TOMS RIVER – The Manchester Township High School girls basketball team filed out of its locker room to cheers from its fans.
However, its admirers applauded and hugged their beloved Hawks in defeat Thursday night after their 76-63 loss to the Saddle River Day School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.
The third-seeded Hawks gave their fans plenty to cheer about.
There was a single-season program record 32 wins and just three losses. There was a Shore Conference Tournament title – the first in the history of the school – which opened in 1976. There was a third straight NJSIAA South Jersey Group II championship. There was the first Group II state crown in program history. There was a WOBM Christmas Classic title. There was a Class B South (14-0) crown. And there was a 24-game winning streak, which ended with the loss to the second-seeded Colonial Rebels (28-2), the winners of 12 straight games.
“The cheer feels great,” Manchester sophomore forward Destiny Adams said through tears after the March 14 game. “It feels like we really brought the town together. Even though we lost, it really means a lot. I still feel like we ended the season really well. We should keep our heads up and keep pushing.”
“Our fans embraced what we accomplished,” said Manchester senior forward Dakota Adams, who will continue her career at the University of Bridgeport. “Our community came together and that had never happened. It felt good.”
Dakota Adams was a bruising rebounder. Her 6-foot-3 sister, Destiny Adams, best known for her offensive prowess, is a major college prospect.
“I will miss playing with my sister,” Dakota Adams said. “I know she can do big things without me.”
The Hawks’ success was not lost on Manchester principal Dennis Adams, the father of Destiny and Dakota Adams.
“Our girls basketball team pulled our student body and our town together,” he said. “Our girls have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a great season a great ride. They really made us proud.”
Dave Trethaway, the superintendent of the Manchester Township School District and a former head girls basketball coach at Jackson Memorial High School, said he was impressed with the Hawks’ season.
“It was just a great team,” he said. “The girls played well together. Someone different stepped up in every game. I am very proud of the team. If someone was not on her game, someone else took over. The team was classy in terms of its sportsmanship. It played with a lot of pride.”
Sandy Maloney, a paraprofessional in the Manchester Township School District, said she loved watching the Hawks play.
“They had a great run,” she said. “They had a lot of good players. I enjoyed how well they played together. This loss does not take anything from the team’s accomplishments.”
Dave Beauchemin, the Hawks’ eighth-year coach, said he enjoyed guiding the team.
“This was an unbelievably special group of athletes,” he said. “I have been coaching for 14 years overall and I have never been part of a group that changed a community the way these girls did. They signed stuff for the kids who are in elementary school. The girls brought everyone in the community together. You usually see that at the highest level. Kids in Manchester are picking up basketballs and playing athletics.”
The Hawks, who fell to host SRDS, 61-52, on Jan. 4 for their first loss of the season, trailed, 10-0, with just 90 seconds gone by in the first quarter.
“In the first half, we seemed unsettled,” Beauchemin said. “That’s not us. Our entire focus in the second half was to play our tempo and sprint to our spots on the court. During halftime, we talked about how dangerous they were and how many weapons they had.”
“Give them credit,” said Dennis Adams, who starred in football, basketball and baseball at Manchester. “They played really good defense and made it tough on us.”
Manchester drew within 38-36 and 40-38 with 3:41 and 3:21 left in the third quarter. A jumper by Dakota Adams brought the Hawks within 38-36. Destiny Adams muscled for a putback, slicing the deficit to 40-38 as the Hawks’ fans roared their approval.
A Leilana Correa jumper with 5:03 remaining in the game pulled Manchester within 58-52. With 4:18 to go, the Hawks shaved their deficit to 60-54 on a Dakota Adams layup. It was the closest Manchester was to come the rest of the way against the Non-Public B champion.
“Rebounding was a real big challenge as we did not rebound really well,” the 5-foot-10 Dakota Adams said. “We are so used to grabbing easy rebounds and going down the court and scoring. We were not ready for that challenge. This game was a big surprise to us. They had five girls crashing the boards and it was like five versus three. They had a numbers advantage.”
“They are a complete team and like us they have so many weapons,” Beauchemin said. “They played with good energy. They created a lot of contact and the whistle could have gone either way. I have nothing against the referees. It just kind of happened.”
Destiny Adams, hampered by foul trouble, scored 14 points on four of 15 from the field, including 0-for-2 from three-point range, and six of eight from the foul line in 23:23 of action.
Correa, who starred last season for Rutgers Prep, paced the Hawks with 17 points. The senior guard will play for West Virginia.
“Everyone brings something different to a team,” Beauchemin said. “She brought growth for our other girls. She helped us in transition and taught the girls the pull up shot. She was our leading rebounder and showed every young lady how to stick her nose in there. We mimic each other.”
MANCHESTER (32-3): Reynolds 4-10 4-4 13, Correa 7-19 3-4 17, Dakota Adams 5-11 1-2 11, Destiny Adams 4-15 1-2 14, Anderson 2-3 0-1 5, Hayes-Jones 1-3 0-0 3. TOTALS: 23-61 14-19 63
SADDLE RIVER DAY SCHOOL (28-2): Saniah Caldwell 2-5 0-0 4, Patrick 8-20 6-8 24, Sydnei Caldwell 3-11 7-8 13, Sidor 8-16 2-3 20, Jordan 5-11 0-0 10, Janowski 2-3 0-0 5, Lafontant 0-1 0-0 0, Garabo 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 28-67 15-19 76
Halftime score: Saddle River Day School 36, Manchester 27, Rebounds: Manchester 32 (Dakota Adams 6), Saddle River Day School 51 (Sydnei Caldwell 12), Three-point field goals: Manchester 3-13 (Reynolds 1-4, Correa 0-3, Dakota Adams 0-1, Destiny Adams 2-6, Anderson 1-2, Hayes-Jones 1-1), Saddle River Day School: 5-11 (Saniah Caldwell 0-2, Patrick 2-2, Sidor 2-6, Janowski 1-1), Attendance: 2,471