TOMS RIVER - The Manchester girls basketball program is in uncharted waters when it comes to the Shore Conference Tournament and as the Hawks set their sights on reaching the tournament final for the first time in school history, they turned to their one player who has played on a similar stage to lead them.

Senior Leilani Correa - who transferred from Rutgers Prep at the end of the 2017-2018 school year - made the most of her big-game experience by carrying third-seeded Manchester past No. 2 St. Rose Tuesday, 62-45, at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

"We had a checklist when I got here," Correa said. "First we're going to do this, then this, then this. We're really starting to come together as a team. It's perfect timing. We have championship Saturday coming up, then the state tournament and hopefully the (Tournament of Champions) so feel like we're becoming a great team."

Correa did it all for Manchester on Tuesday night, racking up 30 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and nine steals to lead a late-third-quarter surge that carried into the fourth and put the game out of reach from St. Rose.

Manchester senior Leilani Correa. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

As a key member of a powerhouse Rutgers Prep squad in each of the past two seasons, Correa helped take the Argonauts to the top tier of the state. In 2016-17, Rutgers Prep reached the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals and went to the Non-Public B championship game a year ago.

"Talent-wise, we're kind of loaded with talent," Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin said. "The experience (Correa) that she has in the big games - going to the T of C and doing those things, being a senior in this moment - she didn't season herself with us but all of that experience shows with us and it rubs off on the younger girls. We get into these moments where we're experiencing something for the first time as a group and she's able to pull from that past experience."

"There are times I feel the need to take over, especially when it's a big game and I have been there before," Correa said. "But everybody contributes. We have multiple players who can definitely go off at any second and that's what makes us such a dangerous team."

Manchester already made it farther in the SCT than it ever had once the Hawks beat Rumson-Fair Haven on Thursday but Tuesday marked a different level of accomplishment. St. Rose's name has been synonymous with championships, having won two SCT titles in the past seven years.

"We had our doubters before the game," Correa said. "But that was a motivation. You want to go against us? Go ahead. We are for each other, we're for our team and we're for Manchester."

Manchester juniors Kemari Reynolds (10) and Serenity Anderson (30) on the attack. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

At several points on Tuesday, St. Rose (23-2) appeared poised to assert itself and reach the championship game for the second time in three years. The Purple Roses built up a 22-15 lead in the second quarter before junior standout Brynn Farrell drew her second foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the first half.

With Farrell glued to the bench, Manchester (24-2) closed the first half with 11 straight points to seize a 26-22 halftime lead and made it a 13-0 run on a jumper by junior Kemari Reynolds to open the third. Correa led the run with five points.

St. Rose hit back in the third quarter with Farrell back on the floor. The Purple Roses scored seven straight points to take a 29-28 lead, with junior Makayla Andrews scorin on back-to-back trips to put her team back in front.

The momentum swing in St. Rose's favor would be short-lived. Manchester responded with a 12-0 run to go up 40-29 and when the Roses cut the deficit to seven, the Hawks scored four points to close out the third and take a 44-33 lead to the fourth quarter. Correa scored nine points during the 16-4 run and assisted two of the three other field goals during that stretch.

"It got to a point where I think we just wanted it more," senior Dakota Adams said. "Our energy was better and we were all on the same page."

St. Rose trimmed its deficit to seven once and later eight at 50-42 at which point Manchester unleashed a 12-3 run to close out the game. The Hawks scored only two points during the first four minutes of the quarter but their defense held strong during the offensive lull and sparked a strong final four minutes.

Manchester senior Dakota Adams. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"During the fourth quarter, coach (Dave Beauchemin) called a timeout and said 'Don't play to win, just play the game,'" Adams said. "Do what you know how to do, just be careful about it."

Junior Serenity Anderson and sophomore Destiny Adams each added 11 points for Manchester, with Adams also grabbing seven rebounds and blocking a pair of shots on defense. Dakota Adams finished with six points and eight rebounds in the win.

Despite fouling out, Farrell led St. Rose with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Andrews added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

Manchester will try to complete its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship run by beating top-seeded St. John Vianney on Saturday night at Monmouth University. The Hawks enter the game on a 16-game winning streak after losing back-to-back games in early January to Saddle River Day and Bishop McNamara of Maryland.

St. John Vianney, meanwhile, has not lost to a New Jersey opponent this season and defeated Saddle River Day a little more than three weeks after Manchester lost to the Colonial Rebels.

"We're still going to have our doubters," Correa said. "But we're not done yet."

 

*Watch the replay of the game on SSNTV*

 

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