Lerner: Flaherty pacing Manasquan
Katelynn Flaherty attacks the rim with some insurance in the back of her mind. Certainly, it’s the most direct path to points for Manasquan’s sophomore guard, but it’s definitely not her only route.
While her slick play off the dribble and effortless change of speed along the path make the 5-7 sophomore so difficult to contain, it’s what she creates off her penetration that defines her importance within the Warriors’ uptempo style.
Of course there are the buckets she deposits upon arrival at the rim but, her keen vision while driving forces defenders to be mindful of her ability to pass on the run. And, to compound matters, Flaherty has become so comfortable steering hard to the lane before bouncing outside, she practically snaps defenders’ ankles when she steps back to the arc to let go a rainbow jumper.
“If I’m penetrating, I know I also have my shot,” said Flaherty. “I’ve been hitting my shots and driving to the basket pretty well.”
While Flaherty’s ability to score the basketball is pretty well documented, she is doing so with a hint of mystery as to how she will produce. And, while her gaudy numbers, especially in the post season, speak of her offensive impact, they don’t do her enough justice in terms of the range of ways her production as powered third-seeded Manasquan (31-2), No. 3 in the MSG Varsity Top 15, into Tuesday night’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final opposite fourth-seeded and sixth-ranked Gill St. Bernard’s (29-4) at 6:30 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
Her repertoire was on full display Thursday night when she dropped in 22 points to key a 56-50 victory over St. Rose in the semifinal round. Flaherty shot 50 percent from the field, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range. But, it was a game-breaking sequence in the fourth quarter that captured her well-rounded qualities as a playmaker.
It started with one of her typical drives, followed by a deep three out of the left corner. But, it was the crossover move she threw to get into the paint before hitting the lane hard and slipping a quick dish to junior forward Amanda Hagaman cutting in off the baseline for a layup that exhibited how effortless she makes decisions on the fly and gets everyone involved.
“I kept my head up and tried to get the ball to my teammates,” noted Flaherty, whose 20.8 scoring rate tends to overshadow her distribution.
Over the last five outings, Flaherty has seen her offense unfold with a relative ease. That’s not to say she isn’t working for everything she’s getting, but it’s the confidence that fuels her aggressiveness which is at the root of a 24.8 scoring average within that time frame.
Beyond all the scoring she provides, Flaherty has a calming presence whenever she possesses the ball. For a team that sometimes can let emotion get the better of it, that poise has become as valuable as what develops out of it.
“We have to stay calm,” Flaherty said. “There are so many plays in basketball. When one is gone, you can’t dwell on it. You have to focus on the next one.”
You want efficiency? Over the last three games, Flaherty is a combined 28 for 53 from the field (52.8 percent) and 13 of 24 from 3-point range (54.1 percent). Factor in her 12 assists, 13 rebounds and four steals and you get the picture of the numerous ways she can make things happen besides scoring.
But, even all those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Her shiftiness on the ball has a way of setting a defense into scramble mode, thus influencing its shape and creating space for others to fill off the ball. She is also putting defenders on their heels and creating room for herself, something she did with one drive against St. Rose in which she pushed hard down the left side of the lane before changing direction and flashing into the left corner to stick a fall-away 3-pointer.
“She was hard to stop,” St. Rose coach Joe Roman said of Flaherty. “She was shooting from 20-something feet away. She is so hard to guard. I’ve got to give her credit because the shots she knocked down loosened it up and we had to go out and guard her. That extended us and made it hard for us to close the floor.”
Playing alongside All-American senior guard Michaela Mabrey has served Flaherty well on so many levels. She’ll be the first to admit how much of a sage Mabrey has been to the evolution of her game, not just in regard to execution but the course to take in doing so.
And, with such a prominent and imposing figure in the rotation, along with Mabrey’s freshman sister Marina, Manasquan poses too many threats for a defense to concentrate solely on taking away just one.
The trio likes to play fast, especially when Manasquan’s press is generating turnovers to feast upon in transition, yet they have grown more and more comfortable within the halfcourt, using their drives to involve Hagaman and sophomore forward Sam Sullivan with feeds to the opposite block. Plus, the hot streak that Flaherty is currently riding has also shed light on what Michaela can do beyond her reputation for pumping in points.
“I’m happy to set ball screens for Katelynn,” Michaela said. “She has played unbelievable in the state tournament, so I’m always encouraging her to shoot.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner