Coming off one of the more thrilling, emotional wins during this current six-year run of excellence, the Manasquan girls basketball team took some time to get going during Wednesday's NJSIAA Group II semifinal against a Manchester squad coming off an equally heart-pounding win.

Eventually, though, the Manasquan team that has been ranked among the state's best all year showed up and earned yet another trip to a state final.

Junior Dara Mabrey scored nine of her game-high 22 points during a third-quarter outburst by the Warriors that helped the three-time defending Group II champions pull away for a 51-34 win over Manchester at Williamstown High School.

Manchester reached Wednesday's group final with an improbable run through the South Jersey Group II bracket considering how young its roster is. Two nights after senior Dejah Adams - one of only two seniors on the team - hit a game-winning three-pointer with five seconds left to beat Middle Township on the road, the Hawks hung with Manasquan for the first half and the first minute of the third quarter.

The Warriors, however, were on the verge of erupting. After a follow by Adams pulled Manchester within 23-19 a minute into the third quarter, Manasquan embarked on a 23-6 run over the remainder of the quarter.

Mabrey led a balanced scoring effort during that seven-minute surge, scoring seven of the 23 Manasquan points. Senior Stella Clark and sophomore Lola Mullaney each scored five points during the run. Junior Carly Geissler, senior Victoria Galvan and sophomore Faith Masonius each scored a basket during the run as well.

Manasquan shot a scorching 11-for-15 from the field during the third quarter and shot just one foul shot in a 25-point quarter.

The Warriors will play in the Group II final for the fourth straight year and in a group final for the fifth time in six years. Manasquan won all five time it has reached the championship game during this stretch, including a Group III title in 2012.

This fourth consecutive trip to the final nearly did not happen for Manasquan. Rumson-Fair Haven took a 66-65 lead on the Warriors with six seconds left in Monday's Central Jersey Group II final, but Mabrey drew a foul on the floor with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Tasked with a one-and-one at the line, Mabrey hit a huge front end to tie the game and fired up the game-winning free throw shortly thereafter.

Manchester, meanwhile, will head into the 2017-18 as one of the more exciting teams in the Shore Conference after capturing the South Jersey Group III title as a No. 3 seed - the program's first ever sectional championship. The Hawks will have to replace Adams and fellow senior Bethany Burton, but return freshman standout Kemari Reynolds and classmate Serenity Anderson, as well as junior A'Liah Moore, junior Khamyia Spence, sophomore Dakota Adams and junior Asha Harper.


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