UNION – The favorite is the defending champion for the first time in its program history and owners of a 45-6 record in its last 51 games, including its first county championship game victory 12 months ago.
The underdog is the county’s winningest team this year, is 4-0 vs. Watchung Division squads (including the UCT’s top two seeds), knocked off the top seed by leading the Watchung Division champion from start to finish and possesses the best player in the county in the school’s all-time leading scorer, senior Kerri Moran.
So here are the first two questions:
- How will Oak Knoll be able to prevent GL senior guard Alyssa Cranston from feeding the ball underneath to senior forwards Mallory George and Erin Ferguson?
- How will GL try to contain Moran and prevent the outstanding shooter and ball-handler from taking a game over?
We have a very intriguing matchup here for the 38th annual Frank J. Cicarell girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game that will tip off Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.
It will be eighth-seeded Oak Knoll (21-3) – the Union County Conference’s second-place Mountain Division squad and perceived as the underdog although the Royals defeated top-seeded Roselle Catholic in the tournament’s quarterfinals and second-seeded Cranford in a conference-crossover game – vs. third-seeded Gov. Livingston (19-4) – the third-place Watchung Division team and thought of as the favorite considering the Highlanders play in the higher division and are in the county final for the third straight season – all at Kean.
GL also defeated Roselle Catholic – sweeping the Lions in Watchung Division play – and just defeated Cranford for the first time in three tries, leading the Cougars from start to finish in Monday night’s first semifinal at Rahway.
GL has also won a season-high nine straight over a period longer than a month. Oak Knoll has won seven straight and is also undefeated in February.
Both are playing – perhaps – their best basketball of the season and have not played again since Monday night’s semifinals.
Oak Knoll, playing in the final for the first time since 1998 when as the top seed it lost to Union Catholic in the championship game at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, is seeking to win its first crown and go 5-0 vs. Watchung Division foes this season.
“We never thought in the beginning of the season that we would be in this position,” said Moran, a Bernardsville resident who is nearing 1,500 career points. “When we got the eighth seed we still knew we were going to have to beat some really good teams in order to make it this far.”
GL, which won its first title last year, is seeking to repeat for the first time and also become the first repeat champion since RC won three straight from 2009-2011.
Since 1999 there have been eight first-time winners, including GL last year. Will Oak Knoll make it nine in the last 15 seasons or will GL continue its county dominance and grab title No. 2 in a row?
The teams did not face each other this year, with GL moving up to the UCC’s Watchung Division and a conference-crossover game not scheduled between the two.
On its way to last year’s Mountain Division championship, GL swept Oak Knoll, winning 61-38 at home on Jan. 20, 2012 and then 49-38 in Summit on Feb. 7, 2012, which was the last time they played.
“GL is a great team, we played them twice last year and went up against Ferguson and George and the rest of their players,” Oak Knoll second-year head coach John Bertollo said. “We know that we have a big task ahead of us.”
The teams split Mountain Division games two years ago, which included the last time Oak Knoll defeated GL. On Feb. 8, 2011 in Berkeley Heights, Oak Knoll downed a 13-3 GL squad by double digits, winning 54-40 on the road.
On Monday night, GL never trailed a Cranford team it was previously 0-2 against in Watchung Division play, while the only quarter Oak Knoll scored in double digits and the only one fifth-seeded Linden didn’t was the fourth quarter.
GL has won its last nine games by an average of 15 points, with its offense clicking at a high level. Head coach Andy Silvagni knows he will only be able to limit Moran and will have to pay attention to a supporting cast – which includes fellow starters Kelly McAloon, Catherine Bonner, Monica Fritz and center Julia Wanfried – that has stepped up their play as of late.
Oak Knoll went on a 12-0 run to take the lead in the fourth quarter against Linden, with Bonner scoring six points and Moran, Fritz and Wanfried two each in the stretch. Wanfried and Bonner also proved highly-valuable under the boards against the Tigers, coming up with huge rebounds.
After being limited to single digit points in the first three quarters, Oak Knoll came back to outscore Linden 22-9 in the all important fourth quarter.
GL led Cranford 20-8 at the half and then never trailed by less than four points the rest of the way. Ferguson finished with 14 points, George with 13 and Cranston with eight, which as all but one point of GL’s offensive production.
“Everyone has counted us out so far,” Bertollo said. “Our motto is, ‘not bad for an 8th seed.’”
NOTES: GL lost to two-time defending champion and top-seeded Roselle Catholic 33-26 in the UCT final two years ago, which was the first one contested here at Kean.
GL defeated Cranford 31-25 in last year’s final at Kean, winning its first county crown as the top seed.
This will be the first year the top seed didn’t win the tournament since 2009 when fourth-seeded Roselle Catholic ousted top-seeded Scotch Plains in the semifinals en route to the title. RC repeated as champion in 2010, winning that title also as the top seed.
GL is 64-12 the last three years, including 19-6 in 2010-2011 and 26-2 in 2011-2012.
JR sees one of the following scenarios unfolding:
Here are my predictions for Sunday, with GL the favorite and Oak Knoll senior Kerri Moran regarded – by most – as the top player in Union County this season.
GL 48, Oak Knoll 41 – Moran gets her points, but Cranston to Ferguson and George in the paint are too much for the Royals to handle.
GL has experience factor on Kean court also, with this being its third straight year in the final at Harwood Arena.
Oak Knoll is in the final for the first time since 1998 and would like to follow GL as a second straight first-time winner.
Oak Knoll 39, GL 37 – Other Oak Knoll starters such as Bonner, Fritz, McAloon and Wanfried – which was the case vs. Dayton, RC and especially Linden – play
huge contributing roles. Moran takes over the fourth quarter.
Predicting a GL blowout win is too easy and also disrespectful to Oak Knoll, despite the fact that some of the Highlanders – specifically Ferguson and George – have played on this stage the last two years.
8-OAK KNOLL ROYALS (21-3)
10-Kelly McAloon, senior
13-Naji Thompson, sophomore
30-Catherine Bonner, junior
20-Kerri Moran, senior
50-Julia Wanfried, sophomore
23-Monica Fritz, senior
33-Keelin O’Loughlin, sophomore
35-Megan Wynne, senior
14-Keegan Kelly, junior
25-Helena Sommer, junior
22-Emily McCarthy, freshman
Brielle Ercole, freshman
Head coach: John Bertollo, 2nd season
2013: (21-3). 2012: (15-12).
3-GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS (19-4)
15-Mallory George, senior
22-Erin Ferguson, senior
5-Marielle Jankowski, senior
10-Alyssa Cranston, senior
23-Patrice DiTomasso, junior
44-Katie Rielly, junior
2-Jenny Pires, junior
24-Lauren DiStaso, junior
13-Haley Berliner, sophomore
21-Sara Dilly, sophomore
12-Lauren Sorrano, freshman
Head coach: Andy Silvagni, 6th season
2013: (19-4). 2012: (26-2). 2011: (19-6).
2010: (11-12). 2009: (15-10). 2008: (14-8).
38th ANNUAL FRANK J. CICARELL
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Roselle Catholic. 2-Cranford. 3-Gov.Livingston. 4-New Providence.
5-Linden. 6-Union. 7-Westfield. 8-Oak Knoll.
9-Dayton. 10-Scotch Plains. 11-Hillside. 12-Summit.
13-Plainfield. 14-Johnson. 15-Union Catholic. 16-Elizabeth.
17-Kent Place. 18-Brearley. 19-Rahway. 20-Roselle.
Sunday, Feb. 10
Plainfield 68, Roselle 38
Union Catholic 61, Brearley 27
Johnson 60, Rahway 47
Elizabeth 33, Kent Place 23
Monday, Feb. 11
Scotch Plains 46, Westfield 44
Cranford 47, Union Catholic 38
At Roselle Catholic
Hillside 59, Union 54
Gov. Livingston 60, Johnson 33
Oak Knoll 45, Dayton 36
Plainfield 57, New Providence 51
Roselle Catholic 61, Elizabeth 22
Linden 55, Summit 37
Thursday, Feb. 14
Linden 57, Plainfield 50 (OT)
Oak Knoll 49, Roselle Catholic 43
At Roselle Catholic
Gov. Livingston 66, Hillside 54
Cranford 43, Scotch Plains 37
Monday, Feb. 18
Gov. Livingston 36, Cranford 27
Oak Knoll 46, Linden 42
At Kean University
Sunday, Feb. 24
JV: 4-Gov. Livingston vs. 3-Cranford, 4 p.m.
Varsity: 8-Oak Knoll (21-3) vs. 3-Gov. Livingston (19-4), 6 p.m.
FRANK J. CICARELL UCT
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
2012 – Gov. Livingston – first time
2011 – Roselle Catholic
2010 – Roselle Catholic
2009 – Roselle Catholic
2008 – Westfield – first time
2007 – Scotch Plains
2006 – Cranford – first time
2005 – Scotch Plains
2004 – Scotch Plains – first time
2003 – Roselle Catholic – first time
2002 – Roselle – first time
2001 – Union Catholic
2000 – Union – first time
1999 – Summit – first time
1998 – Union Catholic
1997 – Elizabeth
1996 – Elizabeth
1995 – Elizabeth – first time
1994 – Linden
1993 – Linden
1992 – Union Catholic
1991 – Linden – first time
1990 – New Providence – first time
1989 – Union Catholic
1988 – Union Catholic
1987 – Union Catholic
1986 – Union Catholic
1985 – Hillside – first time
1984 – Plainfield
1983 – Plainfield
1982 – Plainfield
1981 – Plainfield
1980 – Plainfield
1979 – Plainfield – first time
1978 – Mother Seton – first time
1977 – Union Catholic – first time
1976 – Benedictine – first time
Championships: Union Catholic 8; Plainfield 6; Roselle Catholic 4;
Linden, Elizabeth, Scotch Plains 3;
Benedictine, Mother Seton, Hillside, New Providence, Summit,
Union, Roselle, Cranford, Westfield, Gov. Livingston 1.