By Matthew Rocco
St. John Vianney High School’s girls basketball team was one step away from its first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) crown in seven years heading into the finals.
With a convincing 57-36 victory over Lenape High School March 18, the Lancers advanced to the TOC finals to face a familiar foe Manasquan High School March 21. The Warriors, the defending TOC champions, needed TOC wins against University High School (Newark) and Rutgers Preparatory School to reach the last game of the basketball season, setting up an All-Shore Conference final.
St. John Vianney and Lenape started slow in the semifinals, as both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively and got into some foul trouble. The Lancers entered the second quarter with a slight edge, 9-6, and registered just two more field goals before halftime. But after going 13-of-19 from the foul line in the second quarter, St. John Vianney held a 10-point lead at the break.
The Lancers caught fire in the third quarter. They put 19 points on the board to extend their lead, 45-28, and never looked back.
Kelly Campbell continued to shine for the Lancers in their semifinals win, scoring 23 points to lead St. John Vianney’s offense. Twelve of her points came in the second quarter, when she drained 10 free throws.
Kimi Evans had 11 points in the third quarter alone and ended the day with 14. Zoe Pero scored 10 points, while Gabrielle Caponegro led St. John Vianney with 13 rebounds.
The Non-Public A champions defeated Manasquan in all three of their prior meetings this season, including a 59-48 victory in the Shore Conference Tournament finals.
Manasquan had TOC experience on its side, appearing in its third consecutive TOC final. The Warriors, this year’s Group II winner, defeated fellow Shore Conference powerhouse St. Rose High School for the 2015 title. A year earlier, they lost the title game to Malcolm X Shabazz High School (Newark).
St. John Vianney and Shabazz are tied for the most TOC titles with six. The Lancers were looking to win a seventh crown and hold the record all to themselves when they met Manasquan in the TOC championship at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.