Tournament of Champions
Semifinal Round
Friday, March 16
At RWJBarnabas Health Arena, Toms River

3-Franklin (24-7) vs. 2-St. Rose (28-3), 5:30 p.m.

Franklin Road to the TOC semifinals: Defeated East Orange, 69-36, Piscataway, 74-31, Bridgewater-Raritan, 65-32 and Watchung Hills, 71-60, for the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 title. Defeated West Orange, 74-54 and Toms River North, 70-30, for its second straight Group 4 state championship. Defeated Old Tappan, 56-45, in the quarterfinals of the Tournament of Champions.

St. Rose Road to the TOC semifinals: Defeated Immaculata, 78-28, Bishop Ahr, 65-19, St. John Vianney, 47-43 and Red Bank Catholic, 73-59, for the South Jersey, Non-Public A title. Defeated Immaculate Heart Academy, 53-38, for the Non-Public A state championship. Had a bye into the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions.

Projected starting lineup

1-Diamond Miller (Jr. G 6-1)
3-Tiana Jackson (Jr. G 5-8)
4-Camille Gray (Sr. G/F 5-11)
10-Keona Schenck (So. G 5-5)
11-Kennady Schenck (So. G 5-5)

Key Reserves

12-Kiersten McCloud (Sr. F 5-9)
14-Kiara McCloud (Sr. G 5-7)
25-Serena Jackson (Jr. C 6-0)

St. Rose
Projected starting lineup

4-Sam Mikos (Jr. G/F 5-10)
10-Mikayla Markham (Sr. G 5-8)
12-Lovin Marsicano (Sr. F 6-1)
13-Aria Dalia (Sr. F 5-9)
25-Lucy Thomas (Sr. F 6-1)

Key Reserves 

1-Abigail Antognoli (Fr. G 5-6)
3-Lauren Lithgow (Jr. G 5-8)
21-Maggie Stapleton (Jr. G 5-9)

Keys to Victory

Set the terms: Perhaps even more important than setting its own tempo, St. Rose has to deny Franklin its penchant for running the floor. The Warriors are at peak efficiency in transition, something the Purples Roses can avoid by cherishing possessions and limiting turnovers. Senior point guard Mikayla Markham is an ideal candidate to establish the level of care with the basketball necessary if St. Rose aims to dethrone the reigning TOC champion.

Diamond cutters: No secret here: St. Rose has to discover a means to neutralize Franklin’s sensational Diamond Miller (23.9 ppg., 69 3-pointers, 7.9 rpg., 3.7 apg., 3.9 bpg., 2.4 spg.). The 6-1 junior guard, who has committed to Maryland, is the definition of a matchup nightmare. She’s too quick for most bigs to defend and too tall for smaller guards to challenge when she fires from downtown. The length of Sam Mikos or rugged defensive craftsmanship of Ariana Dalia could be the remedies St. Rose employs. But, beware: too much attention paid to Miller opens the floor for Camille Gray, Tiana Jackson and twins Keone and Kennady Schenck, all with a keen sense to take advantage of chances when left unattended.

Flex some muscle: St. Rose plays some fierce halfcourt man-to-man that yields just 29.8 points per game. Expecting it to hold Franklin to that number is a lot to ask. However, defenders like Sam Mikos, Mikayla Markham and Ari Dalia can take significant strides toward limiting the Warriors by keeping their stable of attacking guards in front and cutting off access to the rim of the dribble. A physical defensive tone could be an aid to that cause, but has to be executed carefully to avoid costly foul trouble.

Offensive diversity: The Roses excel at forcing an opponent to defend the floor by making all five on the court a viable scoring option. Furthermore, Markham, Mikos, Dalia, Lovin Marsicano and Lucy Thomas present issues due to how effortlessly the materialize if different spots to knock down shots. All have a perimeter touch to balance their creativity inside the arc. At 6-1, Thomas and Marsicano can unloaded from long range just as effectively as they score around the rim. Neither is bashful about driving out of the high post or off a wing. And, Markham is fluid in every sense, slipping into cracks to sink floaters in the paint or along the baseline.

Ball movement: St. Rose does it inherently. Its unselfishness promotes constant action off the ball, with cutters flashing to the rim and rewarded for their efforts, balanced by perimeter sharing in a carousel fashion that routinely finds clean looks along the arc.

Bench pressing: One of the underlying factors in St. Rose’s march to the TOC revolves around the productivity it’s received from a reliable bench corps. Lauren Lithgow is a deadly streak shooter who’s buried 11 3-pointers in the post season while Abigail Antognoli is in perpetual motion, hustling underneath to rebound, stirring things up on defense and adept at running the floor. Maggie Stapleton has embraced opportunities to step into shots within a trio that has accounted for 37 points over the last two contests.

Prediction: St. Rose

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