BELMAR - The St. Rose girls basketball team had nine long months to let the pain of a season-ending loss to Rutgers Prep heal before playing live regular-season high school games again, but it was not until Sunday at the McCann Athletic Center that St. Rose could fully pay back the Argonauts for ending an otherwise memorable 2016-17  season.

In a meeting of the defending Shore Conference Tournament champion and the defending NJSIAA Non-Public B champion, St. Rose got its revenge against Rutgers Prep with a 48-41 win in front of its home crowd behind 26 points by senior Mikayla Markham and a strong defensive effort from senior Lucy Thomas.

Fresh off winning the Shore Conference Tournament championship by beating Manasquan and St. John Vianney, St. Rose ran into a buzzsaw at Rutgers Prep in the South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals last year. The Argonauts got off to a fast start and never looked back, beating St. Rose, 54-32, on the way to a run all the way to the Tournament of Champions semifinals.

St. Rose senior Mikayla Markham. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"For the four seniors on this team, not even just last year, but our sophomore year also they knocked us out (of the NJSIAA Tournament)," Markham said. "It was really fun to be able to get them early this year, see what they are all about and for us to give them our best."

On Sunday, it was St. Rose that rode a fast start, going on a 10-0 run to grab a 14-6 lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Although Rutgers Prep answered with eight straight points and actually took a 21-20 lead later in the second quarter, St. Rose got it back by halftime and never trailed again.

Markham keyed the fast start with 10 of her team's first 14 points and racked up 16 prior to the half. She also went 9-for-11 from the free-throw line, including 4-for-4 in the final minute to help the Purple Roses put the game away.

Thomas, meanwhile, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, but it was her defense, particularly in the final minute, that served as her most important contribution to St. Rose's win. Rutgers Prep's last three possessions ended with Thomas securing a tough rebound over two Argonauts players, stealing an inbounds pass and blocking a shot.

"Offensively, she's such a big part of the team, but if you ask (assistant) coach (Raheem) Carter, who has been around forever, he says she's the best defender in New Jersey," St. Rose coach Janine Roth said. "She's big, she's smart, she takes up a lot of room in the lane and she's hard to push out."

St. Rose senior Lucy Thomas. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Thomas also helped anchor an interior defensive effort that quieted Rutgers Prep's inside game, which was dominant in last year's state tournament game.

"Lucy can do it all," Markham said. "She can step out and shoot, she can drive, she can go inside and make post moves. Defensively, though, she's a beast. You're not going to get anything easy on her.

"I think our defensive this year is on another level. We're just really big all across our lineup. I think that helps."

While no other St. Rose player scored more than three points, the Roses got strong defensive performances by starters Elizabeth Marsicano, Ari Dalia and Sam Mikos - each of whom scored two points. Junior Lauren Lithgow also came off the bench to knock down a key three-pointer.

Junior Leilani Correa led Rutgers Prep with 17 points and was the only Argonauts player in double-figure scoring.

Last year, Rutgers Prep and Franklin helped swing the balance of power from the Shore to Somerset County, but the Shore has struck back this season thanks to wins by St. John Vianney and St. Rose over Rutgers Prep and by Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney over defending Tournament of Champions winner Franklin.

Sunday's win is St. Rose's sixth straight since suffering its only loss of the season to Pickerington Central of Ohio, giving the Purple Roses a 9-1 start to a season that began in turmoil. Mary Beth Chambers was hired to be the head coach but the school was informed just days before the start of the season that she would not be allowed to coach the team due to a violation of a rule that says new coaches may not have contacted new players within 365 days of their hire date - one the school thought would not be a problem after self-reporting the issue and initially getting clearance from the NJSIAA a month earlier, according to St. Rose President Kathleen Nace.

"When we were first told that Mary Beth was not going to be able to coach, we called a team meeting in this gym right before practice," Roth said. "Mikayla Markham said 'Nothing changes about us. Nothing changes about the team. All the pieces are still here.'"

 

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