The season of redemption came to an erupt but sweet end for the Saint John Vianney High School girls’ basketball team on March 11 in the South Jersey, Non-Public A Tournament’s state championship game against Saint Rose High School at Long Branch High School.
Led by a 21-point performance by sophomore Madison St. Rose, second-seeded Saint John Vianney rolled to a 67-54 victory over fifth-seeded Saint Rose to win its first state sectional title since the 2015-2016 season.
“It was a top to bottom win for us,” said Saint John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell. “I’m just so proud of these kids. They have 100 percent bought in and do everything we ask them to do.”
The next stop for the Lancers would have been the Non-Public A state championship game on March 14 at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River against Immaculate Heart Academy. The winner of that showdown would then advance to the Tournament of Champions.
A state championship shot for Saint John Vianney however, was ended when the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of high school sports in New Jersey, cancelled the remainder of the boys’ and girls’ basketball season on March 12 due to the coronavirus that has impacted the world.
Saint John Vianney was bidding to win its 17th state championship. The 16 state titles by Saint John Vianney is the most in New Jersey girls’ basketball history. The Lancers last won a non-public state championship in 2016, the same year that Saint John Vianney won its state-record seventh Tournament of Champions state title.
The Lancers finished the season with 28-1 record, while not losing to a single team from New Jersey this winter.
Saint John Vianney’s only loss came on Jan. 31 to Long Island Lutheran High School of New York.
Saint John Vianney ended the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the Central Jersey Top 10.
Losing to Saint Rose in the state sectional final last year, 61-54, the Lancers came into their showdown this time against the school from Belmar with vengeance.
Saint John Vianney used a 15-4 surge to end the first half on March 11 en route to winning the rematch this season.
During Saint John Vianney’s 15-4 showing in the final four minutes of the first half, junior Katie Hill connected on a huge three-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 24-24 with 2:42 to go in the second quarter.
Hill collected eight points in the first half for the Lancers.
A basket by sophomore Megan Cahalan helped give Saint John Vianney a 29-24 lead going into the half.
The third quarter belonged to St. Rose–the ace player for the Lancers.
The sophomore came out focused on trying to extend the Saint John Vianney lead, scoring nine points in the quarter.
In the final seconds of the third quarter, St. Rose drove all the way to the basket for a layup to push the Saint John Vianney lead to 46-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I really wanted to space out the score a bit for us,” St. Rose said. “Once that happened, the energy really started to rise with our team and just kept going up from there.”
Stepping up and having a big second half for the Lancers was junior Christina Whitehead, who was money from behind the arc.
Whitehead banged home back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter to put the school from Holmdel up by a score of 39-31.
With two minutes just gone by in the fourth quarter, Whitehead struck again from downtown, knocking home her third shot from deep to extend the Saint John Vianney lead to 51-36.
Whitehead scored all 13 of her points in the second half for the Lancers.
“I just went out there and played,” Whitehead said. “I got into a little foul trouble in the first half and wanted to come out and help my team win. I was really happy to hit those three-pointers.”
Hill and St. Rose put the finishing touches on the Lancers’ sectional final victory at the free-throw line, each going a perfect two-for-two in the final 30 seconds to bring back a sectional title to Lancer Nation after four long years.
“It was really nice to see our team come together and pull through,” Karpell said. “It’s all about teamwork and playing defense. Those our got-to values in our program and we stayed true to them to win.”
Hill finished with 16 points in the victory.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports