Manasquan squeezes by St. Rose
Trying to contain Katelynn Flaherty and Marina Mabrey when they both have their perimeter touch and confidence off the dribble flowing is a tall order. But, once the Manasquan pair decides to sprinkle in a hint of unpredictability, well, that borders on being downright unfair.
St. Rose prides itself on its defensive preparedness. But, even it had no answers for the dynamic duo, which took over the fourth quarter by virtue of their well-rounded styles.
“Game after game, their play is elevated,” Manasquan coach Felix Romero said.
The two buried back-to-back 3-pointers that snapped deadlock and used their penetration to move the defense enough for each to deliver feeds that Amanda Hagaman gladly deposited during a fourth-quarter tear that propelled third-seeded Manasquan, No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 56-50 victory over second-seeded and second-ranked St. Rose on Thursday night in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals in front of 2,635 at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
Manasquan (31-2) advanced to Tuesday night’s T of C championship at the Izod Center in East Rutherford where it will take on fourth-seeded and sixth-ranked Gill St. Bernard’s at 6:30. The Gladstone school rallied from a 23-point deficit in the third quarter to shock top-seeded and top-ranked Shabazz, 60-56, in the second semifinal.
Limited to two field goals in the first half, Flaherty struck an offensive balance coming out of intermission and erupted for 16 of her game-high 22 points, including five in the fourth, while Mabrey dropped in seven of her 19 over the last eight minutes
“She was hard to stop,” St. Rose coach Joe Roman said of Flaherty. “She was shooting from 20-something feet away. She was able to dribble penetrate and drop off for the little easy shots. She is so hard to guard.”
How well both balanced their offense neutralized St. Rose’s defense approach and enabled them to incorporate others into the scoring.
“Everything was just falling,” said Flaherty, who shot 6 of 10 in the second half, 8 of 16 overall and 5 for 10 from behind the arc. “We hit shots and then, they were playing out so far, we saw all these holes. So, we went in and they all stepped up. The first time, I drew a charge, so I kept my head up and saw Amanda.”
Mabrey broke a 41-41 tie with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 5:58 to play. Following two free throws by St. Rose’s Diana Malanga, Flaherty canned a trey from the left corner. An ensuring steal by Michaela Mabrey led to her freshman sister kissing a pull-up off glass to push the lead to 49-43.
Flaherty packaged a crossover and spin move to get inside before lobbing a dish to junior forward Amanda Hagaman for a layup and Marina Mabrey slipped inside to feed Hagaman for another bucket that capped 13-3 burst and extended Manasquan’s advantage to 53-46 with 1:54 to play.
“During a timeout, Katelynn and I said lets go in and draw (St. Rose forward) Sam Clark out, then dish it to Amanda on the blocks,” Marina confided. “We got in there and whether whoever we kicked to made the shot, they were going to have to respect that they’re going to get an open layup.”
With Clark, Sarah Kurtz and Diana Malanga clogging the lane defensively, Hagaman was shrewd enough to make a subtle adjustment.
“They were trying to take away the drive in the middle,” Hagaman said. “So, once they drove, I stepped out a little to get open because they were worried about them going to the basket.”
The triumph and foresight it took to achieve it underscored a coming of age for Manasquan. While it showed great poise in defeating St. Rose, 43-39, on Feb. 11 in Belmar, it unraveled in the rematch when it fell, 65-56 in the Shore Conference Tournament final two weeks later. Maintaining its cool this time around was perhaps the most imperative point of emphasis for this encounter.
“In the last game, the immaturity of our team definitely showed,” Marina admitted. “We went over that in practice. If we lose our composure, we’re going to start turning it over. The poise, especially with the atmosphere, gave us a better chance to win the game.”
Beyond the six points Hagaman supplied in the fourth, the 6-1 post had an even greater responsibility in denying Clark touches in the paint. How seriously she took her assignment and how active she was within it was made apparent on St. Rose’s opening possession of the second half when she stepped in front of an intended entry to the 6-2 Fordham recruit to make a steal.
“It’s hard getting around her,” Hagaman said of fronting Clark on lobs. “I have to use the right footwork and watch what I’m doing. It’s difficult. It takes a lot of energy.”
While All-American Michaela Mabrey was limited to nine points, the 5-10 Notre Dame-bound senior, who played in front of her future college coach Muffet McGraw, found other less noticeable ways to contribute. Saddled with three fouls, she sagged off Malanga in Manasquan’s halfcourt man-to-man and lent a hand to Hagaman by subtly fronting on Clark, who still collected a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds in the face of the added attention.
“I knew Kasey was going to be all over me,” Michaela said of St. Rose’s Kasey Chambers, who mirrored her every move. “ I’m not going to be able to hit threes when she’s right up in my face so I had to find other ways to score, get other people involved (she had a team-high four assists), hit the screens for Katelynn to get open, get rebounds (of which she grabbed six) and help on Sam. I had to do little things to help us win.”
The loss brought a close to a memorable run for Clark, Chambers, Malanga and Morgan Barry, St. Rose’s four senior starters. The quartet delivered the Belmar school its first Shore Conference Tournament title since 1993 and the Non-Public A championship, marking its first state crown in 12 years.
“I thanked them because, without them, we don’t get to that spot,” Roman said. “As a coach, it’s real special to be a part of situations or environments we played in this year and the only reason we got there was because of them. It’s not just because of how good a basketball player they are, it’s because of how well they get along together and how good a kid they are. They play for each other.”
Manasquan built a 32-19 lead with just over three minutes elapsed in the third quarter following back-to-back 3-pointers by Flaherty. But, St. Rose put went on an 18-5 splurge, capped by Clark’s buzzer-beating 28-footer that knotted the game at 37-37 after three periods.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner