TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Shawnee's Nikola Williams prefaced part of her postgame comments. "I'm really not trying to brag," she said.
Well, actually, she was about to brag just a bit. And that's part of the essence of this girls' basketball team.
For four years, Williams was the face of South Jersey's feistiest, scrappiest team, and part of what drove the Renegades was their swagger.
"We changed this program - no one really cared before," the senior forward said after Shawnee fell just short in the state Group 4 title game Sunday in a 54-48 loss to Franklin at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. "Now there's a standard to live up to. And they [the returning players next year] have heart, they have skill, I'm sure they'll be back next year."
This was the second straight year Shawnee lost in the state title game. But it was the first time in program history that the team made it this far in consecutive years.
"These are such wonderful girls," said Shawnee coach Chrissy McGovern. "I told them that the effort they have and the hard work they have is going to make them not only successful athletes but successful people in the future."
Sunday's game was a showdown between a physical Shawnee team and an athletic and quick Franklin team.
The teams traded the lead for most of the game. Williams (16 points, nine rebounds) hit two free throws to give the Renegades a 40-39 lead with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left. That was their last lead of the game.
Franklin switched from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone defense, which has stifled Shawnee for most of the season. The Warriors also hit 11 of 13 fourth-quarter free throws, including three of four in two possessions immediately following a Karrissa Mansure three-pointer that made the score 51-48 with 21 seconds left.
Williams fouled out on a charge with 1:05 left.
"We were clutch with our free throws," said Franklin coach Audrey Taylor. "And our zone defense really made a change for us in the fourth quarter. [Shawnee] is feisty under the boards, so it helped that we were able to grab some rebounds."
Franklin was led by La Salle recruit Adreana Miller, a 6-foot guard. She scored 13 points and was one of four Warriors in double figures. Alexandra Jackson led the team with 14.
Junior guard Jen Byrne chipped in 13 for Shawnee.
"No Shawnee team has ever done this before so it's a special feeling," Byrne said. "But this isn't the outcome we wanted."
Shawnee 11 12 15 10 - 48
Franklin 17 7 13 17 - 54
S: Nikola Williams 16, Taylor Ryan 7, Jen Byrne 13, Karissa Mansure 12.
F: Alexandra Jackson 14, Mary Trossi 10, Tahirah Scott 3, Adreana Miller 13, Jaeda Wildgoose 10, Moniq Davis-Campbell 4.