SPRINGFIELD – Playing an out-of-county opponent less than 24 hours after beating a division rival is one of the many challenges a basketball team faces during a long winter season.
That was the case for a young Dayton squad Saturday afternoon as they took on a Group 3 school, Colonia, which entered the Dayton gym with a 4-3 record.
After holding Friday night’s opponent to under 30 points, Dayton sought to continue that trend Saturday against a team that likes to shoot 3-pointers.
Colonia got off numerous long-range shots and made five of them, but Dayton prevented the visiting Patriots from getting a great deal of good looks. The Bulldogs then crashed the boards hard, often limiting Colonia to just one shot.
Scoring the game’s first seven points also enabled Dayton to play from in front immediately. So in addition to leading from start to finish, the Bulldogs were successful in holding their third opponent so far this season to under 30 points.
Sparked by the scoring of junior guards Nikki Athan and Gianna Izzi and the aggressive rebounding of senior forwards Heather Fritzen and Lea Ginefra, Dayton went on to post a decisive 39-29 triumph over Greater Middlesex Conference foe Colonia Saturday afternoon.
Dayton improved to 5-2 overall by winning its second straight, while Colonia’s overall record evened at 4-4.
On Friday night at home, Dayton defeated Elizabeth 38-28 in Union County Conference-Mountain Division play, the Bulldogs improving to 3-1 in the Mountain.
The Bulldogs will take this momentum into a week that includes three Mountain Division games, including Roselle home Tuesday night at 7, at New Providence Thursday night at 7 and Westfield home Friday night at 7.
Against Colonia, Ginefra produced early for Dayton, making her team’s first two shots. The first one was a jumper from the right side and the second a 3-pointer from the left.
Izzi’s first basket, which came inside, gave Dayton a 7-0 lead. Colonia came right back to make it 7-6, with the game’s leading scorer – junior Amber Tropeano – connecting on the first of her four 3-pointers to pull the Patriots to within one. Tropeano finished with 15 points.
“We knew they had a good 3-pointer shooter (Tropeano), but was not aware of No. 23,” Dayton head coach Dave Rennie said. “We had to key on her and she stepped up and made some shots from pretty far out, which surprised us a bit.”
The closest Colonia would get to taking the lead after that was making it a 15-13 game late in the second quarter.
Athan, who scored all 13 of her points in the second and third quarters, closed the first half scoring by hitting a jumper on the left side to give Dayton a 17-13 lead.
“Nikki is our go-to person,” Rennie said. “She’s quick off the dribble and can shoot the 3. She can make it difficult for opponents to defend her shot by the way she moves all over the court.”
The Bulldogs overcame six first-quarter turnovers by handling the ball much better in the second half. Dayton began the third quarter on an 8-0 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 12 in the third and 13 in the fourth quarter.
“Defense is the biggest part of our game, so we tried to pressure the ball,” said Athan, who played prominent varsity minutes last year to help Dayton produce a final record of 20-8. “We cut down on our turnovers in the second half and played our game, working the ball.”
There was one brief moment early in the fourth quarter when Colonia pulled to within six at 30-24 after scoring the period’s first five points. Preventing the Patriots from producing any further momentum were junior Ricci Rajoppi and sophomore Elyssa Pollack, who each netted their first baskets to get the Dayton lead back to 10 at 34-24.
Dayton first held a team under 30 when it defeated Rahway 60-29 in its first holiday tournament game. The Bulldogs also have Mountain Division wins over Union Catholic 41-30 at home and at Johnson 38-31.
Dayton’s losses were at division rival Oak Knoll 45-34 and to Freehold Borough 53-48 in its final holiday tournament contest.
“Defense is the backbone of our team,” Rennie said. “We have to work hard to make it tough on teams to make baskets.
“Offensively, we’re starting to move the ball better. Our turnovers are down and we’re making the other team work on defense.”
COLONIA (4-4) 6 7 6 10 – 29
DAYTON (5-2) 8 9 13 9 – 39
COLONIA PATRIOTS (29):
11-Amber Tropeano, junior, 1-4-1-15
5-Kyla Somerville, senior, 1-0-0-2
23-Kristen Wright, junior, 2-1-0-7
22-Miranda Rasmus, senior, 1-0-1-3
14-Gabby Wilson, junior, 1-0-0-2
20-Simran Sangu, junior, 0-0-0-0
1-Jackie Eisdorfer, senior, 0-0-0-0
12-Gina Barrett, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Sangu, Rasmus,
Eisdorfer, Somerville, Barrett
DAYTON BULLDOGS (39):
23-Heather Fritzen, senior, 0-0-2-2
1-Ricci Rajoppi, junior, 1-0-1-3
10-Elyssa Pollack, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
14-Nikki Athan, junior, 3-2-1-13
5-Lea Ginefra, senior, 2-1-1-8
24-Gianna Izzi, junior, 3-0-5-11
Starters: Rajoppi, Fritzen,
Izzi, Athan, Ginefra