Mariner March: TRN downs Jackson Memorial for A South Crown
TOMS RIVER – Staples. Jenna Paul and Brielle Bisogno have been exactly that for Toms River North, but more than just in the context of fixtures in the Mariner lineup since day one of their freshman year.
Along the journey, they acquired basketball wisdom. As seniors, their sagely knowledge for the game has been generously bestowed upon nine first-year varsity members, including six freshmen. Their advice, guidance and overall leadership the staples that drew a team together to form championship stock.
The first reward for their labor was reaped on Friday afternoon. With Paul establishing her dominance in the paint and Bisogno picking her spots to attack the rim, No. 9 Toms River North forced its way past No. 10 Jackson Memorial for a 54-44 victory that secured the Shore Conference A South title for the Mariners.
“I knew a lot of these freshmen and had seen them play before this year through AAU,” said Paul, who finished with a team-high 24 points and nine rebounds. “With the help of Brielle (junior forward) Kristina Johnson and myself, we could show them what to do at this level and how to play.”
Apparently, the biggest point made was play like champions for Toms River North (17-3, 13-1) exemplified that kind of competitive spirit in the second half. Deadlocked at 29-29 early in the third quarter, North made its move. Freshman guard Faith Wavershak converted a steal into a layup in transition and Paul followed with six successive points before freshman guard Sydney Howell drilled a 3-pointer off a Paul dish, giving the Mariners a 41-32 advantage with 3:32 left in the stanza.
Paul’s generosity continued with a heady feed from the high post to Johnson for a back-door layup, part of a three-point play that widened the margin to 54-44. By the time Bisogno, who supplied 14 points, six boards and four assists, drove for a bucket midway through the fourth, Toms River North had opened its biggest lead at 54-41 en route to its seventh straight triumph.
“This feels amazing,” said Bisogno of the title run. “Jenna and I have played together since fourth or fifth grade. We wanted to be the best leaders we could be for these girls.”
To say the march to an A South crown was a bit unforeseen at the outset of the campaign isn’t a reach. While Paul, Bisogno and Johnson were tested commodities, instrumental in the Mariners’ charge to the South Jersey, Group 4 sectional championship a year ago, how freshmen like Wavershak, Howell, Gia Pissott and Jaclyn Benvenuto would fare, regardless of their AAU resumes, was unpredictable.
Yet, it didn’t take long for the underclassmen to endear themselves as more than just a supporting cast, due largely to the patient nurturing of Paul and Bisogno.
“I knew we had two really good players coming back but I had no idea what to expect,” said Toms River North coach Vicki Gillen. “So, we’re extremely pleased with 17 wins and a divisional title. I’m happy for the support of my seniors. They know their role.”
And, aren’t bashful about imposing them. Bisogno set an immediate tone by scoring North’s first six points of the contest. However, she went to the bench with her second personal foul just two minutes into the game. Up stepped Wavershak, Howell and fellow freshman Brandi Manna, holding down the backcourt duties in a tight game with high stakes.
When Jackson Memorial (14-6, 10-3), which had a nine-game win streak halted, hinted at making a move, seizing a 20-16 lead deep into the first half, Paul went into action. She backed a layup with a steal of the ensuing inbounds, which she instantly converted into a bucket to tie the game.
But, where the Mariners found the difference maker was on the defensive end. Their variety of zones conceded a game-high 28 points to sizzling junior guard Kristina Donza but limited senior forward Dani Evans (13.1 ppg.), sophomore guard Rachel Capua (13.6 ppg.) and junior point Bianca Giordano (5.4 ppg.) to a combined total of 14.
Jackson Memorial (14-6, 10-3) 10 17 12 05 --- 44
Toms River North (17-3, 13-1) 10 17 19 08 --- 54
Jackson Memorial: Rachel Capua 0-0-0-0; Zoe Holmes 0-0-0-0; Mackenzie Dakin 0-0-0-0; Bianca Giordano 0-3-0-9; Dani Evans 2-0-1-5; Kristina Donza 10-2-2-28; Ally Vella 1-0-0-2.
Toms River North: Brielle Bisogno 5-1-1-14; Kristina Johnson 2-0-4-8; Jaclyn Benvenuto 0-0-0-0; Faith Wavershak 1-0-0-2; Brandi Manna 0-0-0-0; Sydney Howell 0-2-0-6; Gia Pissott 0-0-0-0; Jenna Paul 7-0-10-24.