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Note: Tonight's boys basketball Tournament of Champions semifinal games have been postponed to Saturday at Pine Belt Arena due to the weather. The Roselle Catholic-Paulsboro game will be at 3 p.m., followed by Pope John XXIII-Newark Tech at 5 p.m.

Is it really snowing out right now? Is this really happening?

Anyway, the girls basketball NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final is set, as Manasquan and St. Rose will fight for the heavyweight champion belt with a grudge match at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton after splitting two games this season.

The top-seeded Warriors had a battle on their hands for three quarters from Franklin last night before blitzing them with an 18-3 run to start the fourth quarter that turned a two-point thriller into a 17-point cushion and an eventual 62-52 win. Notre Dame recruit Marina Mabrey can smell the finish line after the Warriors lost in last year's TOC final, as she was sensational with 32 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks and only one turnover.

Mabrey has taken her game to another level and played like someone who will not be denied that TOC title. She has essentially guaranteed it, which she told a pack of reporters after last night's win.

"We’re gonna win it,” she said. “There’s no reason to even think about getting this far to have it be a loss, because it’s going to be a victory.”

Marina Mabrey and Manasquan are headed back to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final, intent on finishing the job. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

One of the most complete players in Shore Conference history, Mabrey also shut down Franklin star Adreana Miller in the fourth quarter after being switched on to her, holding her scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting when Manasquan threw that 18-3 knockout punch. Sophomore center Victoria Galvan also had a big game at the perfect time with 16 points and 11 boards, helping Manasquan keep Franklin off the offensive boards in the second half.

While the guard trio of Stella Clark, Dara Mabrey and Courtney Hagaman struggled offensively, they got after it on defense, particularly in slowing the penetration of Franklin's quick guards in the fourth quarter during the crucial run.

While Manasquan has had some issues in protecting big leads at times this season, when it's winning time and that team gets challenged, the Warriors really compete. They don't want to just win, they want to break your will and carve your heart out, which is what championship teams do.

Ask perennial winning coaches like Joe Montano, George Sourlis, John Truhan, Tom Brennan, John Brown or Dawn Karpell about their best teams, and they were the ones that played with an edge, that dug in and were not going down without a fight. Kukoda was one of those players during her championship years under Montano at RBC, and her team plays like it. It also doesn't hurt to have Mabrey cracking the whip at every turn, demanding greatness out of her teammates.

As for St. Rose, what stands out isn't necessarily ferocity for the Purple Roses, it's their incredible calm under pressure and their selflessness. It was on full display in their 47-43 comeback thriller over St. John Vianney to advance to their first TOC final. They simply do not get rattled.

After sophomore guard Jen Louro helped force a huge turnover to give them the ball back with a minute left down by two points, senior star Jess Louro ran a hand-off play with freshman guard Makayla Markham on the wing and then screened two defenders. Markham launched the biggest shot of her young career without hesitation, nailing a go-ahead 3-pointer that helped send the Purple Roses to victory. Considering St. Rose had never made the TOC final until now, you could say that's at least one of the biggest shots, if not the biggest, in program history.

The fact that a senior was willing to give it up to a freshman in that spot and play the unsung role of the screener speaks to that unselfishness. And the fact that Markham didn't even hesitate before taking out her dagger and jamming it in St. John Vianney's heart shows how much confidence St. Rose plays with. No one blinked at that playcall by coach Joe Whalen. Plus, at this point, Markham is a freshman in name only. St. Rose has played 33 games and faced the best of the best in the state, so Markham is practically like a junior by now. Still, that was the Bill Raftery "Onions!" shot of the tournament.

Louro has a very calming presence on that whole team. When fellow star Kat Phipps fouled out with five minutes still remaining, Louro kept the team focused on finishing and kept attacking. Whalen also has that, "We're fine, we'll fix it,'' effect on his team.

Senior Jess Louro and St. Rose are one win away from their first Tournament of Champions title. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

While it was a tough loss for St. John Vianney, I could see the Lancers as next year's Manasquan. They return their entire talented team and bring back injured standout Emily Uribe. They will have that burning drive to finish the job after getting so close to a TOC title, and with point guard Kelly Campbell leading the way, they will have the goods to do it.

One other basketball note. Just a reminder that the boys and girls SBCA Senior All-Star Games are coming up on Wednesday at Wall. Come out and send the seniors off in style.


The Division I commits are piling up for Manasquan, as senior outfielder Max Hawkins verbally committed to Monmouth University on Friday. He joins senior right-hander Marc Galvan (Manhattan), junior righty Jack Sheehan (Notre Dame) and sophomore lefty Tommy Sheehan (Notre Dame) as Division I recruits for the Warriors.


Southern senior quarterback Jon Bleichner, who had a school-record 358-yard passing game for the Rams this season in finishing with 1,114 yards passing and six touchdowns, will continue his career at William Paterson University.

Also, Red Bank Catholic junior quarterback Eddie Hahn added another offer on Friday, this one from Cornell.

More on Friday: 

  • Toms River East grad Frankie Edgar put a UFC title shot aside to fight Urijah Faber this summer.
  • A high school boys lacrosse goalie made a 77-yard goal.
  • Great to see Bobby Hurley Jr.'s success in taking Buffalo to the NCAA Tournament after some tough years figuring out his life. I remember when he was a fixture at Monmouth Park wondering what his next move was going to be. Come on, he's a Hurley. He had to be a coach.
  • There is another undefeated college basketball team from Kentucky trying to win a national championship, and this one features the daughter of Randy Moss.
  • These parents made $1 million from just filming YouTube videos of their kids playing with toys.

On tap for tonight: NCAA Tournament games until the late hours. Make sure to check out the Iowa-Davidson game at 7:20 p.m. on TNT. Iowa includes freshman Dom Uhl, who starred for Point Beach last season.

I'll end with one former Shore Conference star (Point Beach's Matt Farrell) resembling Zac Efron and a current one (Rumson's Brendan Barry) who did his best R.J. Hunter impression during the Shore Conference Tournament.