By TIM MORRIS Staff Writer Above: St. John Vianney High School’s Gabrielle Caponegro takes it to the basket as she drives past New Providence High School defender Katie Kinum during the NJSIAA Tournament of Championship quarterfinals March 17 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. The Non-Public A champion Lancers were victorious, 63-39. Below: St. John Vianney’s Zoe Pero looks for an open teammate as New Providence defenders Emily Molstad, back, and Sydney Morgan try to trap her along the baseline. A fearless freshman sank the St. John Vianney High School girls basketball team’s bid to return to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) finals.With the Lancers clinging to a 43-41 lead and less than a minute remaining in the TOC semifinals March 19 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, St. Rose freshman Mikayla Markham stepped back from behind the 3-point arc and launched the shot that would sink the Lancers. PHOTOS BY STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Markham’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left lifted the Purple Roses to a 44-43 lead.The Lancers could not respond to the 3- pointer, and the Purple Roses extended the lead from the foul line. Jess Louro made a pair of free throws and Jennifer Louro was one of two to make the final score 47-43 in favor of St. Rose.Until Markham’s 3-point shot, the Lancers had taken control of this back-and-forth game between Shore Conference powers in the fourth quarter by outscoring the Purple Roses, 11-2, in the first four minutes. A 3-point shot by Kellie Crouch gave the Lancers a fivepoint lead, 40-35, with 4:13 left in the game.Less than a minute later, a 3-pointer by Jess Louro pulled the Purple Roses within one, 41-40.Gigi Caponegro and Kelly Campbell each made one free throw to extend the Lancers’ lead to 43-40 with just 1:10 remaining. It would be St. John Vianney’s final point.A Jess Louro free throw pulled the Purple Roses within two, 43-41, setting the stage for Markham to deliver the dagger.The Lancers, looking to win a record seventh TOC title, had to settle for finishing the year with a 26-4 record, while St. Rose (32-1) moved on to its first TOC finals, where the Purple Roses were to face Shore Conference Tournament winner Manasquan (30-2) in the March 23 finals at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.The loss, no matter how painful, did not dampen a season in which the Lancers were back on top, winning their first state title since 2011.St. John Vianney gained a big measure of revenge in the NJSIAA Non-Public A finals, defeating Immaculate Heart Academy, 50-46. Immaculate Heart had beaten St. John Vianney in last year’s finals.Down by 14 at the half, 33-19, the Lancers’ vaunted defense limited the Blue Eagles to just 13 points in the second half on their way to the state championship and a return to the TOC.St. John Vianney was seeded third for the TOC behind top-seed Manasquan High School and No. 2 St. Rose, as Shore Conference teams dominated this year’s state tournament (a fourth, Middletown High School South, was the Group III state champion and seeded fifth).The Lancers had little trouble with Group I state champion New Providence High School in the TOC quarterfinals on March 17 in Toms River. They had a big advantage over the No. 6 seed in the paint with 6-foot-3 Kimi Evans. They established their 6-foot-3 center early, which forced the Pioneers to double Evans, and that created space for St. John Vianney’s 3-point shooting. Campbell and Crouch each hit three from behind the arc, and Tina Lebron added a pair as St. John Vianney rolled, 63-39.Evans had 15 points and Campbell scored 12 for the Lancers, who had 10 players score.The win set up the semifinals with St. Rose.Once again, the Lancers were sparked by their relentless, full-court defense that simply wears teams down. Sooner or later, the turnovers pile up and St. John Vianney gets on one of those patented runs that break games open.On offense, head coach Dawn Karpell received contributions from a number of different players. Campbell (14.9 points per game) and Evans (11.3) were the only Lancers to average double figures on the season. In all, seven players scored more than 100 points on the season. Crouch, Caponegro, Lebron, Zoe Pero and Vanessa Pinho all averaged more than five points a game.Crouch led the team in 3-point shots with 50. Campbell knocked down 40, Lebron had 34 and Pinho scored 28.A look at the St. John Vianney roster gives every indication that the Lancers could be back in the TOC next year. There are no seniors on the roster.