Girls Mariners Stopped At State Championships

Five Mariners pose with the team's second-place plaque. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

TOMS RIVER – The Toms River High School North girls basketball team’s record-setting season ended Sunday night, March 11th.

The Mariners fell to Franklin Township 70-30 in the NJSIAA Group IV state championship game at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena.

North won a school single-season record 28 games, lost four and came to within one victory of earning a berth in the prestigious Tournament of Champions. The Mariners were 27-4 last year.

“We had an awesome run,” said 17th-year North coach Vicki Gillen, whose team won the South Jersey Group IV and Shore Conference Class A South titles earlier this year. “Two weeks ago, we as a coaching staff said our record was great as the girls made lifetime memories. They enjoyed each other. To win 28 games when a lot of people doubted us…I am so proud of them. We separated ourselves from our other teams.”

It was an emotional loss for the Mariners, who trailed last year’s Tournament of Champion winners 19-10 at the end of the first quarter, 44-14 at halftime and 64-18 through 24 minutes.

“Our seniors were crying at halftime,” North junior guard-forward Jenna Paul said after scoring a team-high 10 points. “They knew they had a great four years. When they came off the floor with one minute left in the game, there was a standing ovation for them from their teammates and our fans. It shows we play for each other.”

Toms River North’s Khamyia Spence attempts a free throw. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

Senior guard-forward Diamond Miller, who will play for the University of Maryland, showed the Mariners why she will compete at the NCAA Division I level

She erupted for 27 points, turning the arena into her personal playground with feathery jumpers and drives to the basket that featured blazing speed. She blazed away at an 11 of 21 clip from the field, including three of seven from downtown, and added eight rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal. She played 22:50.

Miller was one of four players to score in double figures for the Warriors, winners of three Group IV state titles in the last four years.

Camille Gray and Kennady Schenck added 12 points each. Keona Schenck contributed 11.

Utilizing a suffocating man-to-man defense, Franklin broke a 2-2 tie with a 10-0 run, taking a 12-2 lead. Miller keyed the surge with eight of her 11 first-quarter points. Miller put home 20 points in 13:20 of first-half play, canning eight of 15 shots from the floor, including two of five from long range, and sinking two of two free throws. She added six rebounds and one steal in the first 20 minutes.

The Mariners shaved their deficit to eight, 19-11, with 7:38 left in the first half on a free throw by senior guard-forward Amanda Johnson. However, it was the closest they were to come the rest of the way as the Warriors buried North under a 21-0 avalanche, extending their lead to 40-11 on a Miller layup with 2:53 to go in the second quarter.

“When we had our chances, we did not make our layups,” Gillen said. “They dictated the game. I tip my hat to them. They play at a different level. They sucked the life out of us in the first couple of minutes of the game.”

Franklin connected on 19 of 31 attempts from the field, including three of nine from long range, in the first half. The Warriors were 30 of 59 from the field, including seven of 16 from behind the arc, in the game.

Toms River North’s Lindsay Cabey (34) and Amanda Johnson (20) fight for position. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

North struggled to a 10-for-48 showing from the floor, including two of 18 from three-point range, on the night. The Mariners were five of 21 from the floor, including one of six from downtown, in the first half.

Franklin’s lead mushroomed to as many as 45, 70-25, with 3:30 left in the game on a Kiara McCloud layup.

“They shot really well from the floor and they did not miss,” Paul said. “We wanted to play our game no matter the score. We played for all five of our seniors. We just wanted to play the style of ball we have played all year. They have a great team. They have a great offense. Give credit to them. We had to slow the game down when it was fast paced and just play our game.”

Johnson scored seven points and added eight rebounds and one block. Khamyia Spence contributed seven points, two rebounds and one steal.

Paul, who has scored more than 1,000 career points in three varsity seasons, was three of nine from the field, including one of two from downtown, on the night. She added two rebounds, two blocks and one assist.

Paul said her name is on the lips of Holy Cross, Colgate, Columbia, Rider and the New Jersey Institute of Technology as she hopes to play in college.

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP (70): Miller 11 2-2 27, Tiana Jackson 2 0-0 4, Gray 6 0-0 12, Keona Schenck 4 1-1 11, Kennady Schenck 5 0-0 12, Vladyka 0 0-0 0, Kiersten McCloud 1 0-0 2, Kiara McCloud 1 0-0 2, Jones 0 0-0 0, Serena Jackson 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 30 3-3 70

TOMS RIVER NORTH (30): Bisogno 2 0-0 4, A. Johnson 2 3-3 7, K. Johnson 0 0-0 0, Paul 3 3-4 10, Cabey 0 0-2 0, Cheslock 0 0-0 0, Spence 2 2-2 7, Hund 1 0-0 2, Carrington 0 0-0 0, Farley 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 10 8-13 30

Halftime score: Franklin Township 44, Toms River North 14

Team records: Franklin Township 23-7, Toms River North 28-4

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.