Shore Conference Tournament

Opening Round

Tuesday, Feb. 12 (unless otherwise noted)

26-Keyport (12-7) at 7-Marlboro (18-4), Wednesday, 6

Marlboro is firing on all cylinders at the ideal time. The Mustangs have won eight in a row and are the reigning A North champion. Keyport will have its hands full and feet tested against the brisk pace and limitless offensive resources at Marlboro’s disposal.

The Mustangs have hit a whopping 237 3-pointers and the only thing more impressive than the sum is the amount of parts that have contributed to that robust number. Sophomore guard Jessica Riepe (8.5 ppg., 43 3-pointers), freshman guard Danielle Schlesigner (7.5 ppg., 36 3-pointers), junior guard Sam Nocco (6.3 ppg., 33 3-pointers), senior forward Theresa Besso (7.2 ppg., 32 3-pointers), sophomore guard Sammy Jay (11.7 ppg., 30 3-pointers) and sophomore forward Laura Morehead (4.8 ppg., 29 3-pointers) stretch a defense beyond its limits with their accurate range and senior guard Gisella Romeo (13.0 ppg., 23 3-pointers) is slick about choosing her spots to attack off the dribble and make use of the space inside the arc.

Gisella Romeo of Marlboro (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Gisella Romeo of Marlboro (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Keyport deserves credit for qualifying, maintaining a formidable presence in the B Central. The Red Raiders invest plenty into their defense (38.4 ppg.), which must be a point of emphasis opposite a Marlboro offense that averages 67.5 points a night. Keyport has to impress a marathon pace rather than the sprint Marlboro prefers and establish the strengths of senior swing Giana Piccini (12.3 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), senior guard Shannan Devlin 11.3 ppg., 7.2 rpg., 3.6 apg., 3.3 spg.), senior guard Alexis Breen (10.9 ppg., 42 3-pointers) and sophomore swing Lila Trench (5.4 ppg., 4.9 rpg.). Senior forward Algeria Kelley (6.1 rpg.) competes on the glass, an area the Red Raiders need to seize control of from the outset.

Pick: Marlboro

25-Barnegat (12-10) at 8-Middletown South (16-4), 6:30

After failing to qualify for the SCT a year ago, Middletown South is back and looms as a sleeper in the field. The nucleus of the lineup has played in big games before and is unflappable under pressure. Senior point guard Isla Brennan (8.1 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 3.2 apg.) is the ideal veteran to run the show in such a high-stakes event and junior swing Kayla Richardson (12.2 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 2.4 apg.) has posed a matchup problem for opponents all season. Senior forwards Eve Pirie (6.6 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) and Samantha Keenan (5.2 ppg., 3.9 rpg,, 16 3-pointers), along with junior guard Stephanie Mayerhofer (8.5 ppg., 3.4 rpg., 32 3-pointers), are integral parts of a scheme that can easily balance the load while making all involved the prominent figure at any point. Together, their finest quality may be how much they invest defending the basketball (37.3 ppg.)

Kayla Richardson of Middletown South (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Kayla Richardson of Middletown South (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Barnegat, which was 6-7 on Jan. 14, has gone 6-3 since. During that most recent span, the Bengals have shown composure in crunch time, picking up three wins decided by five points or less. Senior forward Jada Baker (11.6 ppg., 13.0 rpg.) is a double-double waiting to happen while senior forward Sydney Boyer (7.3 ppg., 5.8 rpg.) and freshman swing Kya Joseph (10.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg.) can both get after it on the glass. Barnegat operates on a slim margin for error, averaging 42.5 points per game while surrendering 42.4.

Jada Baker of Barnegat (Photo courtesy of Nichole Baker)
Jada Baker of Barnegat (Photo courtesy of Nichole Baker)

Pick: Middletown South

24-Point Beach (16-5) at 9-Toms River North (17-4), 6:30

The Beach features some outstanding guard play in the form of seniors Carleigh Burns (15.6 ppg., 27 3-pointers) and McKayla Hughes (10.6 ppg., 36 3-pointers) and sophomore Allison House (5.5 ppg.). North will have to close out along the arc but remain wary of what senior forward Madelyn House (5.5 ppg.) and sophomore forward Cassidy Burns (6.9 ppg.) are capable of in the frontcourt. The Garnet Gulls take a great deal of pride in the little they concede on the defensive end (36.9 ppg.)

That resistance will be put to the test against Toms River North, the A South champion. Senior guard Brielle Bisogno and senior forward Jenna Paul have been exemplary leaders for a supporting cast that consists of nine first-year varsity members, including six freshmen.

Bisogno (14.9 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 4.0 apg., 39 3-pointers), who attacks the rim with assertiveness to balance her delicate perimeter stroke, just eclipsed the 1,000-point mark over the weekend and is the perfect complement to Paul. The 5-10 Colgate-bound star, who is nearing 1,800 points for her career, is an absolute force inside (20.7 ppg., 9.0 rpg.) but also an attentive distributor fully comfortable playing away from the paint.

Brielle Bisogno and Jenna Paul of Toms River North (Photos by Paula Lopez)
Brielle Bisogno and Jenna Paul of Toms River North (Photos by Paula Lopez)

Junior swing Kristina Johnson (6.5 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 17 3-pointers) looms as a threat along the 3-point line and offers outstanding wing defense out of North’s 2-3 zone. Yet, one of the biggest difference makers for the Mariners has been the rapid development of freshmen Sydney Howell, Faith Wavershak, Brandi Mann, Jaclyn Benvenuto and Gia Pissott, who all have logged substantial minutes to prepare for the rigors that lie ahead.

Pick: Toms River North

23-Mater Dei Prep (14-7) at 10-Toms River East (14-6), Wednesday, 5

Mater Dei went 12-2 in the B Central, bowing twice to Trinity Hall. The Seraphs apply taxing defense (34.8 ppg.) and got a couple of good primers in before the tournament, including a narrow 54-51 setback to Howell. Freshman Shelby Barksdale has emerged as an strong finisher around the rim and fierce rebounder. The backcourt boasts juniors Katie Zoda and Liz Mauro, a pair of dangerous perimeter shooters whose skills from long range could be pivotal.

Shelby Barksdale of Mater Dei (Photo courtesy of Lisa Barksdale)
Shelby Barksdale of Mater Dei (Photo courtesy of Lisa Barksdale)

Facing Toms River East’s 2-3 zone that yields 39.6 points per game, the duo may need to find their range early on to give the Raiders something to think about. Conversely, East has gradually increased its own offensive output. Senior Kamryn Lister (12.7 ppg., 24 3-pointers), a 5-9 guard, creates some matchup issues with her heady balance of striking through penetration off the wings and stepping back to hit a jumper. Feisty 5-2 junior point guard Jordyn Madigan (10.1 ppg.) is fearless off the dribble and a tone setter, as is senior guard Adriana Hart (6.9 ppg.), while junior guard Nicole Platten (5.8 ppg., 30 3-pointers) is a lethal streak shooter who can detonate at any time.

Junior forward Emily Maire toils tirelessly underneath and the Raiders have a quality pool of reserves that includes freshman Lizzie Gillen and sophomores Natalie Dudar and Sydney Lorentzen.

This isn’t the first meeting between the two. Toms River East topped Mater Dei, 55-45, on Jan. 19.

Pick: Toms River East

22-Long Branch (8-8) at 11-Colts Neck (15-6), Wednesday, 5

The Green Wave has been idle for over a week, last playing on Feb. 4 when it fell to Middletown South, 61-32. But, don’t expect any rust on Long Branch. Six-foot junior swing Anyssa Fields (14.7 ppg.) is a non-stop multi-tasker who cleans the glass, distributes and contests on the ball. Junior Madison Grayson, a 5-10 guard, provides additional length that comes in handy on the boards and senior guard Sol Margaret Navarro works both ends of the court with equal attentiveness. Jada Rogers has stepped up to become a reliable and diverse scorer in the halfcourt.

What Long Branch will encounter is a technically-savvy Colts Neck rich on the values of fundamentals. Junior Camryn Foltz (15.4 ppg.) is a consistent presence on offense with a keen sense for when to put the ball on the floor and when to square up for a jumper.

Seniors Eva (9.7 ppg.) and Catherine Gibson (5.9 ppg.) offer muscle in the rebounding department and dependability in halfcourt sets while sophomore Jessica Theising, senior Teresa Marsh and sophomore Chance Gagliardi represent the quality depth in the guard rotation.

Pick: Colts Neck

21-Southern (12-10) at 12-Red Bank (14-7), 5

Southern plays with patience and purpose under the direction of senior point guard Jac Ward (12.8 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 4.7 apg., 2.3 spg.), the embodiment of a floor leader who is heading to the United States Coast Guard Academy. She can wait out a defense before striking like a viper and is aware of her surroundings. Junior forward Kaela Curtin (11.4 ppg., 8.0 rpg., 1.2 bpg.) embraces the physicality that comes with working the paint, traits she shares with Alex Mattner. Juniors Sam Del Rio and Jordan Frangipani give the Rams variety in their guard rotation; Del Rio meticulously gets into seams while Frangipani can sting from the arc. Where the Rams apply a point of emphasis is on the defensive side, yielding 40.9 points a contest.

You don’t have to waste your time getting Red Bank familiar with Southern’s strengths. The Bucs experienced it first hand a year ago, bowing to the Rams, 58-53, in a three-overtime thriller in the opening round.

But, this crew is a year older, wiser and comfortable in its style of play. Senior guard Meghan Murray (16.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 5.2 spg.) is the poster girl for the athleticism within the lineup. The Bucs like to play fast when the opportunity presents itself but sophomore point guard Chloe Teter (9.9 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 2.7 apg., 2.6 spg.) can dissect a defense in the halfcourt and classmate Caitlin Decker (9.5 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 4.6 apg., 2.9 spg.) represents the balance in the backcourt, a group who can exploit lanes to the rim or pop from the perimeter without hesistation. Mia Strand, Mia Conti, Abby Bynoe, Emma Moriarity and Amelia Medolla not only give Red Bank depth but quality minutes as established pieces.

Pick: Red Bank

20-Toms River South (10-11) at 13-Freehold Twp. (13-8), Wednesday, 5:30

Freehold Twp. enters tournament-tested by its previous schedule. Last week, it squeezed in a 47-46 overtime upset of Middletown South between losses to Marlboro and Colts Neck, three teams seeded ahead of it in this field.

Keep an eye inside because two of the Shore’s premier rebounders will be battling to control the glass. Sophomore Hannah Orloff, a 6-2 center, has put together a breakthrough campaign, averaging 17.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a game for Freehold Twp. She has 17 double-doubles and has been held under 10 points just once.

Countering for Toms River South is senior Shiloh Williams, an active 6-0 forward who backs her 12.7 boards with 8.4 points.

Rest assured, neither side will overplay the paint at the expense of what can develop out of the backcourt. Sophomore twins Tanya (10.6 ppg., 5.9 rpg.) and Kaylie Elsbree (11.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg.) are a formidable tandem for Freehold Twp. while Toms River South answers with seniors Caitlin Carroll (5.9 ppg.) and Ashlee Pataky (5.1 ppg.) as well as junior Madison Braun (6.5 ppg.)

Pick: Freehold Twp.

19-Trinity Hall (14-7) at 14-Middletown North (13-10), Wednesday, 4:30

This one has the potential to be the best game of the opening round. Trinity Hall, which sits atop the B Central, represented itself strong on Saturday when it tangled with Rumson-Fair Haven, ultimately succumbing, 39-33. The showing spoke to the Monarchs stringent defense but also illuminated the gritty work of senior guard Colleen Cusat (10.3 ppg., 36 3-pointers) and 6-1 junior forward Caitlin Wingertzahn (11.5 ppg., 8.6 rpg.). Junior forward Colleen Kelly, freshmen guards Haven Dora (7.4 ppg.) and Cameryn Keane and junior guard Maggie Ward are integral pieces to a lineup that scores at a 51.5 rate while giving up 35.6 in return.

The 13-10 mark belonging to Middletown North can be deceiving for it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Lions. Laboring at 6-8 in mid-January, the Lions roared down the stretch, winning seven of their last nine, including notable victories over SCT qualifiers Howell, Colts Neck and Red Bank. The success is built on an unselfish offensive brand that allows senior guards Melissa Golembieski (8.1 ppg.) and Giana McGaughey, senior forward Gina Palladino (15 3-pointers), junior forward Hayley Stratton (7.7 ppg.), junior forward Olivia Cerbo (14 3-pointers), sophomore guard Victoria Palladino (6.2 ppg., 19 3-pointers)) and sophomore forward Sophia Memon to equally carry their share of the scoring load. All pose a threat as a scorer within a modest point-producing system (39.2 ppg.) that’s backed by their collective work at the opposite end (42.7 ppg.).

Pick: Middletown North

18-Raritan (10-10) at 15-Donovan Catholic (17-5), 5:30

Another matchup that brims with potential for a classic. Don’t let Raritan’s record fool ya. The Rockets are battled tested and thick skinned thanks to dragging up and down the court all season against the likes of St. Rose, Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven in the grueling A Central. This group showed its grit, perseverance and tenacity by keeping its head above water in treacherous surf with the payoff coming on Saturday, when it clipped Atlantic Tech, 50-32, to secure its SCT bid.

Katrina Wojtowicz (10.7 ppg.), a 5-9 senior forward, is a combustible streak shooter with 44 3-pointers to prove it. She drained six triples in scoring a season-high 22 in a victory over Robbinsville during the winter break. And, senior guard Jordan Hyman (8.7 ppg., 31 3 pointers) embraced her opportunity to shine like a diamond under pressure, sticking five threes and totaling 17 points in the critical win on Saturday. Senior guard Renate Alberici and her sister Lucy, a sophomore forward, are pivotal pieces to a defense that got increasingly more rigid as the season progressed.

That resistance must deny access to the Donovan Catholic backcourt of junior Paige Slaven (10.7 ppg., 2.8 apg.) and sophomore Jordyn Keating (10.1 ppg., 25 3-pointers). Neither is bashful about driving to the rim and each itches for the chance to run out in transition to convert the turnovers the Griffins reap. Junior Jayda Kearney (8.3 ppg., 6.1 rpg.) and senior Nalah Tinsley (4.1 ppg., 7.0 rpg.) are willing to engage in the physicality that comes with controlling the boards and Raritan must beware of promising 6-0 junior forward Karolina Jarusevicute.

The Griffins apply nasty, relentless defense (36.7 ppg.) that’s been honed against Manchester, Marlboro, Jackson Memorial, Toms River East, Trenton Catholic and Lodi Immaculate. The pressure Donovan Catholic ceaselessly applies on the ball is the key that unlocks its fast break.

Pick: Donovan Catholic

17-Howell (13-7) at 16-Jackson Memorial (15-6), Wednesday, 5

These two are no strangers, having met on Feb. 2 with Jackson Memorial walking away with a 62-50 victory.

The Jaguars are exceptionally talented and have won 10 of their last 11. They space the floor alertly, creating the room for each component to do its best work. Senior forward Dani Evans (12.8 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 2.4 bpg., 1.7 spg., 32 3-pointers) has bloomed in her final year, utilizing her rugged 5-11 frame to inflict damage inside more frequently while retaining her delicate perimeter touch. Junior guard Kristina Donza (16.5 ppg., 7.8 rpg., 39 3-pointers), who had 24 points in the win over Howell, is an explosive finisher who can flash to arc and balance an outside shot with darting moves to the tin.

Sophomore Rachel Capua has quietly fashioned an exceptional season (13.2 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 1.9 apg., 3.0 spg., 37 3-pointers) by carving a niche as a dependable option on the wings and junior point guard Bianca Giordano (5.3 ppg., 7.1 apg., 2.0 spg.) deserves consideration when discussing the top facilitators in the Shore. Junior guards Mackenzie Dakin and Ally Vella don’t get enough credit for the dirty work they offer, working inside to establish their presence on the boards and unselfishly moving the basket in the halfcourt. Neither can be overlooked as a potential shooter.

Howell is wired in a similar way. The Rebels do a nice job of making everyone dangerous in the halfcourt, led by senior guard Jessica O’Brien (13.8 ppg., 3.4 rpg., 2.5 apg., 2.2 spg.). O’Brien is in the midst of a hot streak, scoring in double figures with no less than a dozen points in each of the last seven contests. She stung Jackson for 17 points and 10 boards in their previous encounter.

Sophomore Mackenzie Bruno (5.7 ppg., 5.0 rpg.), a 5-9 swing, has no problem challenging under the boards as both a rebounder and finisher while classmates Caitlin Gresko (13.7 ppg., 5.0 rpg.), a 5-10 forward, and 5.5 guard Grace Leary (11.6 ppg., team-high 31 3-pointers) have developed into scoring options to alleviate some of the load off O’Brien.

Pick: Jackson Memorial

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