MANASQUAN - Faith Masonius does not know what it is like for a high school basketball season to end before the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions but the Manasquan senior still savors the feeling of grasping that sectional championship trophy.

She also isn't making plans to end her season any earlier this year.

Masonius and fellow senior Lola Mullaney combined for 44 points to lead Manasquan - the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group II bracket - past No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven, 60-38, for the Warriors' sixth straight Central Group II title.

Masonius led the way with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Mullaney pitched in 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists to make up Manasquan's two-headed monster.

Photo by Paula Lopez.
Photo by Paula Lopez.

"My senior year, this one really meant a lot to me and my fellow seniors," Masonius said. "Yeah, I have won this game my past three years of being here and pulling this last win means I can say that I won four state sectional titles in a row, so it's exciting."

"We have obviously experienced this before, but it doesn't make it any less amazing for us," said Mullaney, who transferred to Manasquan from Colts Neck for her sophomore season. "It's the first time the younger girls have experienced it, but for our seniors, winning it consecutively is such a great feeling."

The win earns Manasquan a shot at Manchester - the Shore Conference Tournament champion and No. 2 team in the statewide rankings - in Thursday's Group II semifinal at Central Regional High School.

"We haven't been the underdogs very often since I have been here but we are looking forward to the chance to prove people wrong," Masonius said. "Manchester is a great team and we're going to use that to our advantage to bring the energy and that motivation to win even more."

Before getting a shot at the Shore's hottest team, Manasquan first had to fend off one of its toughest challengers perennially in Group II. Rumson opened the game with a 7-2 spurt and held Manasquan without a field goal for more than 5:30 before Masonius ended the drought off a pass from Mullaney.

From there, it was all Manasquan, as the Warriors used an 11-0 run to take control of the game on the way to a 25-18 halftime lead.

Manasquan put the defensive clamps on Rumson in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 34-19 just after the midway point of the third and coasted to the finish line from there.

"We have always prided ourselves on our defense and playing hard," Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda said. "We had to make that adjustment in the first quarter and in the third quarter, we talked about how important it was to get that stop at the start of the third quarter. We came with energy and we came ready to play in that quarter."

Masonius and Mullaney are the only returning starters from last year's Tournament of Champions winner and senior Annie Mako is the only other returnee from last year's rotation of regulars. The result has been a team that Masonius and Mullaney have had to carry offensively, but the Warriors supporting cast has stepped up on several occasions to back the standout duo.

On Tuesday, junior Kate Leturgez came through with eight points and eight rebounds to support the cause and was a steady defensive presence in the paint.

"With the newer group, this is their chance to etch their names in history here," Kukoda said. "I'm just so proud of all of them with how they played down the stretch and how they have adjusted to what we needed from them to make our team better."

Sophomore Cortland McBarron led Rumson with 14 points, including 12 points in the second half, and junior Sophia Passalaqua scored all 10 of hers in the first half. The Bulldogs sport a roster without any senior regulars and figure to build on this year's run to the sectional final.

With Manasquan working in so many inexperienced varsity players of its own over the course of the season, Masonius and Mullaney have had to have some major performances for their team to have a chance against some of the state's best.

In the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, Masonius scored 33 points and nearly willed her team to the next round before Manasquan lost, 53-51, to St. John Vianney. It could take a similar performance for Manasquan to beat Manchester, which defeated St. John Vianney, 58-42, in the SCT final.

"In the state tournament, any game could be my last," Masonius said. "I need to play my heart out every minute of every game. I always need to play the best I can for our team but getting us other contributors, that has to be a big part of who we are."

If any duo can help Manasquan successfully play the underdog role in order to keep its pursuit of a sixth straight T of C appearance alive, it is the Masonius-Mullaney combination. Masonius, in particular, has stood out among the state's top players, averaging 20.4 points, 11.4 points, 3.9 assists on the way to winning the Kerwin Award recognizing the Shore's best girls basketball player and crossing the 2,000-point milestone for her career.

"Faith has been such a versatile player for us in so many ways," Kukoda said. "Down the stretch, as seniors, you start to really piece it together and you start to play for each other and you start to play for that last opportunity."