Toms River, NJ- There's something to be said about having home court advantage.  Even though Wednesday nights game was at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, it might as well be the home from home court for the Manasquan girls basketball team.

The Warriors entered the opening round game as the #3 seed in the Tournament of Champions, riding a 17-game win streak at Pine Belt and had to hold of a feisty #6 seeded University squad that had Manasquan on the ropes late.  But sophomore guard Dara Mabrey hit a pair of threes down the stretch to secure the Warriors spot in the semi-finals on Friday against Rutgers Prep with a come from behind 57-49 win over University.

The Warriors opened the game on on clutch shooting and plenty of movement with and without the ball on offense and jumped out to a 10-4 lead then a 16-8 lead and ended the first quarter leading 18-15.  In the quarter the veteran leadership of Mabrey showed up as she lead the Warriors with 9 points.

Afterwards when Mabrey was asked about her performance in big games, the sophomore added "I just try to do what I can to help my team, tonight they were able to get me the looks and I was able to find my shot early and late in the game."  Mabrey also added "We are really coming on strong as a unit and it is great to prove everyone wrong, no one had us going this far so yeah we are playing with a chip on our shoulder."

The second quarter the Warriors uncharacteristically went cold going 3 for 11 from the field, 0 for 5 from three point range and 2 for 3 from the free throw line.  During this stretch University was able to take the lead and with two minutes remaining in the half built a 6-point lead.  Manasquan was able to chip away at the deficit and headed to the locker room trailing 27-26 after Faith Masonius converted a layup and one for a conventional 3-point play.


Faith Masonius looks to pass against University in the opening round of TOC (photo Eric Braun)

The second half Manasquan wasted no time retaking the lead when Stella Clark hit a pair of free throws in the opening minute to give the Warriors a 28-27 lead.  The two teams would exchange lead changes five times in the quarter with Manasquan jumping out to a 3-point lead with three minutes to go when Faith found an open Clark for a short baseline jumper to go up 35-32.  University was not done yet as they on a 5-0 run to retake the lead 37-35  and held on for a 39-38 end of third quarter lead.

Coach Lisa Kukoda afterwards when asked about what it was that had them off their game at stretches, added "you have to give credit first to the zone defense University threw out us, then we made mental mistakes and rushed several passes and looks before finally settling down in the fourth quarter.  It took a total team effort tonight, from Addie keeping the ball alive late on the boards, Dara stepping up and hitting key shots, Faith working hard down low, Stella running the offense and Carly fighting for every lose ball, thats who we are and once we got back to our game we finally took control."

Stella Clark drives against University in opening round action of TOC (photo Eric Braun)

The fourth quarter is when the veteran leadership of Clark and Mabrey showed up and lead the Warriors to victory.  After jumping back in front 40-39 on a Faith field goal, the Warriors would go on a three minute drought that put them in a hole 49-42 with just over four minutes to play on four more turnovers.  It was at this point that Dara nailed a three in the corner on assist from Addie Masonius that would jump start the comeback and the Warriors grabbed the momentum swing and not let it go this time.

Still trailing 49-45 the Warriors would put the game away from here on out going on a 15-0 run in the final four minutes of play.  Manasquan used clutch shooting from Mabrey who finished the quarter with a pair of three's, a field goal and a pair of free throws.  Clark add a field goal and 1 for 3 from the line.  Addie closed out the scoring hitting both free throws with under a minute to play.

With the win, Manasquan improves to 28-6 and moves onto the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions Friday night against #2 seed Rutgers Prep at the Pine Belt Arena.  The Warriors will be looking to get back to the TOC finals to defend their title and also keep their 18-0 undefeated streak at Pine Belt Arena alive.

Dara Mabrey drives against University in opening round action of the TOC (photo Eric Braun)


MANASQUAN 18 8 12 19 57
UNIVERSITY 15 12 12 10 49
DARA MABREY 22 1 1 1
STELLA CLARK 13 11 3 4
TOTALS 57 30 16 14
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