Michaela Mabrey got a kick out of watching Katelynn Flaherty carry the scoring load. Her heart warmed as her freshman sister Marina stepped up, too.
But, one thing the All-American guard is not is a bystander. Even though her own shots weren’t falling, she was grateful those of others were to keep Manasquan afloat and buy her some time to find her range. And, when the senior guard finally did, she wasted no time injecting herself into the mix.
“I couldn’t hit the ocean,” said Michaela, who was just 3 for 11 from the field through two-and-half quarters. “But, Katelynn and Marina were picking me up. When I got my shot back and started feeling it, I thought that gave us a little spark.”
Mabrey backed a tie-breaking drive from Flaherty with two free throws before tipping in her own miss on a layup during a late third-quarter spurt that created some distance between Manasquan and Teaneck.
In the fourth quarter, the 5-10 playmaker was even more effortlessly assertive, depositing nine of her 23 points over the closing eight minutes to help Manasquan, No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, pull away from No. 4 Teaneck en route to a 78-65 victory for the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship in front of 1,870 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
As much as Mabrey’s late-game offensive contributions enabled Manasquan (30-2) to secure its first state title since winning the second of two straight Group 2 championships in 1988, homage had to be paid to some defensive resolve that mildly slowed the up-and-down tempo that so suits Teaneck (30-3).
Sophomore center Kayla Gibbs was playing with such command on the offensive boards, Teaneck shooterswere able to take to a more liberal stance on their shots with the added insurance that any miss would be put back. However, junior forward Amanda Hagaman made a more concentrated effort to neutralize Gibbs with own strong 6-1 frame.
“I tried to box her out as best I could,” said Hagaman, who neutralized Gibbs and added in 10 point and 11 rebounds. “I got low to move her away and fronted her when she got too far out.”
After trailing by as much as 24-14 late in the first quarter, Manasquan to take a 28-27 edge on a free throw from Marina Mabrey midway through the second quarter and maintained its advantage until sophomore Kayla Gibbs, who was a force underneath with 27 points and 10 rebounds, dropped in a dish from Monique Cheek to even the score at 47-47 with 3:39 to go in the third.
Flaherty, who struck a well-needed balance with her penetration and 3-point efficiency (5 of 7 from behind the arc) in clicking for 25 points, drove inside for a bucket that broke the deadlock with 3:12 left in the period. Michaela Mabrey backed that with two free throws, then ripped down a defensive board, got underneath only to miss her first shot before tapping in the carom for a 53-47 lead.
Although a basket by Cheek got Teaneck within 55-53 heading into the fourth, Manasquan let it get no closer. The Warriors turned up their defensive intensity, particularly around Gibbs, behind the strong post play of junior Amanada Hagaman, who held the sophomore center scoreless in the quarter until she converted a layup with 1:43.
By that point, Manasquan had broken things wide open. Michaela Mabrey opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer and piercing drive, both off feeds from her sister, to extended the advantage to 60-53. She reciprocated her sibling’s generosity with a pass that Marina, who scored 16 points converted into a 20-foot jumper to make it a 63-53 game. When Flaherty canned another 3-pointer off a touch pass from Michaela on an in-bounds play, something Manasquan had a lot of success on, the Warriors were out in front, 68-57 with 4:30 to go.
While Michaela Mabrey produced some appreciated points late, Flaherty was a consistent offensive figure throughout. She dropped in 15 points before halftime and went a 9 of 17 from the floor with a tidy 5-for-7 showing beyond the arc.
“We needed to get in some kind of flow to stay with them,” said Flaherty. “But, we couldn’t just keeping running up and down because we were going too fast and not allow waiting for our options to open up.”
Teaneck got the tempo it favors for most of the game and flaunted super balance within it. The backcourt of Rebecca Sparks (10 points), Deja Gabbidon (10 points) and Cheek (8 points) repeatedly darted into the lane or off the elbows while Florida State-bound made their ways inside off the dribble to await.
It hit its first five shots and went 9 of 13 in establishing a 24-14 lead 1:21 left in the opening quarter.
“I knew we would give them a game like that,” Teaneck coach Shenee Clarke said of her squad. “This loss doesn’t take anything away from what we did this season. We played a good team.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner