SMELLIN’ LIKE A ROSE: ST. ROSE DETHRONES RBC FOR SJ A CROWN
LONG BRANCH - Mikayla Markham has never been one for demonstrative outbursts as a vehicle to stimulate St. Rose. It’s just not in the senior point guard’s nature.
Instead, Markham abides by a more telling principle of leadership, one in which actions convey a greater message. In her eyes, the best way for a playmaker to deliver an edict is by the very means in which they are defined.
Simply make plays.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, the Purple Roses were suddenly in need of a few. Their lead, once as wide as 18 in the period prior, was whittled down to five by a proud Red Bank Catholic squad unwilling to end its reign as champion.
Markham was determined to dethrone them.
In a blinding sequence that captured how quickly she can change the complexion of a game, she did so through ceaseless work at both ends of the floor. Markham backed two foul shots with a clutch 3-pointer, blocked a shot, grabbed a defensive board and completed the chain of events with a feathery entry lob that senior forward Lucy Thomas converted in the low post.
All of it unfolded in a span of two minutes and was the boost St. Rose required to put away defending state champion Red Bank Catholic, 73-59, in the South Jersey, Non-Public A final.
The win earned St. Rose (27-3), which moved up this season from Non-Public B, its first title in Non-Public A since 2012 and eighth overall. It will face the winner of Friday's North sectional matchup between Immaculate Heart Academy and Paramus Catholic on Saturday for the state title at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River at 5 p.m.
“We expected them to make a run. They’re a great team,” said Markham of Red Bank Catholic. “They started hitting shots, but we had to keep being aggressive. We wanted to keep the energy high and play hard continually through the fourth quarter.”
“That’s Mikayla at her best,” added St. Rose coach Janine Roth. “That’s who we want the ball in the hands of.”
And, what good hands they are. Limited to just three points through three quarters, Markham responded accordingly with the game on the line. She scored 11 over the final eight minutes, going 7 of 9 at the line, to finish with 14.
Her emergence down the stretch didn’t seem like it would be necessary for much of the contest. St. Rose raced to a 10-0 lead, sparked by Thomas, who dropped in six of her team-high 22 points during the opening salvo. Junior Lauren Lithgow came off the bench to drain four threes in the first half and teamed with junior Maggie Stapleton and freshman Abigail Antognoli to give the Purple Roses 19 points from their reserves in the first half en route to fashioning a 37-20 halftime cushion.
“Sitting on the bench makes me hyped up,” said Lithgow, who went 4 for 6 from behind the arc in the first half and finished with 14 points. “I want to go in and make a difference for my team…making shots, playing defense, making passes. A lot of it is due to Mikayla. She is our point guard. We run through her. When she drives, I have to be ready to shoot.”
“Lauren, Abby, Maggie all hits shot, played great defense and hustled,” noted Markham. “There’s no drop off for us going eight deep. To see everyone step up…I thought that was a great team win for us.”
A team effort it took to put away resilient Red Bank Catholic (23-6).
After Thomas sank a free throw to start the third, St. Rose had its largest advantage at 38-20. Relying heavily on the 3-pointer, RBC gradually cut into the deficit. Senior Amanda Hart countered the Purple Roses’ production from the bench with some of her own, striking for 15 points on five triples and Julia Setaro. She canned two triples and junior Julia Setaro, another reserve, knocked down a pair of long-range jumpers as Caseys used 11 3-pointers to fuel their offense.
Each supplied a trey during a 13-5 rush that closed the third, stamped by senior guard Rose Caverly going coast-to-coast with a defensive board to narrow the gap to 50-43 heading into the fourth.
Caverly, who punctuated her career with a stirring 24-point performance, converted a Hart feed that got RBC to within 50-45 with 7:23 left to play, but it was as close as the Caseys got. St. Rose, spurred by Markham's exploits, embarked on an 11-0 run to push the lead to 61-45. A 9-1 reubttal by RBC, powered by three points from senior swing Katie Rice (11 points, four rebounds, three assists) and five by Caverly trimmed the margin to 64-56 with 1:07 remaining.
“My four seniors, I don’t think together there is an ounce of fluid left in their bodies,” said RBC coach Joe Montano of Caverly, Rice, Hart and Hayley Moore. “Katie was cramping up. Rosie was beat up. Hayley’s effort, communication and leadership was awesome. Amanda was hitting shots. I can’t be more proud of them and this team. St. Rose is really good and shot the lights out (23 for 40 from the field, 19 of 23 at the line).”
St. Rose sealed the verdict by sinking 7 of 9 at the charity stripe over the balance of the contest. Senior Ariana Dalia, who played a pivotal role in the fast start for St. Rose, finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
St. Rose (27-3) 18 19 13 23 --- 73
Red Bank Catholic (23-6) 09 11 23 16 --- 59
St. Rose: Abigail Antognoli 1-0-0-2; Lauren Lithgow 0-4-2-14; Sam Mikos 1-0-2-4; Mikayla Markham 0-2-8-14; Lovin Marsicano 1-0-0-2; Ariana Dalia 4-0-2-10; Maggie Stapleton 1-1-0-5; Lucy Thomas 7-1-5-22. Totals: 15-8-19---73.
Red Bank Catholic: Sophia Sabino 0-0-0-0; Eliza Srinivasan 0-0-0-0; Fab Eggenschwiler 0-0-0-0; Katie Rice 3-1-2-11; Julia Setaro 0-2-0-6; Hayley Moore 0-1-0-3; Rose Caverly 5-2-8-24; Amanda Hart 0-5-0-15. Totals: 8-11-10---59.