TOMS RIVER - For most girls basketball teams, reaching the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final is an accomplishment to savor.

For Manasquan star Marina Mabrey, the celebration can wait.

The McDonald's All-American and Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year has drilled it into her teammates' heads all season that there is only one goal. The top-seeded Warriors are now one win away from accomplishing it after defeating fourth-seeded Franklin, 62-52, in Thursday night's TOC semifinals at Pine Belt Arena.

"There's no satisfaction until we get the win on Monday (in the final),'' Mabrey said. "I think they embrace it. After the game I was like, 'Guys, don't celebrate. That's not what we want. We want the TOC (title). We're really happy, but no one needs to know that. They're like, 'You're right. We want the next level. This is not good enough. We're not satisfied.' They want this just as bad as I do."

Manasquan senior Marina Mabrey poured in 32 points as part of a stellar all-around game to lead the Warriors back to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Manasquan senior Marina Mabrey poured in 32 points as part of a stellar all-around game to lead the Warriors back to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"From  Day One, this has been part of the conversation for the girls,'' head coach Lisa Kukoda said. "We knew that we had a lot of tough battles ahead in our division and the Shore Conference Tournament, but I think in the back of their minds their goal was always to get here."

Manasquan (28-4) will play second-seeded St. Rose for the third time this season after losing in the regular season to the Purple Roses and then coming back and beating them in the Shore Conference Tournament final. The rubber match will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton with the most coveted trophy in the state on the line.

After winning a TOC title as a freshman on a team that starred her older sister, current Notre Dame junior guard Michaela Mabrey, Marina is hell-bent on ending her senior season the same way, and she has played like it. She poured in a game-high 32 points along with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks while only committing one turnover in the victory over Franklin (24-6). Sophomore center Victoria Galvan was the beneficiary of five of Mabrey's six assists and played one of her best games of the season in finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds on 7-for-14 shooting.

The Warriors only led 42-40 going into the fourth quarter but put the game away with an 18-3 burst that ballooned the lead to 60-43 with 1:47 left in the game. Mabrey had nine points during the run, and her younger sister, freshman guard Dara Mabrey, had all five of her points. Dara got things started when she drained a 3-pointer from the wing for a 45-40 lead to begin the fourth quarter.

"Once I got my feel, I was just confident to let the ball go,'' Dara Mabrey said. "I rushed the first couple (in the game), and I just let it go and it went right in."

During the run, Marina Mabrey also stifled Franklin star Adreana Miller, a LaSalle recruit who finished with 16 points but did it on 5-for-24 shooting. During Manasquan's pivotal 18-3 run, Mabrey held her to 0-for-6 shooting as the Warriors buckled down on defense.

"I said to the girls in the huddle going into the fourth quarter, 'I like that this is a two-point game right now because we need this,'' Kukoda said. "We need that gut check of, 'We've got to step up or we're going home.' We closed out, we stopped the penetration, and Victoria was at her best where every rebound was hers. When we were able to stop them on defense, that's when we got our stuff in transition on offense."

"I think we rotated well on defense and minimized their opportunities on offense by rebounding,'' Galvan said.

Up to the fourth quarter, every time Manasquan looked like it might pull away, Franklin fought its way back into the game. The Warriors came out hot, zooming to a 26-15 lead after the first quarter while playing at the frenetic pace that Franklin likes to generate. Mabrey had 15 points to match Franklin's entire output in the quarter.

However, Franklin trimmed the lead all the way to 32-30 at halftime, as Miller and guard Mary Trossi (17 points) combined for 11 second-quarter points while the Warriors went cold from the perimeter. Franklin also had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, but Galvan and Marina Mabrey helped limit those second chances during crucial stretches in the second half.

"I tried to focus more on actually hitting them on the boxout,'' Galvan said. "Before I was just trying to out-jump them, and I realized that that's not going to work."

Manasquan again got some separation in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 38-30 after a basket in the paint by Mabrey, but Franklin closed the quarter with a 5-0 run to trim the margin to 42-40. Center Monique Davis-Campbell got a steal at halfcourt for a lay-up and Trossi nailed a runner at the buzzer to get the Franklin faithful roaring.

The Warriors responded immediately, and after a bucket by Dara Mabrey made it 49-42 with 6:01 remaining, Kukoda called a timeout during which Marina Mabrey urged them to keep pouring it on.

"Marina was yelling to the girls, 'I don't want just a hard six minutes. I want a hard six minutes and one second,''' Kukoda said.

"It motivates us a lot to just keep going,'' Dara Mabrey said about her sister's high standards. "We just wanted to keep hammering them."

Once the smoke cleared and Manasquan had a 17-point lead with under two minutes to go, thoughts could turn to Monday's championship game. Mabrey and her teammates refuse to be denied their ultimate goal.

"We're gonna win it,'' she said. "There's no reason to even think about getting this far to have it be a loss, because it's going to be a victory."

Box score

Manasquan 62, Franklin 52 

Franklin (52): Jackson 2 4-5 8, Trossi 7 3-7 17, Scott 0 0-0 0, Miller 5 4-6 16, Wildgoose 2 0-0 4, Gray 1 0-0 2, Davis-Campbell 2 1-2 5. Totals: 19 12-20 52.

Manasquan (62): D. Mabrey 2 0-0 5, Clark 0 0-1 0, M. Mabrey 9 12-18 32, Hagaman 3 0-1 6, Galvan 7 2-3 16, Masonius 0 0-0 0, Read 0 0-0 0, Kurtz 0 0-0 0, Black 1 0-0 3. Totals: 22 14-23 62.

Franklin (24-6)            15  15  10  12 - 52

Manasquan (28-4)      26   6   10   20 - 62

Three-pointers: (F) Miller 2; (M) M. Mabrey 2, D. Mabrey, Black. Fouled out: (F) Wildgoose; (M) Clark.


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