TRENTON, NJ - This time, Franklin couldn't quite scale the mountain.
For the second consecutive year, in a rematch of last year's NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final against Manasquan, the Lady Warriors girls basketball team found itself trailing by double digits in the first half.
But unlike last year, when Franklin rallied to win the championship in overtime, this year's stirring comeback came up just short.
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Franklin, after trailing by 17 points, came within a single point before Manasquan scored the last 11 points over the final 1:16 for a 72-60 victory Sunday afternoon.
Junior forward Diamond Miller led Franklin with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Tiana Jackson added 14 points, three assists and three steals; Kennady Schenk had 11 points and three steals; and Camille Gray totaled 10 points and four steals for Franklin.
The two-time state Group 4 champion, Franklin (25-8) saw the game slipping away when Group 2 titlist Manasquan (32-2) ran off 11 straight points to build a 28-16 lead in the second quarter. The Warriors of Franklin (Manasquan is also the Warriors), normally a relentless group of rebounders, had trouble penetrating Manasquan's packed-in defense and retrieving second-shot opportunities. Manasquan out-rebounded Franklin, 23-13, in the first half, when Franklin got just two offensive rebounds.
By early in the third quarter, Manasquan had built a 17-point lead, 39-22, forcing Franklin to unleash a full-court press to get back in the game. Quickly, Miller scored off a steal by Gray, Jackson's steal led to a baseline jumper for Gray, and then Gray scored off a theft in the press by Kennady Schenk. That 6-0 run ignited a stirring Franklin rally.
"It was time to dig in and be 'us'," Franklin head coach Audrey Taylor said of the third-quarter turnaround. "And to stop worrying about what the refs would call. We weren't gonna go out not fighting."
But while Franklin was coming back, the cost of cutting into Manasquan's once-monumental deficit came in the form of foul trouble and the expending of a tremendous amount of energy.
"Obviously, (Franklin is) a great team," Manasquan head coach Lisa Kukoda said. "They're gonna keep fighting until the end and not back down. That is a credit to coach Taylor and her team."
Twice, Franklin came within a point of Manasquan--but they never did draw even. Jackson's two foul shots with 1:21 left got Franklin to within 61-60. But Faith Masonious--Miller's future teammate at the University of Maryland--sank six of six free throws down the stretch to finish with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Dara Mabrey led Manasquan with 30 points.
"It was a lot of fun. We had a great season," Miller said after Franklin's loss. "We had our ups and downs, but we still made it here."
Manasquan, the third Monmouth County team to beat Franklin this season, did its offensive damage almost exclusively in the halfcourt setup--scoring just two fastbreak points all game--and at the foul line, where Manasquan sank 21 of 24 for 87.5 percent.
Four out of Franklin's five starters will return next season. Only Camille Gray is a senior.
"Right now, I'm just thinking about today," Miller said. "But we still have something to prove."
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