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RUMSON - To spend too much time analyzing the perceived shortcomings of Manasquan was a path toward overlooking the subtle nuances that truly define the Warriors.

Are they young? Technically, yes, with four sophomores residing in the starting five. Yet, Brooke Hollawell, Georgie Heine, Dorothy Loffredo and Mary Elizabeth Donnelly are certainly no babes in the woods. All four got quality minutes as freshmen under intense circumstances. 

Did they lack the marquee standout that’s been a Manasquan staple for more than a decade? Yes, but that void simply meant opportunity for players to make names for themselves. 

Okay, but how? Easy. Concentrate on the tiny details.

As long as everyone adhered to the formula, a universal pledge to hustle, defend, set strong screens, crash the boards and share the basketball, Manasquan had exactly what it needed to maintained its championship standards.

That was glaringly evident Monday night. Hollawell was explosive from the perimeter. Loffredo rugged under the boards and timely passing out of the paint. Heine tireless in her defense and balanced in her offensive contributions. And, Donnelly stout denying interior pursuits and invalauble as a secondary ball handler.

The sum of its parts and the intangibles each brings was a driving force behind second-seeded Manasquan building a double-digit cushion necessary, fending off a threat posed by top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven and still having enough left in the tank to register a 49-39 victory before a packed house for its seventh straight NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 title.

The win sends the Warriors (21-10) back to the state semifinals on Wednesday at Central Regional for a rematch with defending Group 2 state champion Manchester. It marks the fourth year in a row the two will clash with a trip to the final on Sunday on the line.

Manasquan topped Manchester in both '17 and '18 on its way to winning Group 2 while the Hawks returned the favor a year ago, downing the Warriors, 64-48, en route to their first state championship.

The Warriors earned the right to play another day based on a concerted effort at both ends of the court.

Hollawell was a scoring machine, striking for five 3-pointers and a team-high 23 points. Heine was a steady influencer on both sides of the time line, cluttering passing lanes with her rangy 5-11 frame, clearing 11 rebounds and flipping in 10 points. Donnelly frothed at the chance to reject three shots and grab six of her eight boards in the second half and Loffredo's inspiring hustle led to the back-breaking bucket of the night.

Brooke Hollawell of Manasquan
Brooke Hollawell of Manasquan (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

"I knew this group and what it had driving inside of them," said Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda. "Any doubts, frustrations or obstacles we encountered during the year were things they were going to use to motivate them. Throughout the season, we became fighters. We became more embracing of a challenge."

Rumson-Fair Haven put that to the test. In the rubber match between the two A Central stalwarts who split in the regular season, the Bulldogs grabbed an 8-6 lead when senior guard Paige Slaven converted one of her 10 steals into a transition bucket.

However, a putback by freshman guard Rylyn Orlando and a three from Hollawell staked Manasquan to an 11-8 lead by the end of the first quarter and the Warriors never surrendered that advantage.

Hollawell knocked down a pair of triples and Heine put back two offensive rebounds as part of a 14-5 tear that provided Manasquan with its largest lead at 33-22 with 2:37 showing in the third. While the offense hummed, the Warriors silenced RFH with their halfcourt defense, holding it scoreless for over four minutes, a spell snapped by junior guard Cortland McBarron beating the buzzer with a layup.

"It's so important," Heine said of Manasquan's defensive resistance. "Defense leads to offense. By getting stops, it allows us to get into our offense and get it moving."

Rumson-Fair Haven (21-9) didn't go down quietly. McBarron, who poured in a game-high 25, marked by eight in the fourth, drove inside with 3:07 left to play and got the Dawgs within 40-36.

The Warriors answered with a vintage rebuttal. Loffredo retrieved an offensive rebound and kicked out to Hollawell for the last of her five threes, extending the lead to 43-36. The triple sparked a 9-3 closing spurt that iced the outcome.

Hollawell was responsible for 14 points in the second half but did not act alone.

"We feed off of each other, making that pass for a teammate to make a shot is almost more rewarding than making the shot yourself," Hollawell said. "My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open. We were hungry and wanted this win."

Loffredo chipped in with eight points, five rebounds and four assists. Senior forward Lucy Adams ended her run with Rumson-Fair Haven by 13 rebounds and Slaven, who was honored for scoring her 1,000 points in a pre-game ceremony, had eight points.

Manasquan (21-10)                 11 08 14 16 --- 49
Rumson-Fair Haven (21-9)      08 09 07 15 --- 39

Manasquan: Brooke Hollawell 4-5-0-23; Rylyn Orlando 2-0-0-4; Maddie Fagan 0-0-0-0; Georgia Heine 5-0-0-10; Dorothy Loffredo 2-0-4-8; Allison Waters 0-0-0-0; Mary Donnelly 0-0-4-4. 

Rumson-Fair Haven: Paige Slaven 2-1-1-8; Julia Corsentino 2-0-0-4; Sophia Passalaqua 1-0-0-2; Lucy Adams 0-0-0-0; Charley Rosen 0-0-0-0; Cortland McBaron 7-2-5-25; Molly Kelly 0-0-0-0.

Follow Gregg Lerner on Twitter @gregglerner. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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