Carpe Diem: Manchester Dethrones Manasquan in Group 2 semis
BAYVILLE – Desire is a powerful ally, an emotion that, when channeled properly, has a unique way of manifesting in areas easy to overlook.
However, the unbridled passion of Manchester was unmistakably evident on Thursday night. Track every offensive rebound reaped, every steal made by anticipating defenders riding a hunch, every shot adroitly rejected and each was a byproduct of a cast with a sense for timing, be it in execution or opportunity to dethrone the Manasquan monarchy, a long-sitting dynasty that’s lorded over Group 2 for the last five years.
“We all came into this game saying we weren’t losing to them again,” said Manchester junior point guard Kemari Reynolds, using losses to Manasquan the previous two years in the state semifinals as ammunition. “We were done losing to them. Those last two years really hurt us. The whole day we were all texting each other that this is our time.”
Determined to seize its day, Manchester went about the daunting task with emphasis on hustle. Brash defense, muscle under the boards and bravado altering shots paired perfectly with an offense humming on all cylinders. Perhaps the best thing to be said of the Hawks’ thorough 64-48 victory over Manasquan in the NJSIAA Group 2 state semifinal at Central Regional was the victory hinged on a collective performance worthy of setting.
Senior guard Leilani Correa exhibited her game-changing versatility, compiling 25 points, 12 rebounds, six steals, two assists and a pair of blocks, her lively spring an infectious element that pulsated through Manchester, which ran its win streak to 22 while advancing to its first state final, where it take on Lincoln for the Group 2 state crown on Sunday at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River. Destiny Adams, the graceful 6-3 sophomore swing, pumped in 19 points to go with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Reynolds was a composed playmaker, backing eight points with six assists, senior forward Dakota Adams grabbed eight boards to balance six points and junior guard Serenity Anderson bagged a 3-pointers, cleared three rebounds, set up four buckets and was a disruptive piece to a defense that never allowed Manasquan the chance to find a comfort zone within its offense.
“Defense was our main concern,” shared Correa. “Everyone on this team can score. Our offense was going to come, no matter who it was that got us going. But, we had to focus mainly on defense…get those blocks, those rebounds, those steals. “In our mind, we were going to crash every rebound and play defense the hardest we’ve ever played it and play it as a team.”
“We knew what was at stake,” said Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin. This was a big spot for us to get to place we’ve never been to before.”
Playing with that incentive as the backdrop, the Hawks grabbed a 15-12 lead in the first quarter and established a 29-22 gap by intermission, powered by 16 points from Correa.
The game took an unfortunate turn in the third.
Manasquan lost senior swing Faith Masonius to an injury with less than three minutes into the second half. The 6-1 Maryland pledge, a staple in the Warrior lineup since a freshman who surpassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds over her decorated career, exited the contest with her side down, 33-25, and never returned to action, relegated to spectator on the bench.
In her absence, the Warriors embodied their nickname, inching to within 34-30 on a 3-pointer by senior guard Annie Mako. That was a close as they would get.
Anderson and Destiny Adams buried consecutive threes, Correa stuck in a putback and Reynolds stamped the 13-3 burst with a trey, pointing Manchester into the closing eight minutes with a 47-33 cushion.
Adams put the game out reach in the fourth, converting a drive and sinking two free throws before draining a pair of 3-pointers, all within a span of two minutes that widened the distance to 59-38 and signaled a changing of the guard.
“I did feel like we were the favorite this year,” said Adams, who set the tone for the Hawks with a 3-pointer off the opening tip. “Manasquan has been the team to beat for the past five years. We were mentally prepared to play our game.”
The Hawks amassed a 35-25 edge on the glass, a dozen steals, six rejected shots and induced 20 turnovers, never allowing Manasquan to find a sustained level of comfort on offense.
However, the loss did little to tarnish the Manasquan legacy. Senior guard Lola Mullaney, who is heading to Harvard, dropped in 17 points, Masonius ended with seven points and eight rebounds and freshman forward Dorothy Loffredo had eight points off the bench.
“I said to the seniors that they’ll forget this feeling and remember holding up the trophies,” said Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda, referring to the four Group 2 titles as well as the Shore Conference Tournament and Tournament of Champions trophies hoisted last season by Masonius, Mullaney and Mako. “What they achieved in their time here no one can take away from them. I tried to stress to our younger group what this moment means to those three and what being a part of this program means. They live and breath Manasquan.”
In the waning seconds of their final ride, Mako and Mullaney bracketed Masonius on the bench, laughing through the tears as words were shared, their bond forever firm.
“It’s been some of the best years of my life playing with Annie and Faith,” said Mullaney, a 1,000-point scorer. “We’ve had such a successful program…you hate for it to end this way. But, we’re moving on to college. Our coach has been great and treated us with respect. We all contributed in different way and set a good example for Manasquan.”
Beyond her talent, Masonius played with an upbeat personality throughout her time at Manasquan, a trait she upheld under the most trying circumstances, smiling with her arms wrapped around two fellow seniors, holding on to their storied past.
“It strictly a love for the game,” Masonius said, leaning on the crutches supporting her tender left knee, of her refusal to break out of character, regardless of the outcome in her final high-school game. “This loss doesn’t define the four years I’ve had here. It stinks ending it this way but it doesn’t make me lose any of the memories I have. It’s not just all about basketball but the love of the game brought us all together and made lasting memories.”
Manchester (30-2) 15 14 18 17 --- 64
Manasquan (22-7) 12 10 11 15 --- 48
Manchester: Kemari Reynolds 0-2-2-8; Leilani Correa 7-3-2-25; Serenity Anderson 0-1-0-3; Destiny Adams 2-4-3-19; Dakota Adams 3-0-0-6; Nakaleigh Hayes-Jones 0-1-0-3; Morgan Brustman 0-0-0-0; Myah Hourigan 0-0-0-0; Amyah Bray 0-0-0-0; Victoria Labrecque 0-0-0-0; Emily Barron 0-0-0-0.
Manasquan: Lola Mullaney 1-4-3-17; Kate Leturgez 0-0-0-0; Faith Masonius 2-1-0-7; Georgia Heine 1-1-1-6; Annie Mako 0-1-0-3; Brooke Hollawell 2-1-0-7; Dorothy Loffresdo 2-0-4-8; Grace Winn 0-0-0-0; Maddie Fagan 0-0-0-0; Camryn Rothery 0-0-0-0; Kate Montalto 0-0-0-0.