WEST LONG BRANCH - Joe Whalen took over the St. Rose girls basketball program expecting to keep the Purple Roses in contention for Shore Conference Tournament titles year-in and year-out and in his five years at the helm, he has lived up to that expectation with one caveat: they hadn't actually won one.

In the most competitive conference in New Jersey, St. Rose had come within a win of championships twice since Whalen took the job, and Saturday at OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University, this group of Purple Roses got its championship.

Junior center and Monmouth University recruit Lucy Thomas scored a game-high 15 points and senior Jen Louro added 13 to lead the fifth-seeded Purple Roses to a convincing 56-31 win over No. 3 St. John Vianney for the program's second SCT title in five years.

*Photo Gallery by Paula Lopez*

"It means everything," Whalen said about winning the SCT. "It means a lot to the program, and it means a lot to us."

Louro and Ellyn Stoll were part of the program for SCT final losses in 2014 and 2015, while current juniors Elizabeth Marsicano and Mikayla Markham were both key pieces on the 2015 team that also reached the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final. After a number of close calls, the Roses got their SCT crown.

"For myself, Ellyn and Alex (Pendergrass), this is our senior year and there was no question we were winning this game," said Louro, who was named the Surf Taco MVP of the game. "We had a chip on our shoulder. We were seeded fifth and the top two teams didn't even get here. We were the third and fifth teams here, so this means everything to us.

"We were tired of losing. Our freshman year, it wasn't really in our control, but sophomore year, it definitely was. This is our win. This is everything."

Thomas joined the program as a sophomore last year after playing her freshman year at Ocean Township and was a key cog from the start. She scored eight points in the first half to help lead St. Rose to a 22-19 halftime advantage.

"We were all well-prepared," Thomas said. "It was just a great feeling for everybody."

Louro scored seven in the first half and capped off a 15-0 third-quarter run that blew the game open. She scored the final six points of the run, including a three-pointer and a fadeaway after an offensive rebound as time expired in the third.

Thomas and Louro also spearheaded the rebounding effort, with Louro collecting eight and Thomas grabbing seven.

Marsicano added 11 points, while Markham and senior Alex Pendergrass helped start the 15-0 burst that turned a 24-21 lead into a 39-21 lead by the end of the third. Pendergrass came off the bench to score five straight points, including a three-point play on a putback. Markham followed with a pair of drives to the basket before Louro scored her seven in a row.

Marsicano made it an 18-0 run with a three-pointer to open the fourth quarter and St. Rose was on its way.

After St. John Vianney jumped out to a 10-4 lead, the Rose put the clamps on the Lancers and held the defending SCT champions to 12 points in the second half on 4-for-25 shooting. Vianney finished the game 11-for-50 (22 percent) from the field.

Not only did Thomas make her mark Saturday night in the SCT final, but did so on the floor of the gym in which she will be playing her college ball. The Monmouth University commit showed off her versatility by bringing Lancers 6-3 senior center and Seton Hall signee Kimi Evans out to the perimeter and beating her off the dribble early on.

"I've been working on some things with a couple of my coaches," Thomas said. "Some fast spin moves to get to the basket quicker. That's what I did. I pulled her out and was able to get to the basket."

Thomas also battled Evans on the other end. Evans, the lone returning starter from Vianney's 2016 championship team, finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

"This was (an opportunity), without a doubt, for (Thomas) because of where she's going," Whalen said. "She stepped up to the challenge. She really did."

St. Rose defeated a St. John Vianney team that reached the final despite fielding an almost-entirely restocked rotation after the team graduated six key seniors. The Purple Roses should not have the same challenge next year given that Thomas, Marsicano and Markham are all slated to return as seniors.

"I envisioned a land of riches when I took the job," Whalen said. "That's what it is. We have some really good players. The kids buy into the hard work."

 

Box Score

St. Rose 56, St. John Vianney 31

1 2 3 4 F
St. Rose (24-3) 9 13 17 17 56
St. John Vianney (22-4) 10 9 2 10 31

St. Rose (56): Mikayla Markham 4 0-0 8, Ellyn Stoll 1 0-0 2, Lucy Thomas 6 1-4 15, Elizabeth Marsicano 4 0-0 11, Jen Louro 5 1-5 13, Alex Pendergrass 2 1-1 5, Lauren Lithgow 0 0-0 0, Samantha Mikos 0 2-2 2, Molly Lynch 0 0-0 0, Margaret Stapleton 0 0-0 0, Ariana Dalia 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 5-12 56

Three-pointers: Thomas 2, Marsicano 3, Louro 2

St. John Vianney (31): Sarah Karpell 1 1-4 4, Julia Ramos 1 0-0 2, Kimi Evans 4 2-3 10, Courtney Dobrzynski 2 0-0 5, Sajada Bonner 0 4-4 4, Madison Doring 2 0-0 4, Rahmena Henderson 0 0-0 0, Brelynn Bellamy 0 0-0 0, Sarah Furch 1 0-0 2, Abby Anderko 0 0-0 0, Riley Kehoe 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 7-11 31

Three-pointers: Karpell, Dobrzynski

 

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