territory but the voyage revealed the resiliency of this talented, somewhat youthful cast. The Hawks recovered from a nightmarish start on Thursday, rebounding from a 21-2 deficit to edge 12th-seeded Marlboro, 59-58 and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in the program’s history.

The accomplishment is just the latest item checked off Manchester’s to-do list. This season, the Hawks pursued an aggressive schedule and have reaped the benefits. They won the WOBM Christmas Classic, topping Toms River North in the final, shared the B South title with Donovan Catholic and have challenged themselves against the likes of Franklin, the defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner, and South Jersey power Mainland, who currently is 22-0.

What Manchester has got in return is a finished product that makes good use of its collection of talent. Few freshman have had the defining impact of Destiny Adams (15.6 ppg., 25 3-pointers, 2,2 apg., 2.0 bpg., 8.3 rpg.), a 6-3 matchup dilemma who can sting from the perimeter and exploit seams inside. Yet, overplay her and chances are 5-8 sophomore guard Kemari Reynolds (11.2 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 3.1 apg., 2.9 spg.) will make her presence felt through speed on the ball and an ability to work 5-10 junior forward Dakota Adams (10.9 ppg., 10.2 rpg.), Destiny’s sister, 5-6 sophomore guard Nahkaleigh Hayes-Jones (7.1 ppg, 33 3-pointers), 5-10 senior swing Asha Harper (8.0 ppg., 4.7 rpg.) and 5-9 sophomore Serenity Anderson (5.7 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 3.5 spg.) into the scoring equation.

St. Rose, the defending champion, abides to a tenacious man-to-man defense that concedes little (28.6 ppg.) and operates in unison. It has to neutralize Manchester’s quickness and limit turnovers that the Hawks seek to create in order to spring their transition. The latter is generally not an issue considering the poised play of Mikayla Markham (9.4 ppg., 5.3 apg.) at the point. The senior operates with a sharp dispensing eye and uncanny knack for shifting gears on the bounce to shed defenders. Although their size hints at dominance in the paint, 6-1 seniors Lucy Thomas (17.1 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) and Lovin Marsicano (7.4 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 2.5 apg.) tactically maneuver out of the post to pose threats away from the basket.

Mikayla Markham of St. Rose (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Junior Lauren Lithgow (9.9 ppg., 30 3-pointers) has to be accounted for along the arc, lengthy junior Sam Mikos (6.3 ppg.) is an athletic defender who cuts off penetration, senior Ariana Dalia is an underrated multi-tasker. Just as taxing is the depth of the Purple Roses, who integrate junior Maggie Stapleton and freshman Abigail Antognoli off the bench to maintain a desired standard of energy.

Even more notable about St. Rose is, whether admitted or not, it's playing in the SCT for a second straight year with a chip on its shoulder. A year ago, as the fifth seed, the Roses marched to the crown. This time around, they are the seeded fourth with a strong case to be higher. They’d enjoy nothing more than once again setting the record in line with their own quiet perspective.

Prediction: St. Rose

11-Colts Neck (16-5) vs. 3-Red Bank Catholic (19-4), 2:30 p.m.

Shore Sports Network Top 10 ranking: Red Bank Catholic is No. 4. Colts Neck is No. 10.

Shore Conference Tournament titles: Colts Neck, 1. Red Bank Catholic, 6.

The breakdown: Red Bank Catholic is a senior-laden squad rich in decorated experience among its starting five. Senior point guard Rose Caverly consistently puts the ball in the right hands, including her own, which have produced a 13.2 scoring average. She has scored in double figures in all but two games.

Senior guards Hayley Moore (8/4 ppg.) and Amanda Hart (5.4 ppg.) put defenders in a tough spot due to their combination of confidence on the perimeter and recognition of when to put it on the floor. And, versatile senior swing Katie Rice (10.1 ppg.) has a nose for the basket and a keen defensive scent that aligns her against an opponent’s best scoring option. Rice gets as much satisfaction – if not more – from shutting down scorers than she does being one. What makes her so invaluable within the Caseys’ man to man, which allwos 37.7 points a game, is her willingness to guard any position while sustaining her endless tenacity.

Katie Rice of Red Bank Catholic (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Freshman Sophia Sabino (5.6 ppg.) looms as a dangerous offensive option, a wired streak shooter who can change the complexion of a game with her range locked in. Fabiene Eggenschwiler, a 5-11 junior, gives RBC size in the lane and junior guard Julia Setaro is among a group of reserves that make the Caseys one of the deeper teams in the field.

That said, RBC will be highly aware of what it’s dealing with here. Colts Neck is the only lower seed to crash the quarterfinals in a tournament that has otherwise gone chalk. The Cougars displayed their competitive edge Thursday night by virtue of an impressive 45-34 road win over sixth-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven.

Sophomore Camyrn Foltz (11.8 ppg.) and senior Cara Volpe (10.0 ppg. 6.0 rpg.) set the offensive tone for Colts Neck while its defense (37.0 ppg.) has been locked in over the past three weeks.

The Cougars, who won the A North crown, are playing with the house’s money and with a perception there’s nothing to lose. Yet, don’t get that point twisted. Into the quarterfinals, they’ll be determined to make the most of their chance to spring another upset.

Imperative to such visions will be handling business on the glass. Volpe, senior forward Lauren Feaster and junior forward Eva Gibson have a penchant for getting on the boards and must set firm bases underneath to box out RBC. Junior Teresa Marsh and freshman Jess Thesing have to be involved at both ends, detouring penetration and assertive when allotted the chance to shoot.

Prediction: Red Bank Catholic

7-Toms River North ( 21-2) vs. 2-Manasquan (21-2), 4:15 p.m.

Shore Sports Network Top 10 ranking: Manasquan is No. 2. Toms River North is No. 7.

The breakdown: Tough to find a team more conditioned than Manasquan. The Warriors tend to go seven deep yet seem immune to fatigue. Allowing them to run the floor is a recipe for disaster and, based on the fierce style of their man-to-man, which features aggressive challenges on the ball, endless communication and critical cohesion, finding clean looks is like unearthing a pearl in the sand.

Senior guard Dara Mabrey (23.3 ppg., 52 3-pointers), who is heading to Virginia Tech, dictates the terms on both ends of the court for Manasquan. Her offensive intellect steering traffic, uncanny body control to the rim, instinctual english around the glass, coupled with a lethal stroke from long range or on the pull up all present an array of problems. So, too, does 6-1 junior Faith Masonius (19.0 ppg., 10.0 rpg.).

Dara Mabrey of Manasquan (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The Maryland pledge has elevated her game to new heights this winter, scoring more efficiently around the basket, balanced by her touch outside and some of the premier passing out of the post. She can go coast to coast off the defensive glass, fills lanes on the break and defends multiple positions while failing to lose her grit, whether denying on the blocks or sticking a hand up on the perimeter.

The Warriors, who have won 10 straight, also feature junior guard Lola Mullaney (14.8 ppg., 30 3-pointers), another offensive asset who runs the floor with purpose in transition and can spot up on the arc. What may not come to light until tipoff is the availability of senior guard Carly Geissler, an unsung passer and ballhandler who can step into a shot when left unattended. Geissler has missed the last two games nursing a tender ankle.

Junior guard Annie Mako has gotten increasingly more confident injecting herself into the shooting rotation, a point made evident by her go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime a week ago that helped Manasquan top St. Rose, 50-44. Also invaluable to the cause are rugged senior forward Emma McMenaman, a hard-nosed force on the blocks who can't be overlooked as a finsiher inside, and freshman guard Maci Black off the bench.

Toms River North will count on the length within its 1-3-1 zone to refuse penetration. Junior Jenna Paul tops the look and greets opposing playmakers with length and an influencing penchant for steering the ball into awaiting traps on the wings. However, if the Mariners are unable to create the rash of turnovers they are accustom to, the unit must be quick to challenge shooters and connected limiting driving lanes.

Jenna Paul of Toms River North (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The Mariners are flexible, with a 2-3 and man-to-man other defensive options instrumental in shackling opponents to 37.8 points per gamer. On the opposite end, Paul (17.4 ppg., 23 3-pointers, 5.3 rpg., 2.2 apg., 1.5 spg.) and classmate Brielle Bisogno (12.6 ppg., 42 3-pointers, 2.7 spg., 2.9 apg., 3.4 rpg.), a pivotal piece who missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, strike balance and create confusion through their interchanging versatility.

However, Manasquan has to be equally wary of senior forward Amanda Johnson (8.9 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 3.5 apg., 2.3 bpg., 2.3 spg.), unheralded for her own combination of interior scoring and outside shooting, as well as her sister Kristina (&.5 ppg.) and senior forward Lindsay Cabey (3.2 ppg., 3.2 rpg.).

Expect seniors Krystal Hund and Khamyia Spence to see important minutes as the Mariners attempt to match Manasquan’s depth.

Prediction: Manasquan

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