first_imgMiddletown High School South’s girls basketball team showed its resilience in its first state championship game appearance when it won NJSIAA Group III, 50-42, over North Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan despite playing the final two minutes without star player Stephanie Karcz, who fouled out.The Eagles led by 10 points at the time, and it never got closer than six as their whirlwind record improved to 26-5 on March 15. Karcz finished with 16 points and, typical of the well-balanced season, two other players scored in double figures: Angela DeBartolome with 11 points and Haley Dalonzo with 10.“When Steph fouled out, everyone was looking at each other and saying, ‘Here it is.’ But this team has been resilient all year long and has faced a lot of adversity,” coach Tom Brennan said. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘What else can you throw at me?’ ”But the Eagles faced yet another challenge when they returned to the Pine Belt Arena Court in Toms River on March 17 to play in the Tournament of Champions against Franklin High School (23-5), a 54-48 winner over Shawnee High School in its Group IV championship game. Franklin is seeded No. 4 and Middletown South is No. 5.Brennan said before the game he would sit Julia Valkos, who broke the ring finger of her left hand in the Group III semifinals victory over Timber Creek Regional High School.“She was outstanding [against Old Tappan], but she was in so much excruciating pain afterward that the risk outweighs the rewards. It’s not worth it.”That means another big effort was needed off the bench from Madison Curtis, who came in when Karcz fouled out against Old Tappan and also capably stepped in for two weeks in late December through early January when Dalonzo was injured.“Somebody’s got to step in and Madison said, ‘Put me in. I’m ready,’ ” Brennan said. “Julia is a big loss because she has great length and is electric offensively in getting to the rim and shooting the three. She’s been better than advertised. But Madison filled in fine for Haley when she was out there.”Middletown South has dealt with adversity from the start of the season, when highly touted Jill Falvey was sidelined with a season-ending injury. Curtis got a field goal down the stretch and was fouled on the play against Old Tappan. Alexandra Balsamo and DeBartolome hit both ends of their two free throws, and Valkos had a big basket to protect the lead. On March 17, the Eagles went up against a similarly well-balanced Franklin team, which has three starters averaging about 10 points a game. But they needed to be strong off the boards, as Franklin rebounds well. If Middletown South won, it would come back on March 19 at the Pine Belt Arena against No. 1-seed Manasquan High School, which it lost to on Dec. 30, 62-27.“[Franklin has] three lightning-quick guards — two who are more shooter than slasher and the other a slasher who sometimes is a shooter,” Brennan said. “They put on intensive pressure and work the ball down low for positioning and patience. But they also swing the ball and get it to the other side of the floor for a good shot.”Coming into the week, the Eagles savored the sweet taste of a championship that was fitting for a team that showed class in victory and defeat, earning the Board 194 Shore Officials Sportsmanship award.Win or lose on March 17, or at any point in the Tournament of Champions, Brennan agreed with many coaches whose teams get there that it’s more of a showcase for teams that reached their primary goal of a group title.“I hear people say that we did what we set out to do,” Brennan said. “They say, ‘Whatever happens from here is gravy.’ I just hope my players go out and play, understanding what was accomplished and just enjoy the game.” By WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img

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