TOMS RIVER – The tasks were daunting. Brynn Farrell and St. Rose wouldn’t have it any other way.

Faced with the issue of solving dynamic Diamond Miller and unbeaten Franklin, Farrell and her surrounding cast kept matters basic and structured. Fierce defense, at its best, could possibly neutralize the Maryland recruit to as good a degree of could be asked and Farrell, a friend of the Miller’s who trains with the 6-2 guard in the off season, volunteered to take on the chore in the Roses’ man-to-man.

One issue addressed, the second boiled down to offensive execution. St. Rose couldn’t afford to get into a brisk-moving affair with the speedy Warriors and be induced into the rash of turnovers they are capable of creating. Every possession had to be cherished and milked to extract precious increments off the clock with a bucket at the conclusion the ultimate payoff.

For practically the entire game, the formula for success struck the intended demands. St. Rose went toe-to-toe with the three-time defending Group 4 champion, matching its defensive intensity with plenty of its own, along with sharp halfcourt ball movement, few mistakes and a fair share of the shots its desired.

If only a few more had dropped…

In as intrepid a performance as it could have been scripted, fourth-seeded St. Rose extended the top seed to its limits and beyond, fighting tooth and nail for survival and the glory of potential upset only to fall on its sword in heroic fashion, succumbing to Franklin, 55-50, on Thursday night in the semifinal round of the Tournament of Champions at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River.

“The pace was great. I thought we played hard,” said St. Rose coach Mary Beth Chambers, who in her first season at the helm steered the Belmar school to a 14-0 showing in the grueling A Central of the Shore Conference and a second straight Non-Public A state title to mark a 28-3 campaign. “We played hard. We hung with them and didn’t give up and I’m proud of them for that.”

Brynn Farrell of St. Rose (Photo by Paula Lopez)

To conquer a program as firm as mighty Franklin (33-0), which will head to its third straight TOC final in search of its second championship against second-seeded Saddle River Day on Sunday at Rutgers, one can’t concentrate on breaking its impenetrable will but it can focus on denying some of its strengths.

Farrell handled a good portion of one of them. Matched up on Miller, she limited her mark to a 2-of-9 showing from the floor and just four points in the first half while manufacturing nine of her own at the opposite end to help St. Rose forge a 25-25 tie at the break.

“Diamond is an amazing player with so many moves to defend,” said Farrell, who finished with a team-high 18 points. “She moves quick to the basket so I wanted to deny her drives and close out on the outside.”

Abby Antognoli of St. Rose (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Farrell put the Roses in front, 27-25 on a fearless inside cut with 6:40 showing in the third, marking the last lead they would have. Miller was able to break free of her counterpart’s adhesive guarding to sandwich a pair of layups around a 3-pointer, staking Franklin to a 32-28 advantage, one it managed to grip for the balance of the game but not without enduring St. Rose’s ceaseless grit.

Makayla Andrews of St. Rose (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Junior swing Makayla Andrews, who contributed 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks off the bench, converted two free throws reaped through an offensive board to knot the game at 39-39, a minute into the fourth but Miller, who delivered 16 of her 20 points over the final 16 minutes, orchestrated two game-breaking possessions, first distributing to Christina Midgette for a layup and, twenty seconds later, veering to the rim as part of a three-point play that opened a 44-39 gap with 6:01 to play. The Roses, who suffered only 10 turnovers (which Franklin transformed into 11 points) while forcing nine, got to within a point twice but never completely over the hump.

“We knew just about everyone had us as the underdogs,” said Farrell. “We came out and proved ourselves worthy of the challenge but I would have hoped to get a win out of this.”

While victory eluded their grasp, some additional respect was nonetheless earned for a team already revered. Franklin won its previous six games by an average margin of 41 points with the Roses the only New Jersey team to stay with five points of the Warriors all season.

“We had nothing to lose,” St. Rose senior forward Sam Mikos shared. “Defense was really important and it’s something we had to take to heart. We went a long way with it.”

“We always say we have a culture at St. Rose,” added senior guard Lauren Lithgow, who finished with 11 points. “We make it more about holding ourselves accountable to standards with enthusiasm and team work. We won a state championship with that.”

And, endless respect.

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