WEST LONG BRANCH – The moment of truth descended upon the Manchester doorstep with under a minute showing in the third quarter in the form of a stranger.

Against long-standing parental advice, the Hawks defiantly chose to answer…by slamming the door in its face through their own inimitable style.

Adversity, something Manchester deftly avoided throughout its run to the Shore Conference Tournament final, finally paid it a visit. How the Hawks handled it should come as no surprise. Even when mounting foul problems plagued indispensable pieces of the lineup and the disappearance of a double-digit lead tried to lure them away from trusting their instincts, they refused to take the bait.

Instead, they took it to St. John Vianney. Deadlocked late in the third, at a stage where many former foes have wilted against the mystique of the Lady Lancers, Manchester stared it down and instilled its own aura. The intensity rose, the defensive awareness heightened and the finishing kick that was a staple all season finished the job, powering the third-seeded Hawks to a convincing 58-42 victory over top-seeded St. John Vianney on Saturday to claim their first Shore Conference Tournament title before 4,150 at the OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University.

“Nights like tonight help me get my psych degree,” joked Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin, who had to manage most of the second half with 6-3 sophomore Destiny Adams and 6-0 senior guard Leilani Correa mired with foul trouble. “We have to rep our style effectively. That is what we do.”

The win, in its first SCT championship game appearance, extended Manchester’s win streak to 17, came on the heels of a semifinal triumph over second-seeded St. Rose and made the Hawks just the fourth public school since 1990 to hoist the hardware, joining Neptune, Colts Neck and Manasquan. And, they achieved the task emphatically, with an average margin of victory of 24.5 points over its four victories on the road toward ascending the throne.

“As a freshman, you come in wanting to accomplish many things,” said senior forward Dakota Adams, who finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and a badge of honor for her post defense. “But, I never really even thought of something like this. During the No Boyz Allowed league in the fall, I started to have a sense. When you allow yourself to think about it and then do it…it’s an awesome feeling.”

Adding to that joy is sharing it with a sibling. Destiny Adams earned MVP honors, supplying a game-high 19 points and 10 boards and helped Manchester (25-2) earn something else – indisputable respect.

Dr Louro from Jersey Shore Institute of Health & Wellness presents the MVP Award to Destiny Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Dr Louro from Jersey Shore Institute of Health & Wellness presents the MVP Award to Destiny Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

“Everyone doubted us and we showed them different,” she said. “We kept our composure and focused on defense.”

The defense of choice was a 2-3 zone, leaned on to help keep fouls to a minimum and promote lines of communication that subconscious bonded the Hawks in order to complete the task. A three-point play by Destiny Adams gave Manchester a 28-18 lead less than a minute out of halftime but SJV (21-3), which suffered its third consecutive loss in the SCT final, steered in the direction of changing its fortunes.

Senior forward Sajada Bonner (team-high 12 points) canned a three, freshman guard Madison St. Rose (eight points) turned a steal into a layup and senior forward Brelynn Bellamy (eight points, five rebounds, five steals) backed her own transition bucket with a baseline pull-up as part of an 11-3 charge that forged a 33-33 tie with 44 seconds left in the period. The charge coinciding with Correa and Destiny Adams spending substantial time on the bench, each saddled with three fouls.

Kemari Reynolds of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Kemari Reynolds of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Manchester responded with a defining answer. Junior point guard Kemari Reynolds darted to the rim 23 seconds later, putting the Hawks back in front. The pivotal bucket triggered a 13-0 run, spurred by six points from Correa, that opened a 46-33 cushion with 5:13 to play and launched a 23-9 closing tear that applied the exclamation point on a championship performance.

“It’s an amazing feeling to come in my senior year to a team that has never won this and being able to help them win a conference title,” said Correa, who transferred from Rutgers Prep and provided loads of big-game experience to a squad that’s emerged victorious in plenty this winter, not to mention 14 points and nine rebounds in the most satisfying one to date.  “My teammates kept my head in the game, telling me we need you. We had to keep playing hard but smarter, make the right calls and right plays, getting rebounds and steals. Dakota and Destiny got big rebounds. We never gave in and played 100 percent the whole game.”

Leilani Correa of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Leilani Correa of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The Hawks benefitted from a defense that forced 15 turnovers and produced 26 points off its fast break. The high volume of high-percentage shots yielding a 22-of-42 showing from the field to offset a 10-for-27 spell at the foul line.

Conversely, St. John Vianney suffered the consequence of what happens when shots are missed. The Lancers were a chilly 16 of 51 from the floor, including 2 of 17 behind the arc, and shots off the mark were reaped by the Hawks, who fashioned a 38-31 edge in the glass, and immediately manifested into run outs that revealed their collective speed and ability to change the complexion of a contest in an instant.

The offense, predicated on being disciplined and cautiously assertive out of the 2-3.

“We made a subtle adjustment in our press, bringing one more girl back to help us control the tempo in a different way,” noted Beauchemin. “Settling in that zone…fouls can dictate that before my choice can. But, we were playing so well in it that there was no reason to change. With the press and being able to fall back into that, it gave us a better rhythm.”

And, the base line to a championship.

Manchester (25-2)            13           10           12           23 --- 58
St. John Vianney (21-3)    10           08           15           09 --- 42

Manchester: Kemari Reynolds 4-0-1-9; Leilani Correa 6-0-2-14; Dakota Adams 3-0-6-12; Destiny Adams 6-2-1-19; Serenity Anderson 0-0-1-1; Nakaleigh Hayes-Jones 0-1-0-3; Myah Hourigan 0-0-0-0; Amyah Bray 0-0-0-0; Morgan Brustman 0-0-0-0; Victoria Labrecque 0-0-0-0; Emily Barron 0-0-0-0.

St. John Vianney: Rahmena Henderson 3-0-0-6; Sarah Karpell 1-0-1-3; Madison St. Rose 4-0-0-8; Sajada Bonner 0-2-6-12; Katie Hill 2-0-1-5; Brelynn Bellamy 4-0-0-8; Christina Whitehead 0-0-0-0; Emma Bruen 0-0-0-0; Megan Cahalan 0-0-0-0; Natalya Spinks 0-0-0-0; Mikaela Drennan 0-0-0-0; Ashley O’Connor 0-0-0-0; Christina Whitehead 0-0-0-0.

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