Valiant Middletown South bows to Lenape in Gr. 4 semis
BAYVILLE - As comebacks go, this one would be considered epic by most accounts. However, from the Middletown South perspective, the Eagles would label it routine.
Trailing by 18 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Middletown South mounted an anything but typical rally - unless you're associated with Middletown South. They would suggest this to be almost commonplace, not so much erasing seemingly insurmountable deficits, but the underlying act of overcoming adversity that hatches one.
Generally, a separation that large can't be wiped out expetiously...except when you're Middletown South, a crew with recent experience in making such problems magically disappear. Thus, two nights after dissolving a nine-point gap with less than three minutes left in regualation to dispose of Marlboro in overtime, a void twice as large and with ample time probably seemed like a piece of cake with an eternity to devour it.
Most stunning was the manner in which the Eagles chiseled away at the deficit...or more like jackhammered the deficit.
The 39-21 cushion Lenape built with 1:51 showing in the third was gone by the four-minute mark of the fourth, scorched by a 22-3 outburst that featured execution, diversity, defense, a milestone bucket and, above all else, the wiring of a Middletown South group that doesn't want to hear the definition of can't because it's too loyal to a belief in anything is possible.
That appeared to be the case after junior Kayla Richardson's delicate pull-up jumper thrusted Middletown South in front, offering the Eagles their first lead since 3-2. However, as fast as it all unfolded was followed by a painful reminder of how quickly it can all unravel.
A driving layup by gritty guard Shannon Mulroy drew a foul and the chance for a three-point play. Furthermore, the bucket was accompanied by a technical foul and Mulroy cashed in on the windfall, producing five points in an instant. The one-point lead South had courageously scratched and clawed to construct, gone in the blink of an eye, the sequence of events spurring Lenape to a 51-47 victory over Middletown South on Thursday night at Central Regional.
"Everything was left out there," Isla Brennan said of the effort exerted by Middletown South. "That's all you can ask for and that's what made this whole ride so special."
More special...getting to share the journey with her proud father, head coach Tom Brennan, who kept the fact his daughter was 13 points shy of 1,000th until she deposited a long-range jumper in the third quarter, spring the surprise with a ball to commemorate the accomplishment and long embrace to recognize her fierce allegiance to the program.
"It's frustrating," he said of the change of fortunes in the fourth. "We'd exerted so much energy Tuesday to get that win against Marlboro, we were worried about what was left in the emotional tank. The kids showed there was plenty left. That was really tough. Our kids worked hard."
Lenape will move on to the Group 4 final on Sunday in Toms River, taking a crack as solving unbeaten and two-time defending champion Franklin. Middletown South can easy the sting of this one with reflection on a 24-6 campaign that included a Central Jersey, Group 4 championship and one other defining title - that of a team with no quit.
Down, 39-21, with less than two minutes remaining in the third, Middletown South (24-6) embarked on a resurgence to behold.
The Eagles fashioned a wild 22-3 comeback, fueled by two 3-pointers from senior guard Isla Brennan, the first marking the milestone moment, to close the gap to 40-26.
A layup and subsequent putback from junior swing Kayla Richardson pulled South to within 42-30 at the end of the third.
Junior guard Stephanie Mayerhofer assured momentum remained on South's side with a 3-pointer to open the fourth and senior guard Emily McCarthy converted a steal into a three-point play, whittling Lenape's lead to 42-36.
Brennan dished to senior forward Eve Pirie for a bucket on the block, backed that with her fifth and final 3-pointer and Richardson capped the inspiring charge with jumper that put the Eagles in front, 43-42, with 4:00 to go.
Brennan ended her four-year career with 18 points, Richardson netted 12 and Mayerhofer finished with eight for Middletown South. Regan King hit three triples and had 13 points for Lenape.
Lenape (28-3) 22 04 16 09 --- 51
Middletown South (24-6) 06 10 14 �� 17 --- 47
Lenape: Shannon Mulroy 6-1-8-23; Nevaeh Sutton 1-0-5-7; Regan King 1-3-2-13; Kiana Gosnell 2-1-1-8; Olivia Johnstone 0-0-0-0; Claire Zhang 0-0-0-0; Dyonna Wess 0-0-0-0.
Middletown South: Isla Brenna 0-5-3-18; Kayla Richardson 5-0-2-12; Sam Keenan 0-0-2-2; Eve Pirie 2-0-0-4; Stephanie Mayerhofer 1-2-0-8; Madison Szabo 0-0-0-0; Emily McCarthy 1-0-1-3; Renee Wells 0-0-0-0; Grace Meehan 0-0-0-0.