Championship Ascent: SJV dethrones Manchester for SCT crown
WEST LONG BRANCH - Standing outside the St. John Vianney locker room with the Shore Conference Tournament MVP trophy in tow, Madison St. Rose desperately pounded on the locked door to gain access to the boisterous celebration unfolding inside. However, the raucous clamor of reveling teammates made it impossible to hear her repeated knocks.
It was the only time Saturday night, the dynamic sophomore guard was denied entry from where she wanted to go.
Disappointment is a tough pill to swallow but, if ingested properly, it can lure out redeeming qualites like resiliency, perseverance and salvation. St. John Vianney can certainly speak to that, the sour taste of bitter losses in the previous three SCT finals rinsed clean with St. Rose, along with juniors Katie Hill and Christina Whitehead, coordinating the cleansing.
Down by a point with under two minutes left in regulation, those demons that haunted the Lady Lancers were starting to loom once more as Manchester vehemently refused to surrender its throne. The Hawks stormed back from an early nine-point deficit to gain the lead. The gesture only provoked St. John Vianney to craft a championship rebuttal.
St. Rose deftly looped around a high screen from Hill and drove the left side for a layup that missed the mark. Undeterred, she retrieved the rebound, stuck it back in while Hill, working position in anticipation of a weakside board, drew a foul off the ball and coolly sank both ensuing foul shots.
The chain of events ignited a punctuating tear that pushed top-seeded St. John Vianney past second-seeded and defending champion Manchester for a 57-50 victory and the SCT title at OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University.
St. John Vianney (25-1), which closed with a 10-2 splurge over the last 1:49, exacted its revenge for a 58-42 loss to Manchester in last year's final en route to its unprecedented 14th SCT championship and first since 2016. Furthermore, it put losses to Manasquan (70-52 in '18) and St. Rose (56-31 in '17) in the rearview mirro and ended a string of uncharacteristic showing in the championship with vintage Vianney flair.
"We spoke a little bit about the negativity of being in the losing locker room and what that felt like," said St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell. "Maddie and Katie, last year, were a little overwhelmed by the moment. I felt confident that wasn’t going to be the case. The two of them pulled the other kids through. Their leadership was really huge."
St. Rose's bucket, coupled with Hill's free throws, gave Vianney a 51-48 edge and the Lady Lancers not only were sharp at the foul line down the stretch (11 of 12 over the last 3:03) but addressed defensive issues that put them in peril.
Manchester (23-4) hustled under the offensive glass to prolong possessions to achieve its desires. Junior forward Destiny Adams, who finished with a game-high 25 points and nine boards, stuck in a putback as part of a three-point play and senior guard Serenity Anderson, who scored 11, turned a steal into a pair of free throws that thrusted the Hawks in front, 48-47, with 2:03 remaining.
However, St. John Vianney didn't allow a field goal in the game's final 2:47, got clutch defensive rebounds from Hill and junior guard Ashley O'Connor down the stretch and matched its offensive efficiency in the fourth with staunch resistance with the championship hanging in the balance.
"The whole team stepped up at the end," praised Hill, a 5-11 guard who had 15 points five rebounds, three assists and reserved enough energy despite taking turns playing Adams on defense to hit 6 of 7 foul shots in the fourth. "When they went up one, we didn’t panic. We stayed composed and continued to play our game. It gave us an extra push to get through to the end."
St. Rose was at the forefront of that thrust. She shot 9 of 18 from the field to pump in a team-high 23 points, converted 4 of 4 from the stripe in the last 32.8 seconds and seven rebounds as well as five steals.
"I would try to attack them as much as possible and draw the foul," said St. Rose, who scored 10 over the final eight minutes. "My coach always says let's not settle and keep attacking. The rush is amazing. We played hard to the end, a group of players who really wanted it. For us to win shows our talent."
And, the depth of it. O'Connor had eight points, 6-2 sophomore forward Megan Cahalan battled inside with six points, five rebounds and four blocks and Whitehead drained a pivotal three in the fourth to complement her timely defensive close outs.
St. Rose keyed a fast start for SJV, accounting for six points in an 8-0 opening burst. Manchester countered by closing the gap to 14-9 by the end of the opening stanza and used a 3-pointer from Anderson to go into halftime down, 22-21.
Freshman guard Angelica Velez dropped in a pair of acrobatic runners and had five points and three rebounds for Manchester.
Manchester (23-4) 09 12 13 16 --- 50
St. John Vianney (25-1) 14 08 13 22 --- 57
Manchester: Angelica Velez 2-0-1-5; Amyah Bray 1-0-0-2; Kemari Reynolds 0-0-0-0; Destiny Adams 6-2-7-25; Serenity Anderson 1-2-3-11; Gabriela Ross 2-1-0-7; Myah Hourigan 0-0-0-0; Nahkaleigh Hayes-Jones 0-0-0-0.
St. John Vianney: Emma Bruen 1-0-0-2; Megan Cahalan 2-0-2-6; Ashley O’Connor 2-1-1-8; Madison St. Rose 9-0-5-23; Katie Hill 3-1-6-15; Christina Whitehead 0-1-0-3; Mikaela Hubbard 0-0-0-0; Ciera Cevallos 0-0-0-0; Janie Bachmann 0-0-0-0; Ashley Sofilkanich 0-0-0-0.