By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
Coming off a 2018 state championship, the St. Rose of Belmar girls basketball team returned with a new coach and a lot of new players this season.
But it was one of the holdovers who led the way to another title for the Purple Roses.
Photo Gallery: St. Rose vs. SJV
Senior Lauren Lithgow scored a career-high 29 points by hitting a career-high nine 3-pointers (in 11 attempts) to pace top-seeded St. Rose to a 61-54 victory over 2nd-seeded St. John Vianney March 5 in the NJSIAA Non-Public A South championship game at Jackson Liberty High School.
It was the second straight sectional crown for St. Rose, which will try and defend its state title in Toms River March 9 when it meets Immaculate Heart Academy in a rematch of last year’s championship game.
Despite being the hero, Lithgow deflected all credit to those around her.
“It was an indescribable feeling, my teammates were just amazing,” she said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt good warming up, but my teammates’ passes were perfect, so it just made it easy for me.”
First-year coach Mary Beth Chambers was not surprised at Lithgow’s outburst, saying, “She shoots like that in practice.”
Practice, however, is a tad different than being in a championship game. Chambers felt her senior was ready.
“She was gonna do whatever she could and whatever it took,” the coach said, “whether it was not shooting the ball, passing the ball. But she’s too good to hold back.”
It helps having a dangerous scorer like Brynn Farrell on the same team. Farrell leads St. Rose in scoring with an 18-point average, and the Lancers did their best to try and collapse on her, which left Lithgow wide open in the corner.
“She’s amazing,” Farrell said. “Once she gets hot she doesn’t miss. Everyone knew we had to find her because she was the game-changer for us.”
Farrell did her part with 17 points, and also became a force on the boards in the second half, finishing with nine rebounds. Abigail Antognoli, another holdover from last year, had 11 points while Sam Mikos, also a returnee, grabbed seven rebounds.
Sajada Bonner had 12 and Madison St. Rose 11 for SJV (23-4), which took leads of 6-0 and 8-3 to open the game before Lithgow hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to put St. Rose (26-2) up by four.
It went back and forth over the next two quarters, and the Roses took the lead for good when Farrell’s lay-up made it 34-33 near the end of the third quarter. St. Rose slowly extended its lead in the fourth, with Lithgow collecting 11 points thanks to three more 3-pointers. The Roses shot 7-for-9 in the fourth quarter and nailed five threes without even thinking about it.
It marked the second time in three years the Roses beat the Lancers in the sectionals, ousting them in the semis in 2017.
The Roses have done an impressive job of bringing the new pieces of the team together, but Chambers still feels it is a work in progress.
“I think we’ve struggled here and there throughout the whole time finding pieces,” she said. “We’ve tried to play as many different [types of] games as possible to show us different looks so we’re prepared to play all kind of teams. We’ve had the same starting lineup, but we’ve worked on getting kids in at different spots.”
The tinkering has paid off with at least one championship, and St. Rose hopes to make it two March 9. Lithgow feels they have already confounded the experts.
“We knew from the start we were gonna do this,” she said. “We believe in us.”