Girls Basketball – Defense Carries St. Rose Back to Tournament of Champs
TOMS RIVER - It is hard for a team to win any game in which is makes 10 shots from the field, let alone a state championship game.
The St. Rose girls basketball team endured that very struggle in the NJSIAA Non-Public A final against Immaculate Heart Academy Saturday, but as the Purple Roses have learned throughout this postseason run, great defense overcomes all.
St. Rose combined to shoot 1-for-12 in the first and fourth quarters Saturday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena and did not score from the field in the last eight-plus minutes, but it did not matter. The Purple Roses defense dug in over the final 20 minutes, particularly in the fourth quarter, to top IHA, 45-42, and win a second straight Non-Public A title and its 10th overall group title.
For the second straight year, the Purple Roses will play in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, which will be seeded on Sunday night and begin on Tuesday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Rose vs. Immaculate Heart by Paula Lopez
"It's amazing to win states," sophomore Abigail Antognoli said. "We're excited to be going back to the (Tournament of Champions) and now we have to go prove to everyone why we are going back."
Junior Brynn Farrell carried the offense for the first 21 minutes before sophomore Abigail Antognoli closed the third quarter with four points in the last minute to send her team to the fourth quarter with a 36-33 lead. Farrell scored 21 of St. Rose's first 32 points and assisted on three of the four other field goals.
Farrell - a transfer from Metuchen High School - finished with a game-high 22 points, shot 13-for-17 from the free-throw line and handed out three assists.
"Coming to St. Rose, I always wanted to win the TOC and I think with this group we have, we definitely have a chance," Farrell said. "We're glad to be going and we are going to make the best out of it."
Antognoli came to life in the second half, when she scored 11 of her 14 points for the game.
"Abby played so good," Farrell said. "She made shots, she made plays on defense, she ran the floor - she really stepped up big when we needed her."
After Antognoli gave St. Rose a 36-33 lead heading into the fourth with he two layups, the Purple Roses hit a wall on the offensive side of the floor. They went ahead, 37-35 on a free throw by senior Lauren Lithgow in the first minute of the quarter, then went six minutes without a point.
During those six minutes, however, St. Rose held IHA to two points on a pair of free throws by Emma Matesic, which tied the game with 2:40 to go.
"We went almost six minutes without scoring and to their credit, they (IHA) really got in our face and got us out of rhythm," St. Rose coach Mary Beth Chambers said. "At that point, all we could do was buckle down on defense. We said, 'If we're not going to make shots, let's play the best defense we can play and that's what we did."
IHA took over possession with a chance to take the lead but Antognoli picked off a pass and drew a foul to earn a trip to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1 opportunity. The junior point guard buried both ends with 1:37 left to give St. Rose a 39-37, one the Purple Roses would not give back.
On the other end of the floor, IHA turned the ball over on the ensuing possession to give the Roses back the ball. Senior Sam Mikos then stepped to the line and hit two more free throws to stretch the lead to 41-37.
Anna Morris, who led IHA with 13 points and nine rebounds, scored in the post to cut St. Rose's lead to 41-39 with under a minute left - the first field goal of the quarter for either team. The only other field goal in the quarter was a three-pointer by Sam Rinaldi just before the final buzzer.
Farrell hit one of two free throws to inch the St. Rose lead to 42-39 and Antognoli forced a jump ball on the other end. She then hit one of two free throws and closed out St. Rose's scoring with two more free throws with 10.1 seconds left.
St. Rose has been a second-half team throughout its run this year, surging past St. John Vianney in the second half of a 61-54 win over the Lancers and rallying from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to beat Notre Dame in the sectional quarterfinals.
"When we're not doing something well offensively, we know we have our defense to pick us up," Chambers said. "Today, they broke our press very easily. I don't know what was that made us pull through, but whatever it was, we found a way."
On Saturday, the Purple Roses took control of the game in the second quarter. The Blue Eagles led, 20-12, in the middle of the second quarter before St. Rose unleashed a 13-2 run to take a 25-22 lead by halftime.
Farrell led the run, scoring inside, getting to the foul line and setting up Lithgow and Antognoli for open threes.
"When I was in the post, they definitely started doubling up so I started to look for the kick-outs," Farrell said. "We needed other people to step up and hit shots and we had Abby step up, Sam and Lauren hit shots and got us back in the game."
St. Rose reached the Tournament of Champions semifinals last season before losing to then-defending champion Frankin, 56-53. The Purple Roses graduated four starters from that team but reloaded this year with return of Mikos to the starting five and the addition of Farrell and Neptune transfer Makayla Andrews. Antognoli moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore as did Lithgow and Maggie Stapleton as seniors, with Andrews coming off the bench as a junior.