TOMS RIVER – An otherwise winning season for the St. John Vianney girls basketball team came to a disappointing end Saturday at the Pine Belt Arena when the Lady Lancers dropped a tough 45-43 decision to Immaculate Heart Academy in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game.
Immaculate Heart took the lead with Katia Oge’s game-winning basket with 4.5 seconds remaining.
It was the first time that SJV lost a state championship girls basketball game, after going 15-0 in previous final appearances.
“Offensively, our shooting wasn’t that great, and it wasn’t our best defensive performance, but you have to give Immaculate Heart credit for that,” SJV coach Dawn Karpell said.
“They did a great job clogging the lane and not allowing us penetration,” she said. “They also did an excellent job in help-side defense.”
After trailing much of the game, SJV tied it up for the last time at 43-43 on two free throws by Kelly Campbell with 43 seconds remaining.
IHA (25-5) held the ball for a final shot and point guard Alex Mesropyan drove to the basket with 10 seconds left and passed to Oge.
“We were going pick-and-roll with Mesropyan,” said IHA head coach Steve Silver, whose team lost in last year’s title game to Red Bank Catholic. “We were trying to bring the ball away from the basket and have Alex create off of that.
“We didn’t do anything different in this game that we didn’t do before this season,” he said. “We played the best we could defensively on every possession, kept them from penetrating and tried to spread the floor.”
With 4.5 seconds left, SJV still had a chance to either win or tie the game, but was unable to get a shot off.
Jackie Gallagher took the inbounds pass, dribbled quickly to midcourt and passed to Campbell, but time ran out before she could shoot.
“We wanted to see if we could get Kelly (Campbell) up on the wing,” Karpell said, “but she (Gallagher) tried to make the best play she could.”
SJV took an early 5-3 lead on a pair of free throws by sophomore Emily Uribe, who was a standout in defeat with a game-high 22 points.
“She really stepped up when they keyed on Campbell,” Karpell said. “We thought going into the game that she might have a little mismatch. We just couldn’t make the big stop when we needed to.”
IHA, which had a 44-27 rebound advantage, scored the final 7 points of the quarter to go in front, 10-5, but SJV rallied in the second period and regained the lead at 13-12 on Campbell’s free throw.
IHA increased its lead to 27-20 in the third quarter and still held a 29-25 advantage going into the final period.
IHA pulled out to a 39-32 lead with 4:53 remaining, but SJV scored 6 quick points on Gallagher’s 3-pointer and a 3-point play by Uribe to make it a 1-point game.
Caitlin Roche made two foul shots for a 41-38 lead for IHA, but Uribe tied it once more with a trey and that set up the wild finish.
SJV played without its top rebounder, Katie Beriont, who was out because of a knee injury. That hurt SJV on the boards.
With three sophomores and a freshman starting, Karpell thought that the team did the best it could this year despite losing the Shore Conference and A Central titles to Manasquan.
“We lost five games by one possession this season,” said Karpell, who looks ahead to a better season next year with only four players on the team graduating.
“I hope that it gives us a lot of upside next season,” she said.