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The two girls basketball teams that will battle it out on Monday for NJSIAA Tournament of Champions supremacy will be determined at tonight's semifinals at Pine Belt Arena that involve three Shore Conference squads in action.

The No. 1 seed and TOC favorite, Manasquan, will be in action first at 5:30 p.m. against a tough Franklin team coming off a rout of Middletown South in the quarterfinals. There could potentially be a great match-up between Notre Dame recruit and McDonald's All-American Marina Mabrey and Franklin's Adreana Curry, a LaSalle recruit who poured in a career-high 33 points in the win over the Eagles. Mabrey's younger sister, freshman Dara Mabrey, or senior guard Courtney Hagaman also could see time guarding Curry.

All of Franklin's starters are a threat to score in double figures, so defense is going to be crucial for Manasquan. Franklin also likes to play fast, so this could be a game where sophomore point guard Stella Clark could really excel in pushing the ball and getting it to Mabrey for finishes on the wing, kickouts to Hagaman, Gillian Black and others behind the arc or drop-offs on the block for lay-ups by center Victoria Galvan. If Franklin tries to run-and-gun, that is when Manasquan is at its most dangerous because Mabrey can pile up points and find teammates for easy baskets when she has freedom to work in the open floor.

Senior guard Courtney Hagaman and Manasquan look to return to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final for a second straight season with a win on Thursday night. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

The second game pits a pair of Shore powers against one another, as No. 3 seed St. John Vianney takes on No. 2 St. Rose at 7:30 p.m. A potential Kat Phipps-Kelly Campbell backcourt match-up is a great one to watch, and rebounding should be huge in this game with Kim Evans leading the interior for St. John Vianney and Jess Louro and Elizabeth Marsicano leading the way under the boards for St. Rose. It will also most likely be the strength of Louro against the quickness and long arms of Gigi Caponegro in halfcourt sets for St. Rose. A big X-factor is the long-range shooting of the Lancers' Kellie Crouch, Tina Lebron and Courtney Dobrzyinski against timely baskets by St. Rose's Jen Louro, Makayla Markham and Ellyn Stoll.

St. John Vianney has been the No. 3 team all season behind St. Rose and Manasquan, so this is the Lancers' chance to break through and potentially get a fourth crack at Manasquan while also playing to win a state-record seventh TOC title. St. Rose also has plenty of motivation because it has never won the TOC and could potentially get a third game against Manasquan after splitting the first two this season.

For those interested on the boys side, the TOC semifinals are tomorrow at Pine Belt Arena. Group I champion Paulsboro plays No. 1 seed Roselle Catholic at 5:30 p.m., followed by Group II champion Newark Tech against the equally impressive Pope John XXIII team that routed Christian Brothers Academy at 7:30 p.m.

Newark Tech is definitely the Cinderella of the group. Lakewood beat that team in the Prime Time Shootout early in the season and its record is only 16-13. At one point of the season, Newark Tech was 4-11 but has now caught fire to make the final four in the state. Paulsboro also opened some eyes by nuking Group III champion Bergenfield 90-65 last night. That was surprising to me just because Bergenfield stunned a tremendous Ewing team to win its first Group III title in 70 years, but Paulsboro's quickness overwhelmed them. Shore Regional took Paulsboro to the absolute brink in a one-point loss in the Group I semifinals, which has proved to be Paulsboro's toughest game of the state tournament until now, as they are a huge underdog to Isaiah Briscoe, Chris Silva and Co.


The annual Lombardi Awards honoring the top lineman from each team in Monmouth County were last night. Always a great event that unfortunately I could not make it to this year, but it's good to see the linemen get their moment in the spotlight thanks to the Rotary Clubs of Monmouth County. Would be nice to see a similar event in Ocean County, but it's been just Monmouth for 43 years.

First-team All-Shore pick and Fordham recruit Ryan Kroeger of Red Bank Catholic was among the honorees at this year's Lombardi Awards. (Photo by Bill Normile)

I like the fact that it's not just the All-Shore or All-Division linemen from each team, it's a player selected for his work off the field in the classroom, in the community and as a team leader. It's a nice reward for the guys who do it right in anonymity.

Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela was honored as the Coach of the Year and the Caseys earned Team of the Year honors after winning the Class B North title and the Non-Public Group III title for their first state championship since 1976.

In other news, there's an interesting development brewing up in North Jersey. The Big North Conference athletic directors voted 31-7 to allow four public school programs to refuse to play the non-publics, i.e., Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. Joe's-Montvale, etc. There seems to be more and more of a movement, particularly in football, to separate the publics and the non-publics, and we'll see if that ever trickles down to the Shore when it comes to the likes of Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney.

The other interesting thing is that as of now, some of the North Jersey non-public powers are scheduled to play each other twice during the regular season, including Bosco and St. Joe's.


Great night for former CBA star Andy Toole, who guided Robert Morris to a win over North Florida in an NCAA Tournament play-in game. The reward is getting to play obscure basketball school Duke in its backyard down in Charlotte. The Northeast Conference has never won anything other than a play-in game in the NCAA Tournament, so if Robert Morris pulled off the stunner against the Blue Devils, Toole could pretty much name his job among major conference openings at only 34 years old. As it is, I would think his phone will be ringing with some offers from higher-level schools this offseason.

Former Colts Neck star Anthony DeSclafani has solidified a spot as the fourth starter in the Cincinnati Reds' starting rotation. That makes him the only Shore grad to be a current starting pitcher in the major leagues unless St. Rose grad Anthony Ranaudo can win a spot in the Texas Rangers' rotation this spring after being traded by the Red Sox.

Former Red Bank Catholic star offensive lineman Quenton Nelson is pushing for a starting spot at Notre Dame as a redshirt freshman. (Photo by Bill Normile)

Redshirt freshman Quenton Nelson, a former Red Bank Catholic star, is right in the competition for the starting left guard spot on the offensive line at Notre Dame this spring. Nelson is the most dominant high school lineman I have ever covered. I was almost surprised that he redshirted, but it's no surprise at all that he is in the running to start as a redshirt freshman. I think he can be a first-round draft pick in the NFL in a few years if he stays healthy.

St. Rose grad Bill Carmody is back in the college coaching ranks after being hired by Holy Cross on Wednesday. Carmody had been out of coaching for a year after being fired following a 13-year stint at Northwestern University following an earlier tenure coaching Princeton. His brother, Frank, is the coach of Shore Regional who led the Blue Devils to their first sectional title in 48 years.

More on Thursday: 

  • The rampant transferring of quarterbacks in college has almost created like an offseason free agency for QB openings.
  • The MLB protective hats are a little goofy and only one pitcher on the Padres has worn one, but I think I would rather look stupid then die of a line drive off my skull.
  • The NCAA's elimination of hardship waivers for FBS transfers has been devastating to the family of a player from Oklahoma whose father is battling cancer.
  • Nigerian-American athletes have been making their mark in the U.S.
  • Private investigators are now using drones to shoot photos catching people having affairs.
  • A fraternity and a sorority caused $100,000 of damage in a wild party at a Michigan ski resort, resulting in the University of Michigan disbanding one of them after it refused to pay for the damages.
  • Sony Playstation has launched a web video service for $50 a month for people tired of paying for cable.
  • Work at a fast-food joint and burn yourself badly while using the fryer? Rub some mustard on it.
  • Book recommendation: Just finished reading "Galveston,'' a crime noir novel by Nic Pizzolato, better known as the creator of HBO's "True Detective." This is actually the book that first got him noticed when it got optioned in Hollywood and he decided to write a screenplay that turned out to be "True Detective." Great writer. Short, punchy sentences and some fun one-liners and aphorisms in the book.

On tap for tonight: I'm interested to see what the crowds at Pine Belt Arena will be like for tonight's girls TOC semifinals. It's awfully tough going up against the first day of March Madness.

I'll end with my NCAA bracket for posterity/mocking sake. This way when you think your picks are doing poorly, you can look at mine and feel better about yourself.

Yeah, this will probably be worthless by about Friday afternoon.