TOMS RIVER - This year's St. John Vianney girls basketball team brought back a roster of accomplished varsity players who have played in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and have been ranked among the top teams in the state.

Despite its accomplishments and collective pedigree, there is still one thing this group of Lancers players has never done that it will be doing for the first time this coming Saturday.

The Lancers employed a balanced offensive attack Tuesday at Pine Belt Arena and spent the final minute of their Shore Conference Tournament semifinal against fourth-seeded St. Rose hitting free throws and clamping down on defense to nail down a 59-54 win over the Purple Roses.

Kelly Campbell and St. John Vianney are headed to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game. (Photo by Eric Braun)

The win lands top-seeded St. John Vianney its first SCT final appearance since 2011 and denies St. Rose a spot in the championship game after the Roses lost in each of the last two finals.

"There's definitely been a lot of expectations being that we have so many seniors and we've been (to the semifinals) three times and haven't been able to finish it," senior Gigi Caponegro said. "It just feels really good that all our hard work is paying off and we get a chance to win it all in the finals."

"Tonight we made plays," Lancers coach Dawn Karpell said. "It was ugly, but we got rebounds and made foul shots that we had to to win the game."

Junior Kimi Evans led the offense with 14 points and senior Kelly Campbell added 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals while also knocking down all six of her free-throw attempts in the final minute. Senior Tina Lebron also contributed 10 points for St. John Vianney.

"We were all so pumped up and so fired up coming into this game because this is the year to do it," Evans said of reaching the finals. "We've never made it to the finals of the Shore Conference since any of us have been here and we want to do it for coach Karpell and our seniors."

The Lancers led St. Rose 47-37 with a little more than six minutes to play, but the Purple Roses orchestrated a 12-4 run to chip that deficit down to 51-49 with 1:46 left. St. Rose earned a defensive stop to get the ball back with a chance to tie the game or take the lead with a three-pointer, but Vianney survived an offensive rebound and forced a miss on the follow.

Campbell then hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four and the Lancers coaxed a St. Rose turnover on the ensuing possession before Campbell hit two more free throws.

Lancers senior Vanessa Pinho battles St. Rose sophomore Elizabeth Marsicano for the ball Monday night. (Photo by Eric Braun)

St. Rose junior Ellyn Stoll hit a 23-foot three-pointer to trim the Vianney lead back to 55-52 with 21.7 seconds left, but the Lancers again answered on the line, where freshman Sarah Karpell knocked down two attempts to give her team a 57-52 lead.

Stoll hit two more free throws to cut the deficit back to three and Campbell iced the game with two more foul shots on the other end with 7.6 seconds left.

Stoll finished with a career-high 21 points to lead St. Rose and sophomore Lucy Thomas added 15, including a pair of three-pointers during the 12-4 run.

Caponegro and fellow senior Vanessa Pinho keyed the Vianney defensive effort and also contributed a combined 15 points, with Caponegro scoring eight and Pinho adding seven. Caponegro shadowed six-foot sophomore Elizabeth Marsicano while Pinho defended sophomore Mikayla Markham, who scored 22 points in St. Rose's win over Middletown South on Saturday.

Markham finished with only three points on Tuesday, although she drew a tough defensive assignment in her own right. Markham defended Campbell while both were on the floor and held the St. John Vianney senior to one field goal - which came on a fastbreak layup.

"(Pinho) did a tremendous job wearing her down, trying to limit her shots," Karpell said. "We forced them to go to other matchups. They tried to go to their post game with Thomas and (Marsicano) so we tried to push them out of what they were trying to do, just like they were trying to do to us. That's just the familiarity of knowing each other well."

St. John Vianney will try to win its first SCT championship since 2006 on Saturday, when the Lancers take on either Manasquan or Rumson-Fair Haven at 5 p.m. at the Multi-purpose Activities Center on the campus of Monmouth University. The Lancers have won the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and been to nine straight SCT semifinals during that span, but still seek that elusive SCT title during the 10-year tenure of Karpell.

Karpell won three Shore Conference titles as a player, when Vianney won nine titles during a span of 10 seasons from 1990 to 1999.

"I look back on this senior group and they've played without a key player due to injury in every year they've been in this tournament," said Karpell, whose team is playing without senior Kellie Crouch due to a stress fracture in her foot. "We're at the point where we know what we're going to battle with and their eyes are on that prize.

 

Box Score

St. John Vianney 59, St. Rose 54

1 2 3 4 F
St. Rose (22-4) 16 12 8 18 54
St. John Vianney (24-1) 18 14 11 16 59

 

St. Rose (54): Mikayla Markham 1 1-2 3, Ellyn Stoll 5 9-11 21, Lucy Thomas 5 3-6 15, Elizabeth Marsicano 3 0-2 6, Jen Louro 3 2-2 9, Kayla Dillinger 0 0-0 0, Danielle Jordan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 15-23 54

Three-pointers: Stoll 2, Thomas 2, Louro

Fouled Out: Markham, Louro

St. John Vianney (59): Kelly Campbell 1 10-13 12, Vanessa Pinho 2 2-5 7, Kimi Evans 6 2-4 14, Gigi Caponegro 3 2-2 8, Tina Lebron 3 3-4 10, Zoe Pero 2 0-0 4, Julia Ramos 1 0-0 2, Courtney Dobrzynski 0 0-0 0, Sarah Karpell 0 2-2 2, Megan Furch 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 21-30

Three-pointers: Pinho, Lebron