TOMS RIVER - The St. Rose girls basketball did not trail for a single second during the first four quarters of its NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal against Franklin at RWJ Barnabas Health Area Friday night.

Despite that, the Purple Roses left Toms River with their hopes of a first ever T of C title put on hold once again thanks to a player and a team that continue to invent new ways to win games.

Junior wing and University of Maryland commit Diamond Miller scored a game-high 25 points and played the final 10 minutes of the game with four fouls to lead Franklin - the defending T of C champions - to a come-from-behind, 56-53, overtime win over the Purple Roses.

"We don't want to go home," Miller said. "We want to go back to get that (championship). We had to do anything we could to get back in the game."

St. Rose took a 32-20 lead with a 7-0 run early in the third quarter and after Miller hit a three and found Camille Cray for a layup to cut the Roses lead to 35-31, the 6-foot-3 junior picked up her fourth foul with 20 seconds left in the third quarter to open up an opportunity for St. Rose to add to its lead with the future Terapin on the bench.

"You have to be smart but you still have to play hard," Miller said of playing with four fouls. "I think I did that today. I played smart, I played hard and on the offensive side, I did what my team needed me to do."

Instead, the Warriors never let the lead stretch beyond seven points and once Miller returned with 6:16 left, they made their move. Miller scored seven points in the fourth quarter, including the game-tying three-pointer with 1:24 left in the fourth, evening the score at 46-46. That marked the first time since the opening minute of the game that the two teams were tied and the shot came after Miller blocked a shot on the other end.

"As soon as the ball came off my hands, I was like, 'Oh, that's good,'" Miller said, recounting her game-tying shot. "Hearing the crowd after (it went in), it was just like, 'Wooo! We're in the game.' We had been down the whole game and that shot was really important for my team to know that we could win."

After a timeout, St. Rose staved off Franklin's trap-heavy pressure and junior Sam Mikos got the ball into the hands of senior point guard Mikayla Markham. The Columbia-bound senior took a dribble to the free-throw line and banked in the go-ahead shot with 36 seconds left.

Just as was the case throughout the game, Franklin would not stay down long. Miller found sophomore Keona Schenck on the right wing and Schenck drove in for the tying layup with 21 seconds left.

Markham took one more potential go-ahead shot for St. Rose, but her three-point attempt as time expired hit the front rim.

Miller's game-tying three was her final basket of the game, but Franklin got a clutch three-pointer from Keona's twin-sister, Kennady, to give the Warriors their first lead of the game, 52-51. The timely shot was another in the young career of Kennady Schenck, who buried the game-winning shot at the buzzer as a freshman to beat Manasquan in the Tournament of Champions final last year.

St. Rose began the overtime with a three-pointer by junior Lauren Lithgow before Franklin pecked away and jumped in front. After Schenck's three, the Purple Roses came back with a go-ahead score of their own on a putback by senior Lucy Thomas with 1:35 left.

Kiersten McCloud grabbed an offensive rebound and earned a trip to the free-throw line, where she drilled both attempts to push her team back in front, 54-53.

Thomas missed a shot in the paint on the other end and Franklin ran 40 seconds off the clock before St. Rose fouled Keona Schenck to put her on the line. Just like her twin sister, Keona Schenck delivered in the clutch by hitting both free throws with 10.8 seconds left, pushing the lead to 56-53.

Needing a three-pointer to extend the game, St. Rose got the ball to Markham, who ended up matched up with Miller after a switch. With time winding down, Markham had to force up a three-point try, which Miller blocked to cap Franklin's comeback win.

"We couldn't let them shoot a three," Miller said. "That's the only way it was going to double-OT, so blocking that shot was very important."

The win mirrored Franklin's season on the whole. The Warriors opened their title defense 1-4 and dropped to 4-6 after a two-point loss to Somerset-County rival Rutgers Prep. Franklin has not lost since Jan. 28, rattling off 17 straight after Friday's win.

Miller accounted for 11 of Franklin's 16 first-half points and 18 of its 31 through three quarters before the supporting cast - led by Keona (10) and Kennady (9) Schenck.

St. Rose's defense forced 14 Franklin turnovers in the game, but 11 of them came during the first half.

"They showed some pressure, sped us up and we started panicking," St. Rose associate head coach Raheem Carter said. "You can't let the game overwhelm you and it felt like we got a little sped up and then we didn't recover. We still made some plays but we didn't get to some loose balls, gave up some middle drives and we kept losing Diamond on defense."

St. Rose senior Lucy Thomas. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
St. Rose senior Lucy Thomas. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Thomas - who is headed to Monmouth University in the fall - led St. Rose with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the final game of her standout high school career. Junior Sam Mikos added eight points and seven rebounds, while Markham pitched in seven points, four assists and two steals.

St. Rose's roller-coaster 2017-18 came to a conclusion after the Purple Roses began the year with coaching turmoil and finished it in the Tournament of Champions for the second time in four years. Interim coach Janine Roth took over the program when new hire Mary Beth Chambers - who also coaches AAU - was deemed ineligible to coach the Roses by the NJSIAA because she had contact with players on the team within a year of the start of the season.

Roth and Carter - a holdover from former coach Joe Whelan's staff - steadied the ship and behind the senior leadership of four-year letter-winners Markham, Thomas and Lovin Marsicano, St. Rose made it within one game of getting back to the T of C final for the second time in four years. Markham and Marsicano were freshmen contributors on that T of C runner-up in 2015 while Thomas transferred from Ocean Township the following year.

"They were fantastic," Carter said of the senior class. "This is a group who can walk out of this gym with their heads up. We were one of four teams left in the state of New Jersey and that's an accomplishment."


Box Score

Franklin 56, St. Rose 53 (OT)

Franklin (25-7)791517856
St. Rose (27-4)1691013553

Franklin (56): Tiana Jackson 1 2-4 4, Keona Schenck 4 2-2 10, Diamond Miller 8 6-6 25, Camille Gray 2 1-3 5, Kiersten McCloud 0 3-4 3, Kennady Schenck 3 2-2 9. Totals: 18 16-21 56.

Three-pointers: Miller 3, Kennady Schenck

St. Rose (53): Mikayla Markham 3 0-0 7, Ari Dalia 1 1-2 4, Lucy Thomas 6 6-7 18, Lovin Marsicano 1 5-6 7, Sam Mikos 1 6-7 8, Lauren Lithgow 2 0-0 6, Abby Antognoli 1 0-0 3, Maggie Stapleton 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 18-22 53

Three-pointers: Markham, Dalia, Lithgow 2, Antognoli

Fouled out: Dalia



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