WEST LONG BRANCH – The Manchester Township High School girls basketball team heard the doubters.
To hear the Hawks tell it, few of the alleged experts felt they could get the measure of tradition-rich St. John Vianney in the championship game of the Shore Conference Tournament.
Well, the doubters wound up eating their words.
The third-seeded Hawks took down the top-seeded Lancers 58-42 Saturday night in the OceanFirst Bank Center at Monmouth University.
It was the program’s first SCT title in history. The school opened in 1976. The Hawks made the most of the program’s initial appearance in an SCT championship game. The Lancers have won the event a record 13 times in the last 29 years.
“People online said they were going to beat us,” said Destiny Adams, the Hawks’ 6-foot-3 sophomore forward, after earning the game’s Most Valuable Player Award with 19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and one assist Feb. 23. “People from around here in Monmouth County said they were going to beat us, but they obviously did not.”
“People doubting us gave us more motivation to win,” Manchester senior forward Dakota Adams said after scoring 12 points, picking off nine rebounds, handing out three assists and scrapping for three steals. “You go through life always wanting to prove people wrong. To do something that people think you can’t do feels good. I think we wanted it more than they did. We knew we would be here and we finally got here. To get it done was our motivation.”
Manchester (25-2) won one of the state’s most prestigious titles in the sport.
“The Shore Conference Tournament has been a big thing for a long time,” said Dave Beauchemin, the Hawks’ eighth-year coach. “It’s special to make the impact on it that we did. To get this chance and to take advantage of it is special.”
Dakota Adams said each team member played a role in the championship.
“We won it as a team,” she said. “We were all on the same page to achieve the same thing and it feels good.”
Senior guard Leilani Correa, who starred last season for Rutgers Prep, added 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist.
“It feels amazing, especially with this team,” she said. “We grew as a team. We became more attached and became a family. This is so amazing. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this feels. There are a lot of good teams and great players in the Shore Conference. This was not an easy win. We won it for Manchester and to win it for the first time in school history is amazing.”
Correa was right.
The victory, the Hawks’ 17th straight, was far from easy.
Correa absorbed her second personal foul late in the first quarter with the Hawks ahead 13-10. She went to the bench in the third quarter with her third foul with the winners up 28-18 with 6:31 to play. And with 2:19 left in the game and the Hawks in front 49-37 she was whistled for her fourth foul.
“The fouls were a little frustrating,” she said after playing for 24:26. “I kept my head up and did not give up. The girls said, ‘We need you.’ “
Destiny Adams was hit with her second foul with 4:11 to go in the first half with her team ahead 16-14. She was whistled for her third foul with 3:02 to play in the third quarter with her club up 32-27. Foul No 4. came with 4:21 to go in the game and the Hawks on top 46-35. She played for 28:10.
Manchester overcame the foul trouble.
“We did not miss a beat,” Beauchemin said.
The Hawks closed the first half with a 7-0 burst.
Destiny Adams ignited the surge with a three-point field goal from the top of the circle for a 19-18 lead with 2:11 remaining. Junior guard Kemari Reynolds drove along the left baseline and bucketed a reverse layup for a 21-18 lead with 1:30 to go. Correa capped the spree with a layup, pushing the lead to 23-18 with 1:23 left.
The Lancers (21-3) tied the game at 33 with 44 seconds left in the third quarter on a jumper by Brelynn Bellamy. Reynolds put the Hawks ahead to stay 35-33, sinking a layup with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Turning up the defensive pressure, the Hawks buried St. John Vianney under an 11-0 avalanche to open the fourth quarter.
Correa began the surge with a layup for a 37-33 lead with 7:06 to go. Destiny Adams fed Reynolds for a layup and a 39-33 lead with 6:44 left, capping a fast break. Dakota Adams netted two free throws to widen the lead to 41-33 with 6:05 to go. Corrrea turned a steal and a nifty behind-the-back dribble into a layup with 5:39 remaining for a 43-33 lead.
Junior guard Serenity Anderson followed with a free throw with 5:28 to play to grow the lead to 44-33. Correa capped the run with a putback, sending the Hawks in front 46-33 with 5:19 left.
“We had to pick it up on defense,” Correa said. “We believe in each other.”
“Our defense was amazing,” Destiny Adams said. “We locked in on defense and shut them down. That’s what won it. They lost themselves after that.”
Dakota Adams said the Hawks were relentless on defense during the run.
“The difference was our energy,” she said. “We all had the same energy. We knew if we had more runs we would get it done.”
“We knew they had the experience,” Correa said. “We had nothing to lose. We played hard and got the win.”
NOTES: The Hawks missed each of their five first-half free throws. Destiny Adams scored 10 first-half points. She was four of seven from the field, including two of three from downtown, in the game’s first 16 minutes. Manchester was 10-for-19, including 3-for-6 from long range, from the field in the first half while the Lancers were 7-for-22, including 1-for-9 from deep.
The Hawks outrebounded the Lancers 17-12 in the opening half. Manchester made 24 turnovers. The Lancers turned the ball over 20 times.
Earlier this season, the Hawks won the Class B South and WOBM Christmas Classic titles. The father of the Adams sisters is former Manchester football, basketball and baseball standout Dennis Adams, Manchester’s principal.
Manchester was the first Ocean County team to earn a berth in the championship game since 2013 when Point Pleasant Boro lost 50-46 to Red Bank Catholic. The other Ocean County clubs to win the title are Southern Regional (1984) and Brick Township (1972). The SCT began in 1972.
MANCHESTER: Reynolds 4-7 1-4 9, Correa 6-9 2-5 14, Dakota Adams 3-7 6-10 12, Destiny Adams 8-15 1-6 19, Anderson 0-2 1-2 1, Hayes-Jones 1-2 0-0 3, Hourigan 0-0 0-0 0, Bray 0-0 0-0 0, Brustman 0-0 0-0 0, Labrecque 0 0-0 0, Barron 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 22-42 11-27 58
ST. JOHN VIANNEY: Henderson 3-6 0-0 6, Karpell 1-8 1-2 3, Bonner 2-11 6-6 12, Hill 2-4 1-1 5, Bellamy 4-12 0-0 8, St. Rose 4-9 0-5 8, Bruen 0-0 0-0 0, Cahalan 0 0-0 0, Spinks 0-1 0-0 0, Drennan 0 0-0 0, O’Connor 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 16-51 8-14 42
Halftime score: Manchester 23, St. John Vianney 18. Team rebounds: Manchester 38, St. John Vianney 31. Individual rebounds: Destiny Adams (M) 10, Bellamy (SJV) 5, Hill (SJV) 5, St. Rose (SJV) 5. Three-point field goals: Manchester 3 (Dakota Adams 0-1) Destiny Adams (2-4) Anderson (0-2), Hayes-Jones (1-2). St. John Vianney 2 (Henderson 0-2), Karpell (0-6) Bonner (2-5), Hill (0-1), Bellamy (0-2), St. Rose (0-1)
Team records: Manchester 25-2, St. John Vianney 21-3