TRENTON - Manasquan built a seemingly-insurmountable lead on defending champion Franklin in Sunday's NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final despite senior Dara Mabrey struggling to find her shot for the first 16 minutes.

When the defending champs threatened to pull off an improbable comeback for their second consecutive championship, Manasquan's top scorer and senior leader made sure that the only tears her and her teammates would be shedding after the season's final game would be tears of joy.

One year after her and her team lost to Franklin at the buzzer in the T of C final, Mabrey scored a game-high 30 points - including 19 in the second half - to help her Warriors close out a 72-60 win over Franklin and capture the program's third T of C title overall and second in four years.

"This game meant everything to me," Mabrey said. "In the beginning of the season, I heard some people say, 'I don't know what Manasquan is going to bring to the table this year. We just used that as energy and we came out on top this year."

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

Franklin whittled a 39-22 deficit to one point on two occasions in the fourth quarter by speeding up the pace with its full-court press and getting its own star - junior Diamond Miller - going after a slow start. Miller scored 14 of her team-high 20 points in the second half.

Each time Franklin got close, however, Mabrey had an answer. After the defending champs pulled within 56-55 with under three minutes to go, Mabrey sliced her way to the rim for a basket to push the lead back to three points. Manasquan came up with a stop on the other end and Mabrey buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to stretch the lead back to six at 61-55.

Franklin again fought back to within 61-60 before junior Faith Masonius buried a pair of free throws with 1:16 left. After Miller missed a three-point attempt, Mabrey drove along the right baseline and scooped a layup off the glass and in to make it 65-60 with under a minute to play.

Masonius went 4-for-4 from the line in the final minute and the Warriors closed the game on an 11-0 run to polish off its third overall state championship since 2012 and second during its run of five straight trips to the T of C final from 2014 to this season.

In last year's T of C final in Trenton, which Franklin won 50-48 on a shot at the buzzer by Kennady Schenck, Mabrey shot 6-for-24 from the field. On Sunday, she went just 1-for-8 in the first half to make her 7-for-32 in her last six quarters heading into the second half.

Mabrey, however, went 9-for-10 from the free-throw line in the first half, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists for the game. She also got her shot going in the second half and shot a near-perfect 7-for-8 after the break to finish 8-for-17 for the game and 12-for-14 from the free-throw line.

Faith Masonius (facing camera) and Dara Mabrey of Manasquan embrace after winning the Tournament of Champions title. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Faith Masonius (facing camera) and Dara Mabrey of Manasquan embrace after winning the Tournament of Champions title. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"I was definitely frustrated throughout the entire game because Franklin is a tough team with a lot of tough defenders," said Mabrey, headed to play at Virginia Tech next season. "When the (lead started to shrink), I knew I had to do something. I've done that throughout the season for this team.

"A couple people hit some big shots and Tiana Jackson made a big layup to get them close. I started crying on the court. I just knew I was going to do something to win this game."

With Mabrey working out her shot during the first half, Masonius and classmate Lola Mullaney picked up the scoring slack. Mullaney scored 12 of her 16 points in the first half while Masonius posted 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists for the game.

"Down the stretch, I think it really hit her that this was her last half in the last game of her high school career," Mullaney said. "Dara is so passionate about the game and she knew she needed to make some big shots when the game came down to crunch time."

Both Masonius and Miller have announced non-binding verbal commitments to play at the University of Maryland beginning in the fall of 2019. Masonius got the better of the Maryland matchup on Sunday, with Mabrey handling most of the one-on-one defensive duties against Miller. Miller finished the game 6-for-21 from the floor and added seven rebounds and five assists.

"Dara and Lola stepping up and playing defense against Diamond Miller was a really big key," Masonius said. "She's a really great player, I'm going to college with her so I'm really excited about that, but playing against her now, we had to stop her. They took it upon themselves to stop a great player and our defense created our offense, which is how we won the game."

Manasquan celebrates its Tournament of Champions title. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manasquan celebrates its Tournament of Champions title. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

For the second straight year, Manasquan won the rebounding battle against Franklin, outrebounding the defending champions 38-23. The difference this season was Manasquan's shooting, which finished at 23-for-49 (46.9 percent) while Franklin shot 22-for-53 (41.5 percent).

Franklin reached the championship game by rallying from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to beat St. Rose in overtime in Friday's semifinal in Toms River.

"We knew from watching (Franklin) that they are a great team," Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda said. "They are going to keep fighting until the end. They do not back down and that's a credit to their team and the job that coach (Audrey) Taylor does. Our girls, in some really big spots, were able to make some really good decisions."

Mabrey was a freshman starter on Manasquan's last Tournament of Champions winner in 2015 and played in the T of C final in all four of her high school seasons. Masonius and Mullaney will lead a group of returnees that will attempt to reach the final for a sixth straight year to defend the title.

I did everything I could for (my teammates) and (they) are going to try to do it again next year and I know (they) can."


Box Score

Manasquan 72, Franklin 60

Franklin (25-8)119182260
Manasquan (32-2)1418172372

Franklin (60): Tiana Jackson 6 2-2 14, Kennady Schenck 4 0-0 11, Diamond Miller 6 7-11 20, Camille Gray 4 2-2 10, Keona Schenck 1 0-0 3, Kiersten McCloud 1 0-0 2, Kiara McCloud 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 11-17 60

Three-pointers: Kennady Schenck 3, Miller, Keona Schenck

Fouled Out: Kennady Schenck

Mansaquan (72): Dara Mabrey 8 12-14 30, Carly Geissler 1 0-0 3, Emma McMenaman 0 0-0 0, Faith Masonius 7 9-10 23, Lola Mullaney 7 0-0 16, Annie Mako 0 0-0 0, Maci Black 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 21-24 72

Three-pointers: Mabrey 2, Geissler, Mullaney 2


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