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TOMS RIVER - Madison St. Rose is many things. A shooter with a pure lefty stroke. A penetrator who cuts through a defense with surgical precision.  A rebounder elevated by the gravity-defying spring in her legs. A distributor willing to make the extra pass. A defender with disruptive intentions. An impersonator who….

Wait, what? 

That’s right, the 5-9 guard does an impression for St. John Vianney, one that provides the Lady Lancers with a sense of the only thing the talented group is missing. St. Rose performs a spot-on imitation of a senior, one not only immune to pressure but seeking it as some sort of avenue to reveal her unflappable composure. 

Go back through the history of one of the state’s most storied programs and you’ll find standouts who thrived when the stakes were highest. Audrey Gomez, Erica Gomez, Regan Apo, Shantel Brown, Amanda Rosato...the list is virtually endless. They all developed a killer instinct to become closers who knew how to get the ball in their hands with an outcome hanging in the balance and finish the job through their indisputable poise.

St. Rose is trending in that direction, a point she made Tuesday night by capping off a career night with a steely touch of finesse. She stamped a 36-point clinic that featured her effortless grace, sudden acceleration and creativity on the move by doing her best work while stationary.

St. Rose knocking down 14 of her 17 free thows in the fourth quarter to enable top-seeded St. John Vianney to put enough distance between itself and fourth-seeded St. Rose to secure a 70-63 triumph in the semifinal round of the Shore Conference Tournament at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

The win sends St. John Vianney (24-1), the No. 1 squad in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to its fifth consecutive SCT championship on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Monmouth University where it will get a rematch with second-seeded Manchester. The Hawks, who advanced to the title game by virtue of a 64-43 triumph over third-seeded Red Bank Catholic, won their first SCT crown a year ago at the expense of SJV, 58-42.

Watch replay of St. Rose vs. St. John Vianney in SCT semifinal

"I can’t explain it, honestly," said St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell of St. Rose's basketball acumen. "She has a gift and it’s not just scoring. She can take what’s being offered and expose it. Sometimes, it’s a shot, sometimes it’s getting to the rim and sometimes it’s just a pass to a teammate. Her feel for the game is unique. She loves being pushed. She wants to be challenged. She absorbs it really well."

That explains it, because St. Rose (19-7) did everything it could to demand St. Rose's best in return. The Purple Roses whittled an eight-point deficit in the second quarter down to one by intermission and opened their own 38-32 advantage midway through the third on back-to-back 3-pointers from junior forward Maureen Stapleton and senior forward Makayla Andrews.

Forced into comeback mode in an event that has ended less than favorably over the last three years with bitter losses in the championship game, St. John Vianney wasn't ready to make a premature exit. The lead swapped hands five times in the second half before St. Rose ended the exchanges with one breathtaking drive.

Walking the ball across the timeline, she curled around a high screen by junior forward Christina Whitehead, veered toward the basket and, despite getting her body twisted and turned away from the hoop, somehow managed to flip in an over-the-head prayer. The wildly imaginative bucket was part of a three-point play with 3:11 remaining in the fourth and staked the Lancers to a 56-54 edge they never relinquished.

St. Rose made certain of that, scoring 13 points over the balance of the contest. She converted 14 of 17 attempts from the line in the final eight minutes, including 11 of 13 down the decisive stretch.

"If I’m in control, relaxed and can spread that to my teammates, that’s all I want," said St. Rose, whose 36 points marked a career high. "I don't want them stressed out."

Katie Hill of St. John Vianney (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

St. John Vianney's prevailing depth shouldn't be overshadowed by its super soph's heroic efforts. Junior guard Katie Hill poured in 11 of her 20 points in the first half to go with five rebounds and four steals while sophomore guard Ashley O'Connor showed her timely versatility with four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block to complement eight points, including a pair of crucial foul shots with 2:07 left that gave SJV a 60-54 cushion.

"We’ve been playing well this year," said Hill. "It's our time of the season to put it all together." 

"We have so many players that contribute in in so many ways," noted Whitehead. "It was important that we play hard and we play together to the end."

Senior guard Brynn Farrell was stellar for St. Rose. The Florida commit backed 32 points with eight rebounds and five assists. Andrews finished with 16 points and senior forward Maria Tedesco dropped in nine.  

St. Rose (19-7) 14 12 18 19 --- 63

St. John Vianney (24-1) 18 09 16 27 --- 70

St. Rose: Abby Antognoli 0-0-0-0; Maureen Stapleton 0-2-0-6; Maria Tedesco 2-0-5-9; Brynn Farrell 8-2-10-32; Makayla Andrews 3-2-4-16; Layla Laws 0-0-0-0; Maggie Cavanaugh 0-0-0-0; Niaisya Ervin 0-0-0-0.

St. John Vianney: Emma Bruen 1-0-0-2; Megan Cahalan 1-0-0-2; Ashley O’Connor 2-0-4-8; Madison St. Rose 6-3-15-36; Katie Hill 6-1-5-20; Janie Bachmann 1-0-0-2; Michaela Hubbard 0-0-0-0; Christina Whitehead 0-0-0-0.

Follow Gregg Lerner on Twitter @gregglerner. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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