Well, I don’t think anyone other than the St. Rose and Rumson fans can be upset with the way the girls Shore Conference Tournament final looks on paper, as top-ranked St. John Vianney takes on undefeated Neptune on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Ritacco Center for all the marbles in a game between two talented, fast-paced and exciting teams.
As for Monday night’s games, I’ll start with the Neptune-St. Rose game. First off, congrats to St. Rose for a great tournament run, and while we knew freshman center Samantha Clark was the real deal, junior guard Alexx Hall boosted her stock immensely in my opinion. She shot the ball extremely well against Neptune and in the Roses’ upset of Colts Neck. If she can just become a little better finisher around the rim, she has great potential. Also, as Clark gets older and more assertive, she has the talent to become a player who can just completely take over games because she can play with her back to the basket and knock down threes, a combination you don’t see too often.
As for Neptune, what more can you say about sophomore point guard Shakena Richardson? She is already being looked at by elite college programs like Rutgers and Maryland, and on Monday she showed why with a career-high 29 points. While her scoring was impressive, I thought it was her decision-making that really was outstanding. She knew when to go up with it and when to dish it off to the block. If she is going to consistently hit that floater in the lane, fugettaboutit. She will be able to freeze help defenders all day because they won’t know whether to commit to her and then have her dish it to a teammate or to fake toward her and watch her drop in shot after shot until it’s a blowout. Her crossover dribble going from right to left is lethal and it’s how she usually gets her separation. She is Neptune’s best player because she controls the game and the team’s tempo and mood even when she isn’t scoring a lot.
Senior Marley Mauvais has really improved a lot in the post because last season she couldn’t get that turnaround jumper to fall as consistently, but last night she was canning it over Clark. Also, congrats to junior Sehmonyeh Allen, who scored her 1,000th career point on the big stage on Monday night.
It’s clear that Neptune’s fan base was irked by the suggestion that they ducked St. Rose by dropping a scheduled game with them during the regular season, as their fans borrowed the Trenton/Camden chant of “You want Da High? You got Da High!” in the closing minutes of the game once Richardson was done with her demolition.
The positive sign for Neptune heading into the SJV game is that Syessence Davis only had 5 points, all in the first half, and they still beat a good team, so if she and Richardson can get it rolling against the Lancers, the Fliers have a shot.
Now we have the intriguing subplot of Neptune coach John Brown facing the program that he sent his daughter, former Lancers star Shantel Brown, to attend for four years that were filled with tons of victories, including a TOC title.
As for the second game, St. John Vianney once again just has too much depth. They have so many offensive options it’s ridiculous. They almost remind me of last season’s St. Anthony’s boys team in that everyone on the floor from 1-9 in their rotation is a threat, which no other team has. Freshman Michaela Mabrey appears on her way to carving out a career that may put her on the Mount Rushmore of greats at SJV and possibly at the top of the list ahead of the Gomez sisters. She had 19 points and hit five threes on 6-for-7 shooting despite suffering from the flu (which I found out after I shook her hand after the game). Her shooting percentage has to be unreal for a guard. It’s got to be 55 percent or higher because everything she puts up looks like it’s going down.
SJV had to withstand Rumson’s bench players rising to the occasion with Kate Miller being held scoreless as she was blanketed by Jen Mulvey and then Katie O’Reilly plus a bunch of help defenders. Mulvey has now played against Miller so many times that she knows her tendencies and can beat her to the spot. It’s kind of like what Miller used to do to former Red Bank Catholic star Kristina Danella in that Miller was so familiar with her that she had an answer for all of her moves and she had a team that played good help defense.
Forward Brielle O’Brien has really picked it up off the bench in the scoring department for RFH, particularly in the 3-point shooting area, and if she can keep that up in the state tournament, Rumson is a good bet to be back in the Group II final. Sophomore Ashley Cooper also had a nice SCT and appears to gain more confidence as the season goes along. Amanda Yaccarino also had a nice game on the offensive boards.
For SJV, Katelyn Linney was her usually disruptive self, hitting key 3-pointers in the third quarter, and O’Reilly had a strong offensive and defensive game. That’s what makes SJV such a headache. You slow down Linney early on, you slow down Missy Repoli and others, and then O’Reilly comes off the bench in the first quarter and scores 7 points while Mabrey comes off the bench and scores 8. It’s almost becoming a contest to see who is better, SJV’s starters or their second unit. Sophomore point guard Jackie Kates played heavy minutes with a brace on her left knee after suffering a knee injury in the quarterfinals, and she was dragging that leg a little bit as the game progressed. SJV will be hard-pressed to put her out there on Richardson in the final if Kates doesn’t have good lateral movement because Richardson is lightning-quick.
The buzz circulating around the Ritacco Center was that we could be doing this all over again in mid-March with Colts Neck (Group IV), Neptune (Group III), Rumson (Group II), St. John Vianney (Non-Public A) and St. Rose (Non-Public B) all in the Tournament of Champions. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Colts Neck still looks like the favorite despite its loss to St. Rose, Rumson is always a threat in Group II, Neptune will have to go through Shabazz, St. Rose has Bishop Eustace and Paterson Catholic but not Trenton Catholic to worry about and St. John Vianney is a heavy favorite. You think the Top 10 rankings might be a little crazy now, wait until it’s a battle royale in the TOC.
Also, one other quick note. Middletown South senior Danielle Pankey has reportedly received some strong interest from Rider, so we may potentially have another Division I recruit out of this season’s senior class.