The instant Lauren Lithgow’s putback dropped to give St. Rose a one-point edge with 9.4 seconds left in regulation, St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell had already hatched a plan.

Once junior Rahmena Henderson crossed midcourt, Karpell was prepared to use her final timeout to draft a Lady Lancer rebuttal. What she didn’t expect was for her heady guard to make an executive order, doggedly determined to edit the script and feed Brelynn Bellamy for a knockout blow.

“We had one left,” Karpell said. “I was going to try and let the play get to halfcourt so we could put something in.  When I saw Rahmena break, I actually felt we had some numbers. I liked our chances with her attacking the glass because they were in transition.”

Henderson liked Bellamy’s chances even better. With a one-handed pass from midcourt, she fired a dart to the blossoming 6-0 junior forward in the right corner, where she buried a 3-pointer as time expired, lifting top-seeded St. John Vianney to a heart-stopping 39-37 victory over fourth-seeded St. Rose in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament on Tuesday night at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River.

The win was satisfying on multiple fronts. It avenged last year’s 56-31 loss to St. Rose in the SCT final, sent the Lancers (24-1) back to the title game opposite second-seeded Manasquan on Saturday at Monmouth University and marked the 300th for Karpell at her alma mater over 12 seasons.

It will be one she won’t ever forget.

St. John Vianney took some of the best shots St. Rose (22-3) could offer. From senior Mikayla Markham’s halfcourt heave that beat the third-quarter horn to give the Belmar school a 28-27 lead to Lithgow sneaking inside to retrieve an errant shot and sticking in a layup off the weakside to put the Purple Roses on top, 37-36.

What unfolded thereafter was a window into the essence of Bellamy and Henderson. Each had opportunities to extend the Lancers’ lead in the fourth at the foul line only to misfire. Undaunted, both maintained their poise when it was needed most.

Brelynn Bellamy of St. John Vianney (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Brelynn Bellamy of St. John Vianney (Photo by Ray Richardson)


“I looked up at the time, saw we had eight seconds left and knew we needed a bucket really fast,” said Henderson, SJV’s invaluable sixth man who supplied two points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal off the bench. “I saw Bre up the floor and knew if I could get the ball to her, she was going to knock down the shot.”

A shot Bellamy wasn’t anticipating having to take, yet pleased to oblige.

“To be honest, I thought Rahmena was going to shoot it,” shared Bellamy, who had game-high 12 points to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals. “I had no clue how much time was left. There are only so many things you can do. I shot it and I was happy I made it for the team.”

The willingness of Henderson and Bellamy to play vital roles magnified one of St. John Vianney greatest assets – depth. With senior guard Madison Doring and junior swing Sajada Bonner saddled with foul trouble, the duo picked up the slack admirably, along with junior point guard Sarah Karpell, who scored five of her eight points in the fourth quarter to balance three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.

Karpell sandwiched a layup off a steal and a trey around a Lithgow 3-pointer to put the Lady Lancers on top, 34-31, with 3:32 to play. Following a baseline jumper by Bellamy, Markham sank a pull-up to close the gap to 36-35 with 1:06 to go.

Markham set the active tone of a St. Rose defense that limited SJV (66.5 ppg.) to a season-low 39 points. Her high rate of activity yielded a team-best 10 points as well as six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Lithgow came off the bench to net nine points and senior forwards Lucy Thomas (10 rebounds) and Lovin Marsicano scored seven each.

Sarah Furch of St. John Vianney defended by Lovin Marsicano of St. Rose (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Sarah Furch of St. John Vianney defended by Lovin Marsicano of St. Rose (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Bonner had seven points and nine rebounds and senior forward Sarah Furch backed seven points with six boards for St. John Vianney.

St. Rose (22-3)                        08           10           10           09 --- 37
St. John Vianney (24-1)           07           10           10           12 --- 39

St. Rose: Sam Mikos 0-0-0-0; Mikayla Markham 2-2-0-10; Lovin Marsicano 2-1-0-7; Ariana Dalia 2-0-0-4; Lucy Thomas 3-0-1-7; Abigail Antognoli 0-0-0-0; Lauren Lithgow 3-1-0-9; Maggie Stapleton 0-0-0-0. Totals. 12-4-1---37.

St. John Vianney: Sarah Karpell 1-2-0-8; Madison Doring 1-0-0-2; Sajada Bonner 1-1-2-7; Brelynn Bellamy 3-2-0-12; Sarah Furch 3-0-1-7; Rahmena Henderson 1-0-0-2; Katie Hill 0-0-0-0; Christina Whitehead 0-0-1-1. Totals: 10-5-4---39.

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