TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- Diamond Miller and the Franklin High School varsity girls basketball team wouldn’t be denied.
The top-seeded Warriors, No. 1 in the NJ.com Top 20, edged upset-minded fourth-seeded and No. 4 St. Rose, 55-50, in the semifinals of the 2019 NJSIAA Tournament of Champions at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena.
Miller scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the second half and calmly swished four free throws in the final 49 seconds to extend the lead and send Franklin to the final against second-seeded and No. 3 Saddle River Day on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.
Franklin, which is pegged as the No. 12 team in the country in the latest USA Today Sports Super 25 Girls Basketball Expert Rankings, topped St. Rose in last year’s semifinals as well, 56-53.
St. Rose took an early 4-1 lead in the first quarter on two Lauren Lithgow layups, but Franklin went on a 9-0 run go up 10-4 prompting a timeout by St. Rose.
The Purple Roses closed opening frame on a 5-0 run thanks to a 3-pointer by Abigail Antognoli and two foul shots by Brynn Farrell and after one period of play, it was all tied up at 16-16.
Much of the same occurred in the second quarter. Franklin led by five at 25-20 after a Tiana Jackson pull-up jumper banked off the glass and in, but a Farrell 3-pointer from the left corner and a Makayla Andrews bucket knotted the score once again at the break.
Up to that point, St. Rose had played stifling defense on Miller, a Maryland signee, but she turned it on once she went coast to coast for Franklin’s first points in the third.
Miller recorded eight points in the quarter and helped Franklin hold a two point edge heading into the fourth.
Miller found Christina Midgette for an easy bucket in the paint to put Franklin ahead 41-39 in the beginning states of the final quarter.
Lithgow would steal the ball away from a driving Miller and lay it in off the window on the other end for put St. Rose within one again at 44-43. Keona Schenck, who scored her 1,000th point earlier this season, drained a 3-pointer to give the Warriors some cushion at 47-43. Later, Onoseta Ufuah basket through traffic put the Warriors up by six.
But, just like it had all night, St. Rose would go away.
Farrell hit a triple from the right wing to cut the Purple Roses’ deficit to 51-48. Two free throws by Andrews made it 51-50.
Then, to prevent the Warriors from setting up a play, St. Rose fouled four times and eventually sent Miller to the free-throw line. Franklin was in the bonus, and Miller drilled both attempts.
Coming out of a time with 38.3 seconds to go, Lithgow missed a shot underneath the basket and Miller would make two more foul shots with 27.4 left and that was all she wrote.
Miller finished with a double-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. Kennady Schenck added 14 points, three steals, and three boards, and Midgette chipped in with nine points and nine rebounds.
Farrell led St. Rose (28-3) with 18 points while Lithgow and Andrews each added 11. Franklin out-rebounded St. Rose, 34-27.
With the win, Franklin, the will appear in the T of C final for the third straight season. It edged Manasquan in the 2017 final on a Kennady Schenck second-chance jumper. She was a freshman at the time.
The victory also improves Franklin’s record to 33-0. The last girls team to go undefeated was Shabazz in 2006 (33-0) when the Bulldogs won the overall state title.
Franklin wants to do the same and go down as one of New Jersey’s best ever teams. To do so, the Warriors will have to hold down Saddle River Day, which features four Division-I recruits in Michelle Sidor (Michigan), Jaida Patrick (Duke), Sydnei Caldwell (Arizona State), and Jenna Jordan (LIU-Brooklyn).
Franklin beat Saddle River Day back Jan. 5, 59-53, but the Rebels were without Patrick and Jordan at the time.
Come late Sunday afternoon, will Franklin have its second-ever T of C trophy in its hands, or will Saddle River Day win its first?
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.
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