WEST LONG BRANCH
Stifling defense and a balanced offensive attack led No. 5 Manasquan to its first Shore Conference Tournament title since 1983 and its third in school history, defeating No. 2 St. Rose, 61-41, at Monmouth University on Saturday.
Behind seven first quarter points from Marina Mabrey, the Warriors (20-5) jumped out to a 11-2 lead, forcing six St. Rose turnovers at the end of the first quarter.
“I just think that we had the right mindset this time,” Mabrey said.
Mabrey, who was part of the Manasquan team that fell to St. Rose in the T of C final back in 2012, had a feeling things would be different this time.
“We put in the work that needed to be done, we stressed the defensive end and knew that the offensive end would just come to us, and that’s what happened this time.”
The Warriors did a good job all game of stopping the Purple Roses (21-3) at the rim, holding St. Rose to just 10 total points inside the paint. By keeping St. Rose out of the paint, it cut down the drive and kick opportunities, limiting the amount of open looks for the Purple Roses.
“The main thing was that we had to concentrate and pay attention on defense,” Mabrey said.
“It was all about the team work aspect, and I think we played more as a team today.”
It’s the first SCT title for second year coach Lisa Kukoda, who seems to be able to push all the right buttons for this Warriors team. Kukoda was confident on the offensive end for the Warriors, but stressed to her team that it was going to be the defense that would win them this game.
“They (St. Rose) are obviously a very good offensive team, and we knew that we needed to step it up,” Kukoda said.
“I told them it was going to come down to the communication and intensity, and if we are all on the same page every defensive possession, then that’s going to work in our favor.”
Even after the fast start from Manasquan, they only took a 12-point lead into the half. With St. Rose still in striking distance, Kukoda knew coming out aggressive in the third quarter was going to be key.
“We talked about that third quarter, because if we let them come out and knock down a couple of 3s that would have gave them some momentum,” Kukoda said.
“We wanted to keep doing what we were doing defensively, and offensively just staying patient, and it turns out that we were the ones to be able to knock down a few big shots to start the third.”
Courtney Hagaman and Bridget Ford came out and hit back to back shots from behind the arc for the Warriors, essentially putting the game away in the third quarter. Hagaman, still fresh of her game-winning buzzer-beater against Vianney in the SCT semifinal, scored 15 of her game-high 20 points in the second half for the Warriors.
“In the third we made sure that we came out strong, we knew if we didn’t they had a chance to get back in the game,” Hagaman said.
“It’s been great, we have been playing really well together lately, and to come out and give it our all and win is special.”
Once again it was the depth on full display for the Warriors, who crashed the offensive boards, scoring 10 big second-chance points in the win. Sam Sullivan scored 11 points, Eva Hart had nine rebounds, and Stella Clark finished with 6 points and 4 rebounds for the Warriors.
The team chemistry now with Mabrey is through the roof, something that the junior knew would be achieved in time.
“I had faith in our team and faith in my coach that she was going to handle this the right way,” Mabrey said.
“I know a lot of people were waiting for me to destroy the chemistry, but I knew that’s not the way I operate, and it’s not the way our coach would let someone operate.”
St. Rose head coach Joe Whalen watched his team get off to a slow start, not ever able to fully recover.
“They denied us the lane today, and that was huge,” Whalen said.
“We didn’t really do a good job of preparing for that, so I’ll take the blame there.”
Both Manasquan and St. Rose will be in action on Tuesday in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Warriors will host No. 13. Willingboro in Central Jersey Group II play, and No. 5 St. Rose will host No. 12. Timothy Christian in Non-Public South B action.