Lancers add to TOC legacy with overtime win over Manasquan


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By Tim Morris

Kelly Campbell rediscovered her touch at the foul line at the right time.

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Sinking nine of her 10 shots from the charity stripe in the second overtime of the NJSIAA Girls Basketball Tournament of Champions (TOC) final, Campbell secured St. John Vianney High School’s marathon 65-58 victory over Manasquan High School. It also delivered the finish to the season the senior-laden Lancers wanted.

“I was angry that I kept missing,” Campbell said of regulation-time misses that helped Manasquan come back to tie the game. “I pulled myself together. I knew I had to make them.”

After Gabrielle Caponegro hit a baseline jumper in the second overtime to give the Lancers a 55-53 lead, they never relinquished en route to the win at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton March 21.

“Being able to play ahead was important to us,” Lancers head coach Dawn Karpell said. “In the second overtime we went to zone. We had a few players in foul trouble ourselves.

“I think that [zone] really stymied them. The zone helped us get defensive stops.”

Those stops turned the game into a foul-shooting contest for the Lancers with Manasquan forced to foul. Fortunately, the Lancers were able to get the ball to Campbell, and the Warriors had no choice but to put the senior captain on the line, and she delivered.

“Kelly is strong from the foul line,” Karpell said.

Campbell responded to the challenge by sinking nine of her 10 free throws, including the last eight in a row, and the Lancers needed them all.

Manasquan showed the fight of a defending champion by never giving up.

“I knew we had the fight in us,” Manasquan head coach Lisa Kukoda said.

Indeed, Faith Masonius, who fueled the Warriors’ fourth-quarter comeback, knocked down a 3-point shot with 36 seconds left in the second overtime to pull Manasquan within a bucket at 60-58. It would be the Warriors’ last salvo.

Campbell then hit two free throws to extend the lead to four, 62-58, and then clinched the victory by sinking two more three throws with 23.3 second left to make it 64-58.

The TOC final was the fourth meeting between the Shore Conference rivals this year (St. John Vianney had won the first three). And like two teams very similar with each other, very little separated the clubs.

The Lancers, looking to end a memorable season during which they won everything, were in charge for most of the game thanks to Campbell and the inside play of Kimi Evans and Zoe Pero. St. John Vianney led by as many as 10 points twice.

But St. John Vianney’s offense stalled in the third quarter, as Manasquan threw a variety of defensive looks at the Lancers.

“We weren’t getting good looks,” said Karpell, who noted the team was trying to force the ball inside.

St. John Vianney was still in charge and up by seven, 39-32, halfway through the fourth quarter when the Warriors came back, led by freshman Masonius and Dara Mabrey. Masonius scored eight of her game-high 27 points in the quarter, and it was her basket with 3.7 seconds left in the game that sent it into overtime tied, 49-49.

“[Masonius] was finishing well,” Karpell said.

Masonius helped Manasquan take leads in the first overtime, but free throws from Evans and Campbell tied the game at 53-53, forcing a second overtime. Mabrey, a top playmaker for Manasquan, fouled out in the first overtime, and that took away from Manasquan’s options in the second overtime, which started with Caponegro’s jumper.

“Gabby stepped up and hit that jump shot,” Karpell said. “It was important to get scoring from someone else.”

Caponegro’s shot helped the Lancers play with the lead, and Campbell’s free-throw shooting iced it.

This season has been all about the steady climb St. John Vianney’s seniors have made through their four years. Two years ago, they reclaimed the state sectional title. Last year, they added the Non-Public A state championship and advanced to the TOC semifinals. There was only one more hurdle to clear.

“We had a heart to heart after last year, and there was no doubt what their goals were,” Karpell said.

“My pregame message was that this is not just about one single year. It’s about the last three to four years and what we’ve been building toward.”

The experience of those years had the team ready to play as long as it would take.

“When they were young, we were terrible in overtime,” Karpell said. “Mentally, they had been there, been tested. There was no way we were going to give up.”

In the end, St. John Vianney made the plays that championship teams make to win the TOC for a record seventh time, breaking the tie with Malcolm X Shabazz High School.

Campbell led the Lancers with 23 points, 11 boards and six assists, while Evans had 11 points and Vanessa Pinho had 10. The Lancers completed their season one game from perfection with a 31-1 record.

Masonius scored 27 points, and Julia Clark (13) and Mabrey (10) also scored in double figures for the Group II champions.

In the final practices before the TOC final, the Lancers’ seniors were well aware that their last game in a St. John Vianney uniform was coming.

“We talked about it a lot,” said Campbell, this year’s Kerwin Award winner as the   Shore’s best female basketball player. “It was going to be our last game together, and we wanted to go out the right way.

“We were going to do whatever it took to win. We wanted to complete the business we started.”

They joined the ranks of the best teams from the state’s best program. Karpell, a Lancers graduate herself, is one who would know.

“What a phenomenal year,” she said. “When they look back on this and see the banner in the gym, they will be considered with the greatest teams to come out of St. John Vianney.”

The seniors on club like Campbell, Pero, Pinho, Tina Lebron and Caponegro will have a special place in coach Karpell’s heart.

“They chose to come to St. John Vianny to play for me — to play in that uniform and to represent it and what St. John Vianney basketball is all about,” she said.

“To play the way they just did and accomplish what they did is what makes them so special.”

The 2015-16 Lancers, as their coach explained, can take their place alongside the other great St. John Vianney teams.

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