By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Some business deals take a little longer to finish than others.
But the profits are just as sweet.
The St. John Vianney girls’ basketball team discovered that on March 21 when it had to go two overtimes before finally topping Manasquan, 65-58, in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament of Champions title game at Trenton’s Sun National Bank Center.
SEE A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE GAME, HERE.
In beating the defending TOC champ and their Shore Conference rival for the fourth time this season, the Lancers (31-1) moved one ahead of Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, Newark, with their record seventh Tournament of Champions title. And the war cry and hashtag of “unfinished business” could finally be deleted, as SJV closed every deal this season en route to a vast fortune of success and memories.
After winning the Non-Public Group A title last season, this year’s seniors still felt there was work to be done as they had never won Shore Conference Tournament or TOC titles. They got the first by beating the Warriors in regulation in the SCT finals, and got the second by hanging tough for an extra eight minutes after letting a 10-point lead gradually slip away.
“We knew we had to complete the business that we started coming into this game, and no matter what happened we had to win this game,” said Vanessa Pinho, one of seven seniors who fueled the effort. “We definitely finished our business with the best group of girls, and we got what we wanted.”
“It certainly feels good to finish business and go out on top our senior year,” added Gigi Caponegro, whose only bucket of the game opened the second overtime and gave SJV a lead it would never again relinquish.
It was the Lancers first TOC title since 2009 and their first Triple Crown (winning SCT, states and TOC) since 1999.
“They are going to be able to look back on this and just understand that when the Tournament of Champions banner goes up in the gym they are going to be in the conversation with some of the greatest teams that have come out of St. John Vianney,” said coach Dawn Karpell, who played for and coached some of those teams. “Without a doubt they are going to be in the conversation.”
Few thought they would have to do it in such dramatic fashion after taking a 34-24 lead to start the third quarter. But Manasquan (28-7), still one of the state’s best teams despite its youth, began turning up the defense and SJV got just one more point in the quarter as the Warriors got within 35-29.
Manasquan continued to chip away behind a phenomenal effort from freshman Carly Geissler, who scored 15 of her 27 points in the fourth quarter. Top-seeded SJV held off the No. 3 seed for nearly the entire period as Manasquan got within 46-45 and 48-47 but couldn’t get the equalizer. After Kelly Campbell made 1-of-2 from the foul line, Manasquan trailed by two and got a putback from Faith Masonius to tie it with 4.6 seconds left.
SJV got the ball to Campbell, who penetrated but had her shot go off the back of the rim at the buzzer.
Asked if her team was stunned by the Squan comeback, Campbell said “Maybe a little bit. We know Manasquan is definitely a team that goes on big runs and inches their way back in. We weren’t too surprised. We didn’t want it to happen but we knew they were going to go on a run.”
Thus, it was time to pull it together for one last surge.
“When we got into that overtime we sat on that bench and, we weren’t scared, but we were a little unsettled,” Pinho said. “But we knew we had to keep playing and with all our senior leadership we knew we would do it.”
A low scoring first overtime ended with the score tied at 53 as the Lancers got just one bucket and were 2-of-4 from the foul line. The period ended with another Campbell drive not quite falling.
At that point, Karpell dropped a little humor into the mix.
“I was joking with my seniors they just wanted to stay with me that much longer, so they did it on purpose because they didn’t want to leave,” the coach said. “That is, in fact, why it went to two overtimes.”
In the second OT, Caponegro buried a left-wing jumper nine seconds into the quarter to give SJV its first lead in OT.
“Gigi stepped up and hit that huge jump shot and we could then get scoring from some other plays,” Karpell said of SJV’s only basket in the second OT. “We never relinquished the lead after that. She had the confidence to step up and hit that shot, and it was really important for our momentum.”
From that point, it ended like the script said it should, with Campbell leading the way. The DePaul-bound star scored the Lancers next nine points by going 9-for-10 from the foul line and hitting the last eight in a row. That came after she missed three of her previous six.
“I was definitely really angry I kept missing,” Campbell said. “In the overtime I just pulled myself together and knew I had to make them if we were going to win the game.”
SJV scored the first five points of the second OT. Manasquan cut it to 60-58 before Campbell made four straight from the line to make it 64-58 and seal it with 23.3 seconds remaining.
“Kelly’s the type of kid who just forgets about the last play and moves on to the next,” Caponegro said. “We’re really confident with her at the end of the game to have the ball in her hands because she’s going to finish it up for us.”
Campbell finished with 23 points (going 14-of-18 from the line), 11 rebounds and four assists, while Kimi Evans had 11 points and six rebounds and Pinho collected 10 points and four boards. Zoe Pero added eight points and was 6-for-6 from the line as the Lancers went 27-of-35 on free throws.
But this wasn’t about stats. It was about reversing last year’s losses to Manasquan in the SCT finals and St. Rose of Belmar in the TOC semifinals and going out on top.
“At the end of last year, we had a heart-to-heart talk about ‘If you’re going to set a goal, you have to talk about it,’” Karpell said. “They were mostly afraid of saying it out loud last year because if you fall short it’s kind of a problem. This year there was no doubt of what their goals were.”
There sure wasn’t. It was all about SJV TCB – takin’ care of business. [[In-content Ad]]