Jaguars defeat Middletown South, 57-47, to win Central Jersey Group IV title

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JACKSON – It was the type of contest fans expect from a championship game.

The Jackson Memorial High School and Middletown South High School girls basketball teams were tied 45-45 with 4:00 to play in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament championship game on March 8 in Jackson.

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A back-and-forth game of scoring runs ended with a 12-2 Jackson Memorial run as the Jaguars defeated the Eagles, 57-47, to win the 2022 state sectional tournament title.

The sectional crown is the program’s first since the 2011-12 season.

“We have a lot of good role players who stepped up and played well,” Coach Rachel Goodale said. “They are hard-nosed players. They love to fly around. It’s cool to watch.”

Jackson Memorial graduated its top two scorers from 2020-21, Rachel Capua and Lexi Linton. At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, Goodale was not picturing the type of success the Jaguars have enjoyed.

The squad has 22 wins and a state sectional tournament crown and Goodale, who is a graduate of the school, is proud of what her players have achieved and called winning the sectional title an amazing accomplishment.

“It feels absolutely amazing doing it with this group,” she said. “No one ever expected this group to win. They are fighters. They are athletes. They all bought in.”

The Jaguars showed the will of a champion when they were staring at a 37-28 deficit midway through the third quarter. A three-point field goal by Chloe Messer provided the team with a spark.

The Jaguars finished the third quarter on a 12-2 run. Junior Zoie Maffei banked home a layup in the final seconds to put Jackson Memorial ahead, 40-39, heading into the fourth quarter.

“Once we start, we don’t stop,” Maffei said. “We were all fired up and ready to push the pedal to the metal.”

Middletown South answered with a 6-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. Trailing 45-40, the Jaguars needed another rally. Maffei tied the game at 45-45 when she drilled her third three-point field goal with just over 4:00 to play.

The Jaguars struck again from three-point range when senior Brooke McKown connected on her second three-point field goal to give the Jaguars a 48-45 lead with 3:03 to play.

Maffei said that after McKown scored, she had a “good feeling” the Jaguars were on their way to victory.

“As soon as we hit those back-to-back three-pointers, I knew we had it,” she said. “I had full confidence in my team.”

Maffei finished the championship game with 15 points. She averaged 18 points per game during the state sectional tournament.

“What we did was really incredible,” Maffei said about winning a state sectional tournament crown. “We just kept going and never gave up.”

Messer pushed the lead to 50-45 when she scored on a layup with 2:33 to play.

The Jaguars, who were leading by five points with just over 1:00 to play, got a key defensive play from senior Kamile Makselyte as the Eagles tried to put the ball back in play.

A steal by Makselyte led to Maffei getting the ball and being fouled. Maffei made two free throws to extend the lead to 52-45.

The late-game steal was one highlight in a career night for Makselyte, who scored a game-high 17 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

Her stellar performance against Middletown South followed a scoreless game against Monroe Township High School in the semifinals, when she pulled down four rebounds.

“I’m really happy with myself,” Makselyte said. “I didn’t expect to play this well. It feels great.”

Makselyte put the finishing touches on the victory by scoring on a layup in the final seconds of the contest.

“There is no better word to describe it than great,” she said about winning a state sectional championship. “I’m really happy.”

Senior Amber Williams finished with nine points, 13 rebounds and two steals. Messer and McKown each scored eight points for the Jaguars.

Jackson Memorial (22-5) will play South Jersey Group IV champion Cherokee High School of Marlton in the Group IV state tournament semifinals on March 10. The winner will advance to the Group IV state championship game against the North Jersey champion.

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