By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
After slaying a giant, Red Bank Catholic had to remember it still needed to climb back down the beanstalk to get where it wanted to go.
SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THE GAME, HERE.
The second-seeded Caseys did just that at Jackson Liberty High School March 7, taking a 64-48 victory over fifth-seeded Paul VI in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship game. In winning its first sectional title since 2013, RBC will face the winner of the March 8 Immaculate Heart-Holy Angels game on Saturday in Toms River for the state title.
Since reaching the Tournament of Champions semifinals in 2013, RBC had been thwarted in the state tournament for three straight years by St. John Vianney. The Lancers continued to be a thorn this year, beating the Caseys in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.
Red Bank Catholic finally ended the curse, beating the defending Tournament of Champion champs, 47-39 on March 4. The question was, would they let that be their Super Bowl and not re-focus on Paul VI?
“If you saw our practice you would have been nervous,” Coach Joe Montano said after the sectional final. “We were still coming off that game tonight.”
His players agreed whole-heartedly.
“We were definitely very tired the practice after Vianney,” said junior Rose Caverly, who had a game-high 22 points. “We were a little concerned we couldn’t bounce back.”
“At practice yesterday we were all looking at each other like ‘What is wrong with us?’” said junior forward Katie Rice, who had 14 points and six rebounds. “We couldn’t’ make shots, we were dead.
“On the bus ride here we were like ‘We need to get it together now. This could be our last game. Josie (Larkins) this could be your last game. What kind of legacy do you want to leave here; do you want to get that state championship?’ That’s kind of how we came together and said it’s now or never, we gotta get our legs back. I know Vianney is Vianney but this is even more important.”
Despite its fifth seed, Paul VI (23-6) showed what it was capable of with an upset of top-seeded Camden Catholic in the semifinals. Although RBC led for virtually the entire contest, the Caseys never felt comfortable until midway through the fourth quarter in a game that took forever thanks to 56 foul shots and an early net repair.
After Aliyah Stephens hit a lay-up 32 seconds into the game to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead, the game was halted for 20 minutes because the net broke and had to be replaced. When play resumed, RBC scored six straight points and never relinquished the advantage.
The Caseys opened a 29-13 advantage early in the second quarter but couldn’t apply the hammer and it was a 10-point margin at halftime and after a third quarter in which the two teams combined for 22 turnovers.
Paul VI crept within 45-39 with 5:08 left in the game when the turning point occurred. A Paul VI player was called for a questionable foul, then hit with a technical when she argued it. RBC got three of a possible six points off the T, including a short jumper by Hayley Moore after all the free throws were shot.
“Hayley had been struggling a little bit,” Montano said. “That was a big shot that she hit. I think that, and the T might have unnerved a young team.”
RBC went on a 6-0 run after the technical to open a 50-39 lead and the parade to the foul line started. The teams combined for 35 foul shots in the fourth quarter, with RBC making 20 of 26 to maintain their lead. Caverly was 10-for-12 from the line in the quarter, and felt the win showed just how much her team has matured.
“They were one of the most aggressive teams we faced and the crowd was crazy,” Caverly said. “To win in this environment shows how far this team has come. I feel like at the beginning of the season, honestly, we would have choked in this game. It just shows all our hard work is paying off, it just feels great.”
“It was really intense,” Rice said. “They were great competitors, they kind of stepped up their game and pressured us, we had to attack them back and it was a really, really fun game. I’m so glad we were able to pull it out.”
The win marked the first sectional championship for seniors Josie Larkins, who had 14 points, Tia Montagne, Maureen Coakley and Annetta Panayides.
“The seniors and even the juniors, I told them they deserved to win,” Montano said. “They’ve really worked hard these last three or four years to make themselves outstanding players. It’s really great to see them rewarded.”
“It feels amazing,” Caverly said. “To win it for the seniors is just great. To start the season we were ranked sixth in the Shore, we knew we were the underdogs. Just to come together and prove everyone wrong, and to win these type of games and be this far in the tournament, it’s just great.”