BAYVILLE - For the last five years, March has been a prosperous month for Manasquan, exactly why Thursday night at Central Regional felt so foreign to the Warriors.

 

During that span, Manasquan was an annual staple on state championship Sunday in Toms River, raising five straight NJSIAA Group 2 trophies and boasting a 38-3 mark in post-season play, including two Tournament of Champions crowns in an unprecedented five consecutive appearances in the season's finale.

But, Thursday evening in Bayville marked a changing of the guard of sorts, at least for the time being, as Manchester avenged losses to the Warriors in each of the last two state semifinals by drawing some payback in a 64-48 victory, one that sends the Hawks to the first state championship game opposite Lincoln on Sunday in Toms River.

Adding to the sting of defeat was the painful loss of Faith Masonius, the incomparable 6-1 senior swing whose storied career came to a cruel conclusion in the third quarter when she suffered an apparent knee injury, an unfitting end for a player who collected over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and countless hearts with her graceful style and classy dignity over the past four years.

However, the loss did little to tarnish the Manasquan legacy. Senior guard Annie Mako embodied the fight of the Warriors, sinking a three upon Masonius' departure the got Manasquan to within 34-30, but it would draw no closer. Her fierce, competitive defensive spirit always an asset.

Senior guard Lola Mullaney, who is heading to Harvard, dropped in 17 points. In her three years with the Big Blue, she built her reputation as a complete scorer, long and reliable from downtown, sleek and elusive driving to the rim.

 

In light of her limited action, Masonius ended with seven points and eight rebounds while freshman forward Dorothy Loffredo had eight points off the bench and classmates Georgia Heine and Brooke Hollawell logged extensive minutes while getting a flavor for what the atmosphere and intensity of March feels like.

“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.”

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