Shore Conference champion Saint John Vianney now focuses on state title

The Saint John Vianney High School girls' basketball team celebrates winning its 14th Shore Conference Tournament championship in program history with a 57-50 victory over Manchester High School on Feb. 29 at OceanFirst Bank Center.

A successful rally led to revenge and a 14th Shore Conference Tournament championship for the Saint John Vianney High School girls’ basketball team

Next up for Saint John Vianney, which is ranked No. in the Central Jersey Top 10 and and in all of New Jersey, is the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament.

Saint John Vianney is the No. 2 seed in NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A and will be home in Holmdel on March 6 against the winner of the opening-round game between Mount Saint Mary Academy and Donovan Catholic High School.

Saint John Vianney will enter the state tournament with a 25-1 record after the Lancers claimed their 14th Shore Conference Tournament title with a 57-50 victory over Manchester Township High School in the championship game on Feb. 29 at Monmouth University’s OceanFirst Bank Center.

A year ago, Manchester Township had knocked off Saint John Vianney, 58-42, in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

And in West Long Branch last Saturday evening, Manchester Township was headed towards it second straight Shore Conference title.

Saint John Vianney was trailing, 48-47, with 2:03 to play but it was the Lancers who faced adversity and who stormed back to avenge that 2019 defeat and win their first in their Shore Conference Tournament crown in four years.

Led by sophomore Madison St. Rose and junior Katie Hill, Saint John Vianney outscored Manchester Township, 10-2, in the final 2:03 of the game to deny the Ocean County school from winning its second straight SCT title.

“I am really proud of the hard work that this group has put in this season,” said Saint John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell. “They played together as a team and worked hard all season to get here and executed the game plan to get the win.”

After Serenity Anderson sank two foul shots to give Manchester Township a one-point lead with just over two minutes to play, St. Rose helped the Lancers answer back quickly on the next possession.

St. Rose drove hard to the basket for a layup attempt that just rimmed out, but the sophomore followed her shot to get the offense rebound and the knock in the put back to put the Lancers up, 49-48, with 1:49 left to play.

“I wanted to try to get my team back in the lead right away,” St. Rose said. “Me getting my own rebound and putting it back in really gave us energy and we really made us feel like we were going to win.”

Also fouled on the play was Hill, who went to the foul line with Manchester Township in the penalty.

Hill dropped in both foul shots to extend the Saint John Vianney lead to 51-48.

The junior was big time from the foul line in the fourth quarter for Saint John Vianney, when she connected on six of her seven free throws to finish with 15 points in the contest.

“I just stayed calm and focused on making them,” Hill said. “It felt good. Being close so many times, we needed to step up and bring it home and we did that.”

Hill had an all-around great contest for the Lancers, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. One of Hill’s assists came early on to the fourth period with a great pass to the corner to Christina Whitehead, who banged in a three-point bucket to give Saint John Vianney a 40-38 lead. Moments later, Hill converted a three-point play to extend the Saint John Vianney lead to 43-38.

But Manchester Township turned it on and outscored the Holmdel school, 10-4, to gain the 48-47 edge with 2:03, setting up Saint John Vianney’s winning rally.

St. Rose made it a four-point game with 32.8 seconds left, when she calmly sank both of her foul shots to deliver a 53-49 lead for Saint John Vianney.

With Saint John Vianney leading by five points in the final seconds, St. Rose was fouled and sent to the line again.

Putting the stamp on her 23-point performance that resulted in her being name the game’s MVP, St. Rose drilled in two free throws to ice the victory.

St. Rose dropped in five of her six foul shots in the game, while Saint John Vianney overall connected on 14 of its 18 free throws, an effort that helped the Lancers win the championship.

The sophomore also racked up a team-high seven rebounds and had five steals in the contest. St. Rose scored a game-high 36 points in the team’s 70-63 victory over Saint Rose High School in the tournament semifinals on Feb. 25.

Performing at the highest level on the grand stage, St. Rose believes her leadership skills have helped her lead the team to great success this season.

“Since I had to play a bigger role this year, it made me be more responsible and take on a leadership role,” St. Rose said. “I love my teammates. For us to pull through and win this game is really amazing. I’m so proud of my team. This is a game I will never forget.”

Junior Ashley O’Connor produced eight points in the victory for the Lancers, while teammate Megan Cahalan contributed six points in the contest.

As her squad heads into the NJSIAA sectional tournament as the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Karpell believes that the Lancers are prepared through their schedule and play in the Shore Conference Tournament to make a run at both a sectional and state championship this month.

“The Shore Conference Tournament prepares you like no other tournament in the state does for the state tournament,” Karpell said. “The gauntlet that is A-South is sitting right there in front of us. We’re on a really good run and coming off winning a couple tough games. Being able to execute and win these last few games I hope will propel us into states.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports