Toms River North bows to Franklin in Group 4 Final
TOMS RIVER - The outcome had long been decided. The speed of Franklin on both ends of the floor, dictated by the stylish Diamond Miller, who encouraged the Warriors to run at every turn, hit Toms River North with a dizzying whirlwind in the second quarter from which it could never regain its balance.
Ripping down defensive rebounds and immediately dashing the other way, the 6-1 junior’s long, graceful strides broke down into nimbly rehearsed steps around the basket for one layup after another, offset by the occasional 20-footer that showed off her range and exhibited the depth of her game, one that will be heading to Maryland.
Her game-high 27 points were part of a dominating performance put forth by the defending Tournament of Champions winner. Franklin shot a shade over 50 percent from the floor, parlayed 18 turnovers in 23 points and stormed to a 70-30 victory over Toms River North on its home floor Sunday night en route to its second straight NJSIAA Group 4 title at RWJBarnabas Health Arena.
However, there was a catch. Unbeknownst to Franklin, Toms River North had already won, accomplishing that nearly two weeks prior.
“You appreciated the tears,” Toms River North coach Vicki Gillen said of her team’s post-game reaction, a response to the finality of the season and the departure of five seniors, including starters Amanda Johnson and Lindsay Cabey and key resereves Khamyia Spence, Krystal Hund and Heather Cheslock. “But, to think early in the year that this group would win 28 games…it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment. I told them after the Shawnee game (a 47-45 triumph in the South Jersey sectional semifinals) that we’d already won. Not because of (junior guard) Brielle (Bisogno) hitting the winner at the buzzer, but because when things got ugly, I saw my girls picking each other up.
“Not to say it’s gravy to be here. We wanted to come in and compete. Unfortunately, we got the wind sucked out of us early and couldn’t recover. They are a heck of a team.”
Franklin (23-7) did Toms River North a bit of a favor, giving it a first-hand account of what the next level – one the Mariners aspire to reach – looks like, from the pace the Warriors established and sustained to the defensive quickness that denied the North basically everything they wanted to accomplish in the halfcourt.
“Franklin is a great team and Diamond Miller played excellent,” praised 5-10 junior swing Jenna Paul, the primary subject of the Warriors’ defense, which stiched senior Camille Gray in her back pocket with Miller sagging help side to deny post entries. “I knew we had the potential to get here, but there is another level of basketball out there and we just saw it. We can learn from it.”
Trailing, 19-11, Toms River North (28-4) got overwhelmed by a 21-0 explosion that lasted four minutes and by the time it was complete, fueled Franklin to a 40-11 cushion. The force, tempo and balance within the sudden blast far too great for the Mariners to recover from.
The blitz embodied just about everything that powered Franklin to the triumph, one predicated on relentless ball pressure in its signature man-to-man, scoring in transition (18 points of the fast break) and cleaning the boards (40-28 edge on the glass).
“It was a great opportunity to go out and play against one of the best players in the county and such a good team,” noted Bisogno, who’s coast-to-coast drive and buzzer-beating layup sealed pulled out the win over Shawnee on the Mariners’ path to their first sectional title since the historical 2000 season when it reached the Tournament of Champions final before falling to an undefeated Red Bank Catholic squad, 57-40. “We came out box and one on Miller but there was nothing we could do to stop her. Still, it was pretty cool to go out there and play for a state championship.”
Paul scored a team-high 10 points while Johnson and fellow senior Khamyia Spence each netted seven for Toms River North. Miller shot 11 of 21 from the floor, grabbed eight boards and led four players in double figures for Franklin.
“This has been a fun ride,” said Gillen. “They won games they shouldn’t have along the way to get here. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”