Girls Basketball – New Blood Sparks St. Rose to TOC Semifinals and Rematch With No. 1 Franklin
TOMS RIVER - Juniors Brynn Farrell and Makayla Andrews transferred to St. Rose High School this season with the hope of displaying their considerable basketball talents on the state's biggest stage - the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
As the two Purple Roses juniors showed on Tuesday in their team's Tournament of Champions quarterfinal game against University, St. Rose gets as much from having Farrell and Andrews in the fold as the two gain from their new, statewide platform.
Farrell scored 18 of her game-high 20 points in the first half and Andrews pitched in 11 off the bench to help St. Rose - the fourth seed in the T of C - handle the fifth-seeded Phoenix, 61-45, and advance to the semifinal round Friday against top-seeded and undefeated Franklin.
"It's been so much fun - having something to play for and to win," Farrell said. "Being the best in New Jersey, I think this is an awesome opportunity and it's just so crazy being here."
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Rose vs. University by Paula Lopez
Farrell is already a 1,000-point scorer as a junior and would have been sooner had she not missed nearly her entire sophomore season at Metuchen High School due to injury. As a freshman with the Bulldogs, Farrell averaged better than 28 points per game but never got to play past the sectional semifinal round of the NJSIAA Tournament.
Now a junior, Farrell is averaging a full 10 points fewer per game than she was at Metuchen, but the trade-off has been worth it: she is the leading scorer on one of the last four teams left standing in New Jersey.
The story is nearly the same for Andrews. In her first two high school seasons, Andrews racked up more than 700 points as Neptune's leading scorer but never got a taste of basketball this deep into the season. As a freshman, Neptune reached the Central Jersey Group III final but lost to Ewing.
"There has definitely been a pay-off," Andrews said. "Coming off the bench is fine. I had to adjust to that too but playing in games like this is what I live for. That's why I came here."
Like Farrell, Andrews has given up personal glory to be part of a program with designs of winning the Tournament of Champions title for the first time ever. Andrews had to sit 30 days to comply with the NJSIAA transfer rule and has come off the bench since becoming eligible.
"I definitely had to make a lot of adjustments from being the star to being among stars," Andrews said. "I have to trust my teammates more and I trust when I drive-and-kick that they are going to be in the open spot and knock down that shot.
"It's been a great learning experience because when I get to college, I know I'm not going to be the star right away. Yes, it has been hard, but it has been worth it."
University nearly caught St. Rose on its heels in the early going but it did not take long for Farrell and the Purple Roses to get going and take over the game. After a 6-2 start by University, St. Rose outscored the Phoenix, 18-3 over the remainder of the quarter and made it a 22-3 run with the first four points of the second quarter to establish a commanding 24-9 lead.
From that point on, St. Rose never led by fewer than nine points and carried a 34-23 lead into the halftime locker room. In addition to 18 points from Farrell, Andrews scored six in the first half, giving the two transfers 24 of their team's 34 points in the half.
Senior Lauren Lithgow and sophomore Abigail Antognoli also hit the double-figure-scoring plateau, giving St. Rose four players in the game with at least 10 points. Antognoli scored the Roses' first five points of the game and finished with 12 points and five assists, while Lithgow added 10 points and four assists.
"Everyone has been playing together now and we are definitely sharing the ball a lot more," Farrell said. "I just think it's hard to guard now because everyone is contributing and it's harder to guard a team where everyone is a threat."
Farrell battled foul trouble during the second half, picking up her third foul early in the third quarter and getting hit with her fourth with 1:38 still remaining in the third. That halted her from having an even bigger game and it gave University a window of hope.
The Phoenix crawled within 10 during Farrell's first extended trip to the bench but she returned to assist a drive by Antognoli and finish a pass from Antognoli to push the lead back to 14, 43-29.
Farrell went back to the bench with four fouls with her team ahead by 14 but this time, the Purple Roses did not budge. They stretched the lead to 18, with Lithgow scoring six of St. Rose's 13 points while Farrell sat with four fouls.
St. Rose will need a similarly well-rounded attack Thursday night, when it faces Franklin in a rematch of last year's Tournament of Champions semifinal, won by the Warriors, 56-53.
Led by McDonald's All-American Diamond Miller, Franklin enters Thursday 32-0 and just two years removed from winning the Tournament of Champions. Last year, Franklin defeated St. Rose to get back to the championship game, but lost to Manasquan. St. Rose is the last roadblock standing between the Warriors and a third straight trip to the T of C championship game.
"Franklin is a really good team," Farrell said. "I love everyone on their team. It's going to be a tough challenge but I think we have a really good shot."