NJSIAA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, TUESDAY, MARCH 20
IZOD CENTER, EAST RUTHERFORD
NO. 6 GILL ST. BERNARD’S (29-4) VS. NO. 3 MANASQUAN (31-2)
GILL ST. BERNARD’S (62.3 points per game/49.8 points allowed per game)
5-Sam Graber (Sr. G 5-10 6.2 ppg.)
10-Jasmine Sina (So. G 5-2 7.9 ppg.)
31-Taylor Rooks (So. F 6-1 18.5 ppg.)
32-Dominique Vitalis (Sr. C 6-2 15.6 ppg.)
51-Linnett Graber (Sr. G 5-10 8.4 ppg.)
22-Trevena Bennett (So. G 5-9)
COACH: Aaron Gratch, 2nd season (53-10)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GILL ST. BERNARD’S
Fourth-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s has to find a way to carry the incredible momentum it built in rallying from a 23-point deficit in the third quarter to upset top-seeded Shabazz, 60-56. How it stemmed the tide against the Bulldogs was by spacing the floor, getting everyone involved in the offense, balancing its point of attack and making shots.
The frontcourt of Vitalis and Rooks is peaking at the most opportune time. They form a monopolizing force on the boards and run the floor exceptionally well for bigs. Each does a super job of making herself available in transition or in the halfcourt. Vitalis, who is heading to Georgetown, competes with passion in the post and yields no ground in the paint at either end. Rooks boasts such a polished all-around game for a sophomore. She can establish position to finish on the blocks, come outside to receive and penetrate off the dribble and flash to the elbows or foul line to stick a mid-range jumper. She has evolved into a total matchup nightmare.
Once recognized for the impact they made from behind the arc, twins Sam (27 3-pointers) and Linnett Graber (38 3-pointers) have both enhanced their packages with the confidence they have putting the ball on the floor. Defenders now must respect them as much off the bounce as they already did as perimeter shooters.
Jasmine Sina has truly shined as a playmaker for the Knights in the post season. Despite her diminutive stature, the point guard sees the entire floor and is always eager to distribute. Her range is another feature that Gill St. Bernard’s has found trustworthy (56 3-pointers). Yet, she isn’t the least bit bashful about driving to the hole when a lane is available and she is a pretty solid commodity when she earns trips to the foul line. Sina played a significant role in orchestrating the Knights stunning comeback over Shabazz in the T of C semifinals.
Trevena Bennett supplies a rush of energy when she comes off the bench. A superb penetrator, the sophomore uses a strong frame and wealth of assuredness to pierce the defense off the wings or along the baseline. She also has a tendency to sink her teeth into defensive assignments.
Did You Know: Before transferring to Gladstone, Rooks attended the Nichols School in Buffalo, where she averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds as a freshman.
MANASQUAN (65.8 points per game/41.3 points allowed per game)
21-Sam Sullivan (So. F 6-0 4.4 ppg.)
23-Michaela Mabrey (Sr. G 5-11 16.9 ppg.)
24-Katelynn Flaherty (So. G 5-7 (20.8 ppg.)
25-Marina Mabrey (Fr. G 5-11 14.8 ppg.)
32-Amanda Hagaman (Jr. F 6-1 5.2 ppg.)
5-Melissa Pavia (Sr. G 5-6)
COACH: Felix Romero 3rd season (61-19)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MANASQUAN
You have to credit Manasquan from learning from its losses. When it bowed to St. Rose, 65-56, in the Shore Conference Tournament final, a lack of composure played a role in its downfall. To a player, they recognized that shortcoming, addressed it and have executed with the necessary poise to meet the high expectations that were placed on this program right from the outset.
The Warriors opened the season No. 1 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 and are now one win away from securing that spot. Sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty has been such an offensive asset. She gets to the basket off the dribble with wonderful bursts and has mastered the importance of changing speeds. She also has grasped the importance of being unpredictable. Flaherty can attack the basket from either side without any dropoff and remains such an imposing figure along the arc, where she has buried 83 3-pointers. She has scored no less than 22 points in each of the last five games and been economical in doing so.
Talk about expectations. There were too many to note in regards to freshman Marina Mabrey’s addition to the lineup and the powerful swing has met or exceeded every one of them. There is a notable passion to her style, a competitive edge that states she is not willing concede anything. She can muscle her way through contact to get to the basket and has done an admirable job of offsetting that with a nice outside game (35 3-pointers).
Besides doing her share on the glass, she has proven to be a formidable defender who can be put in front of a team’s best offensive options regardless of whether the job entails defending underneath or out high. She can create turnovers with the pressure she puts on the ball and cash them in off the fast break.
Hagaman has carved her niche as a rugged low-post defender eager to matchup on the best the opposition has on the blocks. She uses her strong frame to influence frontcourt counterparts into unwanted positions in the halfcourt and turns to face the basket quickly to retrieve rebounds. Having cut her teeth against the likes of St. Rose’s Sam Clark three times this season, Hagaman should be primed to contest Gill’s strength inside. She has also become pretty slick on the offensive end, sliding out of the lane to create room for the guards to get inside while making herself available to finish along the baseline.
Hagaman won’t have to handle the inside responsibilities alone. Sullivan offers some more muscle and grit to the interior resistance. She embraces the physicality that comes with working primarily in the paint and isn’t shy about competing feverishly in the lane, whether it’s to deter penetration or reject shots in the low post.
And, when Pavia is summoned off the bench, she ignores her 5-6 status while finding uncanny ways to grab boards or to get underneath bigger posts to make steals.
But, perhaps the biggest ace in the hole for Manasquan is All-American Michaela Mabrey. This is it for the senior playmaker, her final high school game before heading off to Notre Dame and don’t think for a second she isn’t amped to leave on a high note. Although not the offensive factor in terms of scoring that she normally is during the last two victories (five points versus Cedar Creek in the first round and nine against St. Rose in the semifinals), Mabrey found other, less glamorous ways to make an impact, be it through ball screens or subtle help defense shading in front of the post.
All that said, this game will demand her ability to seize control of the floor. Anticipate her activity within the press to be relentless when Manasquan throws it and her drives to the bucket to be converted. She is ultra-competitive and the touchstone for the Warriors to lean on to get a gauge on how important a part poise will play in this one. Another master of changing speeds off the dribble, Mabrey has to set up defenders to respect her penetration and once she attains that, she can expose them with the seemingly limitless range of her jumper.
Did You Know: This is Michaela Mabrey’s second trip to a T of C final. As a freshman, Mabrey averaged 11.8 points for St. John Vianney, including 23 points in a 72-52 victory over Paterson Catholic in the T of C semifinals. While she didn’t score in the championship game, Mabrey had one rebound, two assists and two steals in the 56-44 triumph over Colts Neck.
A PRELUDE OF THINGS TO COME
This is not the first encounter between these two schools this season. The two met during a quad scrimmage at Holmdel and played a spirited contest that was both fast-paced and physical. While Manasquan prevailed, Gill St. Bernard’s learned a great deal about itself that day. As much as finesse is such a prominent characteristic of the Knights, they didn’t give an inch banging inside and matched Manasquan’s intensity. Don’t think either team didn’t go back to that Saturday afternoon in Holmdel for a little refresher in what the other has to offer.
One thing to note from that contest was how Gill St. Bernard’s struggled against Manasquan’s intimidating diamond press. With the 5-11 Mabrey sisters and 6-1 Hagaman at the top, Gill ran into quite a few problems in terms of backcourt traps that resulted in turnovers. How the Knights make adjustments to avoid too many of those pratfalls will play a big part in its success.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Gill St. Bernard’s
*Keep Manasquan’s guards in front. Easier said than done, but the Knights have to limit penetration and the number of things that come out of it.
*Control the boards. Vitalis and Rooks did that to a large degree in the victory over Shabazz. The two combined for 32 points and 22 of the 38 rebounds Gill St. Bernard’s pulled down.
*Pride. There is an edge to the Knights that can be aroused when challenged. This is a feisty bunch that’s not afraid to mix it up when a game takes on a physical undertone.
*Balance the floor. Shouldn’t be a problem, considering it may be what the Knights do best. Certainly, Rooks and Vitalis are the most notable scorers, yet the Grabers, Sina and Bennett are still prominent in halfcourt sets. Every option tends to be explored through patience before settling on the best available shot.
*Get to the rim. As much as both Mabreys and Flaherty are exceptional at sticking the 3-pointer, getting inside first, particularly in the cavernous setting of the Izod Center, will be an ideal way to get the offense in gear.
*Pick your battles. Hagaman and Sullivan figure to be pretty busy trying to contain Vitalis and Rooks around the basket. Thus, fouls have to be avoided at all costs. Their presence on the floor and the size that comes with it will be essential to the defensive gameplan.
*Play it cool. Manasquan tends to wear its emotion on its sleeves and, as long as it channels that in a positive fashion, through relentless pressure defense and offensive efficiency, it should be in good shape. Michaela Mabrey is the inarguable voice of reason for the Warriors on the floor and her experience in this type of setting is invaluable. She must recognize any flashpoints of emotion detrimental to the cause and extinguish them immediately.
*Defend the floor. If and when it throws the press, Manasquan has to recover, retreat and organize in the backcourt when Gill breaks it. It can’t risk giving up easy baskets in this one. The buckets Gill gets have to be earned on every possession in an effort to wear down the Knights.
*Set the pace. This is a well-conditioned ensemble geared toward an up-and-down tempo that plays to its strong suits. However, speed with caution; this court will feel like the Grand Canyon in the context of both its size and the arena it’s set in. Being too frivolous on runouts could use some energy that might be necessary at game’s end.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner