RUMSON – Championship expectations are a fact of life for a St. John Vianney girls basketball player, regardless of age, experience or individual skill level - so much so that a regular-season division game in late December feels like a must-win game.

That could, of course, be because there are two other teams in the Shore Conference Class A Central division with the same expectations.

Junior Kelly Campbell poured in 21 points and fellow juniors Kellie Crouch and Tina Lebron each hit key 3-pointers in overtime as the Lancers took their first small step toward meeting those lofty expectations by beating Class A Central rival Rumson-Fair Haven, 58-52.

St. John Vianney junior Kelly Campbell scored a game-high 21 points to help the Lancers beat rival Rumson on Monday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“It’s just too bad we had to play them in December because both teams are still trying to figure out how to play together,” Lancers coach Dawn Karpell said. “I always tell the girls, ‘You win ugly in December, win pretty in March.’ Tonight was more on the ugly side, but it was a competitive game and a huge win against a team that we’re competing against for a championship. So regardless of how it looked, that’s a big character win and for a team with no seniors like we have, winning these is huge.”

The Lancers entered the game as the No. 1 team in the Star-Ledger Top 20 while Rumson came into the game at No. 4. St. John Vianney opened the season with a win over Roland Park Day, Md., on Saturday, while Rumson’s first two games came against the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the state. The Bulldogs opened the season with a 12-point loss at Manasquan Friday night.

“By now, I think we’re all pretty used to the schedule we play,” Campbell said. “This is probably the best division in the state and you’re playing a great team just about every single night. I think it’s great because we get to prepare ourselves for those tournament games down the road, when every team is going to be like the one we played tonight. I think you see it with the other teams in our division as well. We probably wouldn’t play as well in those games if we didn’t play tough competition during the season.”

Rumson quickly reminded St. John Vianney about that day-in-and-day-out struggle by rattling off a 21-3 run that put the Bulldogs ahead 21-6 early in the second quarter. St. John Vianney, however, stabilized the game and then took a 35-32 lead with a 20-3 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third.

Rumson rallied to tie the game in the final 1:20 with a 3-pointer by Sam Sabino and two free throws by senior Grace Stant to tie the game with 54 seconds left.

“As the saying goes, basketball is a game of runs, and we knew that even though they hit us with a run, we knew we were going to come right back,” Campbell said. “We just needed to get our press working and start getting some shots to fall, and we felt like we’d get back in the game.”

Both teams ran deliberate sets in overtime and neither scored until Crouch drilled a three from the right wing to break a 48-48 tie with 1:44 left. After Stant missed a three-point attempt on the other end, Lebron spotted up from a similar spot to the one that worked for Crouch and knocked down the shot to give St. John Vianney a six-point lead with 1:18 left.

“We’ve needed a lot of players to step into new roles this year, and Kellie Crouch and Tina Lebron are two of the main ones,” Karpell said. “Crouch did a nice job for us off the bench last year and Tina played a little bit for us here and there. Both have stepped in and done a nice job so far, and in overtime they really came through when we needed a lift.”

Rumson made its run early in the game with Stant sitting for the latter half of it with three fouls. The Villanova-bound senior still finished with 12 points behind 8-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line, but sat for 10 of the final 11:30 of the first half. Sabino helped keep Rumson in the game by shooting 4-for-4 during the first half for 11 points, including 3-for-3 from three-point range. She finished with a team-high 14 points.

Sophomore Hannah Scanlan chipped in six points off the bench in place of Stant, while freshman Tori Hyduke also contributed eight points off the bench for the Bulldogs.

Rumson is in a strange position in which it began the season as a top-five-ranked team in the state, lost its first two games, and still did not necessarily need to fall in those rankings, considering the two teams the Bulldogs have lost to are the consensus top teams at the Shore and in New Jersey.

“I’m not sure you can open a season with a tougher challenge than we just did,” Rumson coach George Sourlis said. “Obviously, we’re not happy about starting 0-2. It’s not what we planned, but looking at the bright side, we got a chance to play two really good, intense games early in the season against the best competition you’re going to find anywhere, and while we’re not coming in here looking for moral victories, these are the kind of games that could make us better in the long run.

“We weren’t going to define our season with these two games, even if we won them. If we started 2-0 and we didn’t win a state championship, then we failed at our ultimate goal. If we get to where we want to go, nobody will remember 0-2. If we can learn from these two games and get better, we may look back at this start and say it was a good thing we lost the first two.”

St. John Vianney, meanwhile, is breaking in three new starters and was less reliant upon its depth Monday than it has been in most years. Sophomore Kim Evans was the standout among that trio Monday, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds. Evans was instrumental in drawing three fouls on Stant within the first 4:30 and inflicted a lot of her damage with Stant on the bench.

“Kim Evans has been getting better and better, and I thought she gave us a good all-around effort tonight, especially rebounding and defending in the paint,” Karpell said. “With Grace out, there were definitely some opportunities to get the ball inside, and we tried to get her the ball down there when we could.”

Crouch is also one of the new starters and she hit the biggest shot of the game for St. John Vianney after struggling for most of the night. Prior to the tie-breaking three in overtime, she was just 1-for-9 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, but stepped up to hit the most important attempt of the game.

Although Vianney used six players for the majority of the game, they got some contribution from everyone. Sophomore starter Courtney Dobrzynski battled foul trouble for most of the game, but junior Zoe Pero spelled her in the frontcourt, while Lebron also came off the bench to score nine points on three 3-pointers. Junior Vanessa Pinho also played a brief stint and knocked down a three from the left corner that cut the Rumson lead to 28-24.

“Everybody is starting to find their role and I think once we play a few more games, we’ll have an even better idea,” Campbell said.

As St. John Vianney inched within a point of Rumson during the early stages of the third quarter, the fire alarm system sounded and site supervisors evacuated the gymnasium. After a delay of nearly 20 minutes, the game resumed and the Lancers finished off their 20-3 run to take the lead. According to Rumson assistant athletic director Shane Fallon, there was no danger in the building and an alarm on the side of the school opposite the gym was triggered for a reason unknown as of Monday night.

While the fire alarm stopped St. John Vianney momentarily, the Lancers pressed on and began their Class A Central season by winning and keeping pace with Manasquan.

“You know they are going to make their run with the way they press and with as many shots as they get up,” Sourlis said.

“They were giving me a hard time, saying that I rigged the fire alarm to go off just when they were about to get the lead,” he joked. “I guess we’ll have to try something else next time.”

 

 

Box Score

St. John Vianney 58, Rumson-Fair Haven 52

1

2

3

4

OT

F

St. John Vianney (2-0, 1-0)

6

20

14

8

10

58

Rumson-Fair Haven (0-2, 0-2)

19

13

8

8

4

52

 

St. John Vianney (58): Kellie Crouch 2 0-0 6, Kelly Campbell 4 10-11 21, Kim Evans 7 1-4 15, Gigi Caponegro 0 3-4 3, Courtney Dobrzynski 0 0-0 0, Zoe Pero 0 1-4 1, Tina Lebron 3 0-0 9, Vanessa Pinho 1 0-0 3. Totals: 17 15-23 58

Three-pointers: Crouch 2, Campbell 3, Lebron 3, Pinho

Rumson-FH (52): Janae Mayfield 1 2-4 5, Stephanie Lesko 2 3-6 7, Grace Stant 2 8-8 12, Sam Sabino 5 0-0 14, Nicole Morris 0 0-1 0, Tori Hyduke 4 0-0 8, Emma Miller 0 0-0 0, Hannah Scanlan 3 0-0 6, Syd Sabino 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 13-19

Three-pointers: Mayfield, Sabino 4