Manasquan captures TOC crown
Katelynn Flaherty let the shots fly against her better judgment but, that’s the essence of what makes the Manasquan sophomore so indefensible.
While her basketball acumen is off the charts, Flaherty has never allowed ration to outweigh instincts. And, when her scoring touch reaches its zenith, the 5-7 guard is compelled to ride it rather than contemplate other options, even when the shot selection borders on the unthinkable.
“I took shots where I was like ‘what am I doing?’ but I just felt like they were going to go in and they fell,’’ Flaherty said. “I think I took more shots like that in the third quarter because after I hit my first one, I just kept going.”
An explosive outburst that spanned the closing 1:41 of the third was vintage Flaherty, unencumbered and living in the moment. It encompassed her unfathomable range, unflappable demeanor, creative release and ability to make impacts in more ways than just scoring.
However, it was indisputably the 10 points she erupted for during that pivotal stretch that made the greatest difference for third-seeded Manasquan, which broke free from a tie game and rode the crest of momentum supplied by its sharpshooter to a 67-55 victory over fourth-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s on Tuesday night in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final before 2,614 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
Flaherty was at her finest when the contest demanded nothing less and the spark she provided through her 27-point performance, coupled with the 26 netted by senior All-American Michaela Mabrey, powered Manasquan (32-2) to its first T of C title. It became the fourth member of the Shore Conference to win the prestigious event, joining St. John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic and Neptune, and left no room for doubt that the team that opened the campaign No. 1 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 will finish where it began.
“We’ve had these goals since Day 1,” said Mabrey, who was limited to a combined 14 points in the previous two rounds of the T of C before wrapping up her stellar career by shooting 8 of 17 (3 of 6 from 3-point range) to give her 2,117 points, fourth in Shore Conference history behind Patti Delehanty of Shore Regional (2,534), Audrey Gomez of St. John Vianney (2,231)and Christie (nee Pearce) Rampone of Point Pleasant Boro (2,190).
“It hasn’t hit me yet. It will in a few days,” Mabrey added. “ But, I still remember the first day on my way to practice. We ran 30 laps. But, I knew it was the beginning of something that was going to be great. Now, it’s the end. I don’t know what to say. I’m happy but I’m sad because I’m leaving.”
Mabrey’s departure was a sweet send off and it all came together in that final stretch of the third. With the game knotted at 36-36, Flaherty snapped the deadlock and put Manasquan in front for good when she stuck a 3-pointer. She backed that with one of her signature scoops to the hoop before driving hard along the right wing and launching another 3-pointer while moving laterally away from the basket with 40 seconds showing to extend the advantage to 44-40.
Flaherty then cleared a defensive rebound and fed Marina Mabrey, who ended with 12 points, for a layup before stamping the 12-4 tear with a steal and drive which she deposited in front of the buzzer for a 48-40 cushion.
“For me, it made me feel like something finally paid off for working my legs that whole time full court,” Flaherty said of the swipe and basket that culminated the third. “That run gave us a big sense of control.”
A layup from Michaela Mabrey, who scored 13 in each half, and drive by Flaherty extended the margin to 52-40 with 7:02 remaining, a degree of separation under the time constraints even too great for the comeback kids of Gill St. Bernard’s to wipe out.
“She had that stretch where she was able to knock down three or four shots and she got that bucket to end the third that was the first time either team had a chance to extend the lead,” said Gill St. Bernard’s coach Aaron Gratch, whose Knights had made it their business to mount rallies all season, most notably in the T of C semis when they wiped out a 23-point deficit in the third quarter to eliminate top-seeded Shabazz, 60-56. “Those were some big shots she was able to knock down.”
Displaying its insatiable will, Gill St. Bernard’s (29-5) overcame a rash of turnovers (22) and inconsistency at the foul line (17-of-30) to match Manasquan stride for stride throughout the first half and deep into the third. Sophomore Taylor Rooks dropped in 12 of her 15 points during the first 24 minutes while Sam Graber and Dominique Vitalis added eight apiece in that span.
However, Manasquan closed out with the finish of a champion, going on a 10-3 burst, fueled by seven points from Michaela Mabrey, to push the lead to 63-46 with 2:27 left to play.
While its offense thrived (23 of 61 from the field, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range), Manasquan’s defense stiffened when it mattered, especially in the post. Junior Amanda Hagaman, sophomore Sam Sullivan and senior reserve Melissa Pavia interchanged manning up Vitalis and Rooks when they ventured down low, alleviating any concerns of the mounting foul trouble that piled up on the Warriors in the first half, when they played through the dilemma to seize a 29-28 halftime lead on a late 3-pointer from Michaela Mabrey.
“We’ve been in this situation,” Manasquan coach Felix Romero said of the accumulation of fouls. “Our girls play so hard and they’ve been doing a great job of getting through foul trouble throughout the season.”
Vitalis capped her four-year run at Gill St. Bernard’s with 14 points and 18 rebounds while fellow senior Sam Graber netted 11 points, going 3 for 5 from behind the arc.
“I’m just happy for them and their accomplishments,” Gratch said of his cast, which won the Somerset County Tournament, the Non-Public B state title and became the first outfit from Somerset County to appear in a T of C final, where it carried a 15-game winning streak into the season’s finale. “They can look back on this and see they really did something special.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner