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Shore Conference girls basketball showed its dominance over the weekend, as four of the six teams in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions are from our backyard.

St. Rose repeated as Non-Public B champion and St. John Vianney won Non-Public A for the first time since 2011 on Saturday, and then Middletown South won its first Group III title followed by Manasquan repeating as Group II champions on Sunday. The four teams from the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals are now four of the final six teams remaining in the race for No. 1 in the state.

Middletown South made history on Sunday with its first NJSIAA Group III title. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

St. John Vianney will play Group I champion New Providence at 5:30 p.m. in the TOC quarterfinals on Tuesday at Pine Belt Arena, with the winner advancing to face St. Rose in the semifinals. Middletown South plays Group IV champion Franklin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at PBA, with the winner advancing to face Manasquan in Thursday's semifinals.

The best game of the bunch was St. John Vianney's rally back from a 14-point halftime deficit to avenge a loss to Immaculate Heart Academy from last year's Non-Public A final. The Lancers turned up their trademark pressure in the second half, limited second shots with Kim Evans leading the way on the defensive glass, and then got the offense going as Kelly Campbell attacked aggressively. Campbell also shut down IHA scoring threat Caitlin Roche for the final three quarters after Roche scored 12 in the first.

The Lancers took the lead for the first time and for good on Tina Lebron's clutch 3-pointer with just over two minutes to go. Their 16 TOC appearances are a state record and seven more than any other team in the state since the TOC began in 1989.

The best story of the four is Middletown South, which beat Old Tappan 50-42 to advance to the TOC for the first time in its history behind 16 points and 16 rebounds by junior star Stephanie Karcz. The Eagles accomplished the feat despite the preseason loss of Division I player Jill Falvey, a St. Francis (Pa.) recruit, to a torn ACL. Their starting lineup of Karcz, Julia Valkos, Angela DeBartolome, Haley Dalonzo and Alexandra Balsamo has logged heavy minutes all season, and the Eagles only used six players in the win over Old Tappan with Madison Curtis coming off the bench. In a season in which he notched his 300th career win, head coach Tom Brennan has led the Eagles to unprecedented heights and done it with only six players who see action in big games.

As for Manasquan, the No. 1 Warriors are on a mission to finish the job and win the TOC after falling to Shabazz in last year's final. They rolled over Westwood in the Group II final as Marina Mabrey continues to dazzle and senior guard Courtney Hagaman continues to finish her great career strong. Mabrey is the first public school player in Shore Conference history to play in four TOCs in her career, three with Manasquan and one with Point Beach. Only players from Shabazz, which won four straight Group II titles from 2010-13, and St. John Vianney, which won Non-Public A five straight times from 1990-94 and four straight from 2008-11, can say they have achieved the same feat as Mabrey.

St. Rose is on its own mission to win the TOC for the first time, which most likely means finding a way to beat Manasquan. The Purple Roses knocked them off during the regular season on their home floor, but Manasquan came back strong and took the SCT title in their second meeting. They are the top two seeds in the TOC, so they are expected to meet in the championship game, although each will have a tough semifinal before they can get to that.

The boys Shore Conference basketball season wrapped up with Christian Brothers Academy's 71-35 loss to a loaded Pope John XXIII team in the Non-Public A final. That is probably CBA's most lop-sided state playoff loss in history, but that Pope John team is on another level. The Lions would bury any Shore Conference team. They have five Division I players, speed, size, shooting ability, the works. I'll be surprised if it's not them against Roselle Catholic in the TOC final.

The Roselle Catholic-St. Anthony game was a classic. I haven't seen Pine Belt Arena that crowded in a while as 3,000-plus jammed in there for that one. It came down to the final possession, and St. Anthony couldn't get two potentially game-tying 3-pointers to fall in the last seconds. The athleticism and polish on that court was as good as it gets in New Jersey basketball, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if there were a few future NBA players in that game.

Considering RC's Isaiah Briscoe is going to the NBA grooming factory at Kentucky, you have to figure he will be one of them. Also, given the upside of 6-8 RC freshman Nazreon Reid, an Asbury Park resident, he also has a good chance to be a pro. I also was impressed by Marlboro's Jagan Mosely, a senior guard for St. Anthony who held his own against Briscoe.

There is still one more chance to see the boys senior stars in action from the Shore, as the Shore Basketball Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game is at 8 p.m. on March 25 at Wall after the girls game at 6 p.m. Next up will be our boys All-Shore selections. I feel pretty good about the first team having solidified itself by the end of the state playoffs, so most of the hard choices by Matt Manley and myself will be for second and third team.

Also, one college commitment to report, as Brick standout Brian Oehme announced he will continue his career at Drew University, so congrats to Oehme.

As for the NCAA Tournament, there are three Shore Conference grads in action. Former Point Beach teammates Matt Farrell (Notre Dame) and Dom Uhl (Iowa) are both freshmen on their respective teams, and former CBA star Andy Toole is the coach of Robert Morris, which has a play-in game after making the field by winning the Northeast Conference Tournament.


Middletown South senior defensive lineman Dan Servidio, who was an SSN second-team All-Shore selection, will continue his career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Servidio had 80 tackles and 11 sacks for an Eagles team that reached the Central Jersey Group IV final.


More on Monday:

  • The guard for Albany who hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to put them into the NCAA Tournament endured the loss of his mother on Jan. 30.
  • Why, God, why?! Can't you at least let Mets fans have some hope before spring training ends?
  • Paterson Eastside, Newark Tech, Bergenfield and Paulsboro are your boys basketball public Group champions.
  • Fishermen working in shifts caught an 800-pound stingray, possibly the largest freshwater fish ever caught.

On tap for tonight: Nothing tonight as the girls Tournament of Champions gets ready to start tomorrow with Middletown South and St. John Vianney both in action at Pine Belt Arena.

I'll end with all the girls state title celebrations from the weekend.