Girls Basketball – Mabrey’s Masterpiece Leads Manasquan to SCT Title
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WEST LONG BRANCH - From the time she started her high school basketball career at Manasquan, senior Dara Mabrey heard and read about how she was not quite the player her older sisters - Michaela and Marina - were at the peak of their powers while leading Manasquan to Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles.
On Saturday night at the OceanFirst Bank Center, the youngest sister in the first family of Shore Conference girls basketball played a game that would make even her sisters - an almost anyone else - a little jealous.
Facing a St. John Vianney team ranked No. 1 in the state and that had not lost to an N.J. team all year, Mabrey turned in an effort that will go down as one of the best individual performances in girls Shore Conference Tournament championship game history. She poured in 33 points on 11-for-16 shooting and four steals to lead the second-seeded Warriors to a resounding 70-52 win over the Lancers for the program's fourth SCT championship since 2012.
"Winning like this after so many people said that I couldn't or that I wasn't as good as my sisters makes it sweet," Mabrey said. "I'm calling Marina right when I'm done (with the interview) and telling her, 'Guess what, I won too.'"
PHOTO GALLERY: Manasquan vs. St. John Vianney by Paula Lopez
All three Mabrey sisters won conference titles as freshmen - Michaela at St. John Vianney - but Marina was the only one of the three to win it multiple times heading into Saturday night. When Mabrey exited the game with the rest of Manasquan's starters late in the fourth quarter, it hit her what is means to win a championship as a senior.
"When we won this as a freshman and I looked at my sister, Marina, I thought, 'I'm so happy, so I just can't even imagine how you are feeling right now,'" Mabrey said. "At the end of the game, I was so emotional and I ran over to hug coach (Lisa) Kukoda."
"She's a gamer," Kukoda said. "These are the moments that she loves, that she embraces, that she steps up in. There are some people that would shy away from the spotlight. She wouldn't want any other way."
Saturday's performance by Mabrey and her team is even sweeter considering the bitter pills the Warriors had to swallow over the past two seasons. They lost to a 32-win St. John Vianney team in both the SCT and Tournament of Champions finals in 2016 and 2017 and last year, they lost to St. Rose in the SCT semifinals and lost to Franklin at the buzzer in last year's T of C championship game.
Mabrey, in particular, took that loss to Franklin to heart after she shot an uncharacteristic 6-for-24 in a game her team last by one basket. She came back this year a more complete player, running the point for her team while also increasing her scoring to a career-best 22 points per game to go with career highs in rebounding and assists (five per game each).
Her labor has shown throughout the season, but no more than it did on Saturday night. Not only was Mabrey playing with a sprained left hand that required a protective brace, but she also came up limping in the first quarter after a collision. She proceeded to score 15 points over the remainder of the half to enter the locker room with 19 on 7-for-11 shooting.
"Some days at practice, you might be tired as hell or you might be like, 'My stomach hurts today,'" Mabrey said, holding up her wrapped left hand. "Then, when you get in a game, especially like tonight, all that (stuff) - like this (her hand) - all of that goes out the window. You practice harder so the game becomes easier and that's what I found in myself tonight. I was just zooming through the defense like, 'This is easy.'
"I prepared myself so much. Even with my hand, it was really hurting the other day and I just had to ignore it and keep going. All the work that I put in during the offseason with my team and also away from my team, you could just see it come to life in the game."
While Mabrey was the star on Saturday, she was hardly the only standout performer. Junior forward and Maryland commit Faith Masonius set the tone early by controlling the glass, deflecting shots and passes on defense and finding open teammates. She also got rolling on offense and finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists that might have been the headline performance of the night if not for Mabrey's defining effort.
"This is my first title and it's an amazing feeling," Masonius said. "Losing the last two years really just makes this more exciting."
Junior Lola Mullaney and senior Carly Geissler were both key figures on last year's team as well and both got the chance to take part in the redemption as well. Mullaney scored 12 points to give Manasquan's three-headed scoring monster a combined 66 points, while Geissler chipped in two points as well.
St. John Vianney (24-2) stayed within an arm's length of Manasquan (24-2) during the first half and trailed 31-25 at the break. The Lancers even led late in the first quarter, 10-8, before Mabrey scored the final eight points of the quarter to cap a 10-2 run and give Manasquan an 18-12 lead after one.
The Warriors blew the game open in the third quarter, during which Mabrey recorded three steals and Manasquan outscored Vianney, 18-9, to extend its lead to 49-34 heading to the fourth.
The Lancers were down, 51-40, near the midway point of the fourth when Mabrey dribbled through three defenders for a layup, Mullaney converted a layup as she was fouled and Masonius hit two free throws to stretch the lead to 58-41.
Senior Madison Doring led St. John Vianney with 17 points and junior Sajada Bonner added 15 in defeat.
St. John Vianney beat Manasquan four times in 2015-16 and earned a spot in the SCT final last year when Manasquan was left out. This year, the Lancers earned the No. 1 seed with its one-loss regular season, but Manasquan finally got the better of the Lancers for the first time since 2015.
"We knew to expect more pressure and more physicality and our girls came out and they handled it," Kukoda said. "We talked about being able to execute to handle their press, which is such a strength of theirs, and the way we executed it really put us in a good position."
Now, Mabrey and Co. will turn their attention to the NJSIAA Playoffs and the Tournament of Champions. After losing in the final each of the past two years - once in overtime and once at the buzzer - the Warriors are out to reach the championship game for an unprecedented fifth straight time and win the program's third T of C title since 2012.
While that might be the end goal, winning the Shore Conference Tournament is nearly as difficult, with four of the top six teams in the state, according to NJ.com, and each of the top three all playing in the tournament semifinals. Now, Mabrey has her second conference championship to match Marina, while Masonius experienced her first.
"This was a product of all of their hard work and all of their dedication," Kukoda said of her players. "Everything that they have put in to this - this is a result of that. I'm so proud of everything they have done, how they have come together and what they put together on the court."