JACKSON, N.J. - The core of young players on Gloucester Catholic can hang their hats on the growth they displayed this season.
Despite those strides, the Gloucester Catholic girls' basketball team was stopped Tuesday night right where it was last season - in the same game, on the same floor, against the same team.
The Rams lost, 53-25, to St. John Vianney, for the second straight year, in the South Jersey Non-Public A final at Jackson Liberty High School.
"We got beat by a better team," Rams coach Lisa Gedaka said, her expression showing the frustration of the loss. "I'm proud of my kids. I'm just disappointed that we got beat by a better team.
"I love my team," she added. "I wouldn't trade my team for anything. We worked hard all year, we got better all year, and I think we're only going to continue to improve."
The Rams spent this season building chemistry. They worked to fit Wildwood Catholic transfers Naiyana Sabb, a junior guard, and Danielle Sanderlin, a sophomore forward, into the starting lineup.
The hard work was evident. They won an emotional game at Camden Catholic Sunday in the semifinals.
They carried that momentum into Tuesday, establishing a 10-4 lead in the first quarter before letting the game slip away.
"We had our foot on the gas, but we just couldn't keep it going," said Sanderlin, who was strong early on and finished with a team-high 11 points and 10 rebounds. "We meshed throughout this year. And it was still a great season."
The game started to turn after the Rams' star forward, Mary Gedaka (nine points, six rebounds, three steals), picked up her third foul midway through the second quarter, forcing her to sit most of the period.
St. John Vianney (24-3) outscored Gloucester Catholic (23-5) by 12-2 in the quarter thanks to hot shooting and a full-court press that the Rams, at times, had trouble figuring out.
That shooting and defense didn't let up for the rest of the game.
Vianney's defense of Gedaka was symbolic of an overall smothering effort.
"Every time she touched the ball she was being double-, triple-, sometimes even quadruple-teamed," Lisa Gedaka said.
Despite the loss, the Rams will enter next year again confident that they can compete for a title.
"We got our chemistry down," Sanderlin said. "Our goal is to come back here again. Play them again. And try to beat them - again."
Gloucester Catholic 10 2 9 4 - 25
St. John Vianney 9 12 20 12 - 53
GC: Kennedi Thompson 2, Mary Gedaka 9, Danielle Sanderlin 11, Maggie McIntyre 3.
SJV: Courtney Dobrzynski 4, Kellie Crouch 7, Kimi Evans 4, Kelly Campbell 17, Gabrielle Caponegro 2, Zoe Pero 6, Tina Lebron 5, Vanessa Pinho 1, Julia Ramos 2, Abby Anderkjio 3, Maddie Doring 2.