By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Only an outfit that plays defense as good as the St. John Vianney girls’ basketball team can score a season-low in points in a championship game and win it by 14.
For the third straight year, the top-seeded Lancers defeated third-seeded Gloucester Catholic in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship game, taking a 39-25 win March 9 at Jackson Liberty High School.
SEE A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE GAME, HERE.
Holmdel-based SJV goes for its second straight state title at noon March 12 in the Pine Belt Arena, Toms River, when it takes on Immaculate Heart Academy of Washington Township, Warren County, in a rematch of last year’s championship game.
The Lancers made it three straight over their rival from Gloucester City despite totaling 27 points less than their season average of 66. It was the first time this year they didn’t break 40 points. St. John Vianney (28-2) limited the Rams (28-1) to single digits in three of four quarters, including just two in the final eight minutes, and held a foe to 25 or less for the seventh time.
Gloucester Catholic had just 10 baskets (with no 3-pointers) on 32 attempts and committed 15 turnovers after not making any in the first quarter.
“We stress defense,” said junior forward Kimi Evans, who led SJV with 14 points and eight rebounds. “It’s the defense really getting after it each play. We played such hard defense today and I’m really proud of my teammates for getting after it.”
Highlighting the effort was another stellar defensive job by Gigi Caponegro, who limited Villanova-bound Mary Gedaka to 11 points over three quarters (she averages more than 20) before Kelly Campbell took over in the fourth.
“Gigi played awesome,” Evans said. “She had four blocks. She just played so hard, she shut her down and played really well.”
Lancers coach Dawn Karpell was hardly surprised.
“It’s our third straight year playing them and it’s one of those tendencies we had to scout,” Karpell said. “Gigi is one of our top defenders, she’s guarded ACC Players of the Year, McDonald’s All-Americans all throughout her career so she did another tremendous job tonight and it was enough to take them out of their rhythm and what they wanted to run.
“Kelly and Gigi were switching, it was like ‘You guys just feel it out.’ Kelly is gonna step up against whoever the kid is, that’s her competitive nature.”
The game started as an offensive showcase for Evans, who scored nine first-quarter points on 4-for-5 shooting to help SJV to a 13-5 lead.
“My teammates were looking inside, they were able to find me everywhere I was,” Evans said. “They really made my job easier putting the ball in the basket. They just really helped me out a lot looking inside.”
The Rams got within 13-9 before Campbell, the Lancers unquestioned leader, decided to it was time to impose her will as a scorer. Campbell hit a three to start her own personal 7-2 run to make it 20-11, and Zoe Pero ended the half with a jumper to push the lead to 10.
Gloucester Catholic, a South Jersey dynasty whose coach, Lisa Gedaka, has more than 500 wins, wouldn’t go away. The Rams got within 22-17 to start the half before Tina Lebron’s five points sparked a 7-0 run to push the margin to 12.
Once more the Rams responded and got within 32-25 midway through the fourth. As they had all night, the Lancers responded with a 7-0 run to close it out, with Evans scoring five points.
It was the story of the game, as every time GC threatened, SJV had an answer.
“When they start to get closer we know we have to work harder, do everything twice as hard,” Evans said. “We have to pull away again, we have to go on a run ourselves, play defense, get a stop. We have to make every possession count and play hard defense.”
They did just that, thanks to the maturity of a senior-laden team.
“That’s it, 100 percent,” Karpell said. “Two years ago when these guys were young, we might have panicked. That’s Kelly Campbell running the show and just kind of having the pulse.
“We got a few run outs when we needed to late in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter we found the shooters. Kimi had a few huge put-backs that really were key for us.”
Indeed, Evans’ offense disappeared and Lebron’s never materialized for a while as both players got in first-half foul trouble. But Lebron scored eight second-half points and Evans had five in the fourth to help the Lancers maintain control.
“It’s pick your poison, whether to try to guard (Evans), and they were in a little bit of foul trouble early,” Karpell said. “In the second half they were throwing two or three kids at her, really sinking in. We just had to have patience, move the ball around, and we did it well enough to hit the shots that we had to.
“That first half both of them had to sit a lot, we maybe could have opened things up a little earlier if that wasn’t the case. I said to stay with it, that’s why we play the schedule we do, because we’re in all those situations. They stayed with it and did what they had to down the stretch.”
As usual, the thread through it all was the DePaul-bound Campbell (7 points, seven rebounds), who contributed in every way possible, from steals, to assists to being a stabilizing force.
“At one point she was getting in the lane, finding shooters,” Karpell said. “That’s just Kelly having an understanding of the moment. She just wants to win so whatever play it’s going to take for us to win she’s usually going to be involved with it.”
The result is another SJ A title, putting the Lancers on the brink of their second straight state title and 17th overall. Last year’s game with Immaculate Heart Academy was one for the ages, as the Lancers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit for a 50-46 win.
But for one night, the Lancers enjoyed savoring another South Jersey crown.
“Absolutely,” Evans said. “Winning Shore Conference was the first step to our real goal, this is the next. We want to take it one at a time, we want to keep excelling each game and getting better each game. We want to get to TOC (Tournament of Champions) to win it all.”
“This is special,” Karpell said. “It’s our chance to go back to the big show and go for a state championship. Obviously we’ve been here many times but it never gets old and there’s always new kids in here experiencing this for the first time.
“Our seniors tasted it last year and got to the TOC, they want to get back and win it, and our motto all season has been unfinished business. That’s been our (Twitter) hash tag, and that’s where they’re at.” And in the rare instance when the offense is sputtering, the defense has been there to finish things nicely.[[In-content Ad]]