JACKSON – Lauren Lithgow couldn’t come up with a suitable explanation for the shooting clinic she conducted on Tuesday.

Forgive the St. Rose senior for the memory lapse. It’s completely understandable considering the unconscious state she was under.

The numbers tell the tale of a streak shooter alert enough to find open seams, dialed in from long distance yet clear of any distractions that could possibly alter her smooth, compact set up and release. The perimeter specialist went 9 of 12 from behind the arc and pumped in a career-high 29 points, serving as the undeniable catalyst that sparked top-seeded St. Rose to a 61-54 victory over second-seeded St. John Vianney for a second straight South Jersey, Non-Public A title at Jackson Liberty.

“I really can’t explain it,” said Lithgow, who was 10 for 15 overall from the field and helped applied the finishing touches by sinking all four of her attempts from the floor in the fourth quarter, including a trio of triples. “My teammates found me open and were setting screens. It was all them. They made my part easy. The adrenalin was pumping. Whoever is open gets the shot and I just happened to be open.”

And, open quite often. Lithgow knocked down five threes in the first half to help St. Rose to a 24-22 edge at the half and went 4 for 5 from downtown over the final 16 minutes. Her presence on the exterior forced a St. John Vianney defense intent on collapsing around junior Brynn Farrell around the paint to gradually drift away from its primary intentions, creating space for Farrell and sophomore point guard Abby Antognoli to exploit with fearless drives or heady kick out for uncontested looks.

“Scoring in general makes girls relax,” said St. Rose first-year coach Mary Beth Chambers. “Lauren made big plays at big times. Their defense was collapsing on Brynn and we found Lauren outside. If we think about shooting, that’s our downfall. If we’re open and can shoot off the catch, we stay in rhythm.”

St. Rose, which will face the winner of Wednesday’s North Jersey final between Pope John and Immaculate Heart Academy on Saturday in the Non-Public A state championship, slipped into that groove out of necessity. The Purple Roses fashioned a precarious 24-22 lead at the half, but SJV started the third with 9-3 charge to surge in front, 31-27, with 2:59 left in the quarter.

Their attention awakened, the Purple Roses countered with a 7-2 response, sparked by a Lithgow three and stamped with two consecutive persevering putbacks from Farrell that reclaimed the lead, 34-33, heading into the fourth. St. John Vianney closed the margin to 39-35 on a drive from freshman Madison St. Rose but consecutive 3-pointers courtesy of Farrell, Antognoli and Lithgow triggered a 16-5 uprising that staked St. Rose to a 55-41 cushion with 1:20 left in the contest.

“As one of us goes, we all go,” noted Lithgow, a point substantiated by St. Rose shooting 20 for 37 from the field while limiting the Lady Lancers to 20 of 52. “To keep hitting threes, it was punching them and they couldn’t come back from that.”

“When someone is hot like that, you have to find them,” Antognoli said of Lithgow’s scorching state. “Lauren was hitting from everywhere on the court. She was the first option in my head the whole game. It was definitely contagious.”

While Farrell’s 17 points were more than welcomed by the Purple Roses, so too, was her competitive spirit on the glass. Challenging for rebounds against Vianney’s 6-0 senior combination of Sajada Bonner and Brelynn Bellamy, the 5-10 Farrell passed the test by hauling in 10 boards to help St. Rose to a 24-23 rebounding edge.

“They are strong,” Farrell said of the SJV duo. “But I had to work through them.”

St. Rose converted 8 of 12 attempts from the foul line over the closing 2:23 to help put away St. John Vianney. Bonner ended with a team-high 12 points to go with five rebounds, Bellamy backed up seven points with 11 boards and senior guard Rahmena Henderson and sophomore guard Katie Hill scored nine apiece for the Lady Lancers.

St. John Vianney (23-4)      11           11           11           21 --- 54
St. Rose (26-2)                   15           09           10           27 --- 61

St. John Vianney: Rahmena Henderson 4-0-1-9; Sarah Karpell 1-0-2-4; Madison St. Rose 3-1-2-11; Sajada Bonner 3-1-3-12; Katie Hill 0-3-0-9; Brelynn Bellamy 2-1-0-7; Emma Bruen 0-0-0-0; Megan Cahalan 1-0-0-2; Natalya Spinks 0-0-0-0; Mikaela Drennan 0-0-0-0; Ashley O’Connor 0-0-0-0; Christina Whitehead 0-0-0-0.

St. Rose: Lauren Lithgow 1-9-0-29; Sam Mikos 0-0-2-2; Abby Antognoli 2-1-4-11; Mary Donnelly 0-0-0-0; Maureen Stapleton 0-0-0-0; Maria Tedesco 0-0-0-0; Layla Laws 0-0-0-0; Maggie Stapleton 0-0-0-0; Brynn Farrell 5-1-4-17; Makayla Andrews 1-0-0-2; Kitty Murphy 0-0-0-0; Tory Crovo 0-0-0-0; Allison Darcy 0-0-0-0; Darby Sherman 0-0-0-0.

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