Well folks, we are down to the final four teams in the state of NJ. It’s hard to believe that we only have two evenings of basketball remaining. This has certainly been a great season. We have witnessed a lot of great basketball, and some of the best players in the country doing what they do best. I have been thrilled with how this season has gone . When I get to this time of year, I’m always thinking about two things, my excitement level for the biggest games of the year, and what I’m going to do when it’s all over. Even though I enjoy Spring sports a lot, the excitement and energy level doesn’t compare to the basketball playoffs. This is the only sport where the NJSIAA allows teams to playoff until we have one standing. We crown 6 state champions, and ultimately 1 Tournament of Champions winner. It is always a fun ride!
We are down to four excellent basketball teams. When I made my TOC predictions back in December, I felt Manasquan, St Rose, and St John Vianney would all be standing at this point. I was confident that they were three of the best teams in the state, and had superior talent level. Franklin on the other hand, has been a surprise. I think if we were going to talk about a Cinderella story in this tournament, Franklin would be it. Most people thought Paterson Eastside were going to come out of Group 4. People also thought East Orange would be the main challenger. Franklin right now has 24 wins and was able to knock off East Orange in the Group 4 semifinal, and South Group 4 champion Shawnee in the State Final. The state tournament provides a lot of opportunity. This is not the NBA and teams only have to win one game to advance. Franklin were able to get hot at the right time, and they are sitting here getting ready to take on No 1 ranked Manasquan.
TOC FINAL FOUR PREVIEW
#1 – Manasquan (29-2) vs #4 – Franklin (24-5)
Manasquan Head Coach – Lisa Kukoda
Starters For Manasquan – (Marina Mabrey Sr. 26.2 PPG, Courtney Hagaman Sr. 9.5 PPG, Dara Mabrey Fr. 9.1 PPG, Victoria Galvan So. 7.2 PPG, Stella Clark So. 7.3 PPG)
Key Reserves – Gillian Black Jr., Addie Masonius So.
Key victories for Manasquan – St Rose, SJV (2), Rumson Fair Haven (3), Archbishop Molloy, Middletown South, Patrick School
Franklin Head Coach – Audra Taylor
Starters For Franklin – ( Adreana Miller Sr. 18.3 PPG, Jaeda Wildgoose Sr. 10.7 PPG, Mary Trossi Sr. 6.5 PPG, Alexandra Jackson Sr. 6.9 PPG, Tahirah Scott Sr. 4.7 PPG).
Key Reserves – Monique Davis-Campbell So., Camille Gray Fr.
Key victories for Franklin – SJV, East Orange, Rutgers Prep, Middletown South, Shawnee.
When Manasquan has the ball – Manasquan will look to do what it does best and spread the ball around. Marina Mabrey is as dominant a player as they come, and she will look to take over in clutch situations. She can take over a game on any given night. How many times do we see a player with four state championships? She has been really special. Look for both Dara Mabrey, and Courtney Hagaman to knock down shots as needed. Both players have done an excellent job of that throughout the year. Victoria Galvan has played really well in the paint. She has posted double figures in points and rebounds over the previous three games. The team will need her to be on her game for this one. Stella Clark runs the point and is one of the best around. She has great vision, and plays like she is a foot taller. How many point guards leap for rebounds and fight for loose balls like she does?
When Franklin has the ball – Adreana Miller has been a consistent performer for this team. She is coming off a 33 point game and can hit from anywhere on the floor. Franklin has a pair of shooters between Miller, Trossi, and Jackson. They will look to create shots for Jackson on the perimeter. Miller is also big at six foot and will challenge Galvan in the paint. Franklin are a very scrappy team, and fast in transition. They will look to get their offense going early to keep up with this fast paced Manasquan team.
The Outlook – Franklin has been hot and shooting the ball very well. They will look to continue their streak, however, it will be very difficult. One thing that makes Manasquan such a great team is their ability to play lock down defense. They have such an ability to pressure the ball and do it with ease. A team can be within 10 points and Manasquan can go on a 10-0 run just like that. Squan can spurt you out of the building. Franklin will come to play and will be tough, but Marina Mabrey and her supporting cast will get it done.
Prediction – Manasquan 60, Franklin 50.
#2 – St. Rose (31-1) vs #3 – St. John Vianney (26-3).
St. Rose Head Coach – Joe Whalen
Starters for St. Rose – ( Kat Phipps Sr. 23.2 PPG, Jess Louro Sr. 17.4 PPG, Elyn Stoll So. 5.5 PPG, Elizabeth Marsicano Fr. 5.2 PPG, Jenn Louro So. 4.7 PPG)
Key Reserves – Mikayla Markham Fr., Katie Coakley Sr.
Key victories for St. Rose – Manasquan, Roselle Catholic, Rutgers Prep, Lodi Immaculate, Middletown South.
SJV Head Coach – Dawn Karpell
Starters for SJV – ( Kelly Campbell Jr. 15.0 PPG, Kimi Evans So. 11.5 PPG, Kellie Crouch Jr. 6.6 PPG, Gigi Caponegro Jr. 4.6 PPG, Courtney Dobrzynski So. 2.4 PPG).
Key Reserves – Vanessa Pinho Jr., Tina LeBron Jr., Zoe Pero Jr.
Key Victories for SJV – Manasquan, IHA, Rumson Fair Haven (2), St Anthony’s (NY), Montclair, Gloucester Catholic.
When St. Rose has the ball – It’s no secret that Joe Whalen runs his offense through Kat Phipps. The sharpshooter leads the state in three pointers. He will look to get her going early. Jess Louro is also a strong player who can drive hard in the lane, and hit the long jumpers for the Purple Roses. Louro also has great vision and passes really well. If Kat Phipps is facing double teams, both Elyn Stoll and Mikayla Markham are more than capable of hitting clutch shots. Senior captains Phipps and Louro have been a huge help to their young teammates. Jenn Louro is also a very good up and coming players. She has gotten better and better all season and provides another offensive weapon for the Roses. St. Rose is a well balanced team and can score in a lot of different ways.
When SJV has the ball – Kelly Campbell has done it all this year from scoring, to passing, and will need to be clutch in the big moments for this game. Kimi Evans will need to step up in the paint against the less experienced Marsicano. Evans is good at putting herself in the right place at the right time. She is very tough and hard to defend underneath the basket. Kimi and Gigi Caponegro will need to dominate the offensive glass to provide second shot opportunities. Kellie Crouch, Vanessa Pinho, and Tina LeBron have all been shooting the ball well. Tina LeBron hit a huge three pointer that really turned the state championship game against IHA. Look for that to continue on Thursday night.
The Outlook – I have been back and forth all day because this game is so evenly matched. This is the game we never got to see all year. I believe this will be very close as both teams are very well balanced. They can not only hit shots with ease, but can certainly stop them as well. This will come down to the wire and I believe Campbell makes the difference in this one. She has really become quite the closer as we saw against IHA. The SJV defense will find a way to limit Phipps. While Phipps and Louro are seniors that will battle down to the end, SJV has great depth and I believe that will help them in the long run.
Prediction – St. John Vianney 56, St. Rose 52.