UNION – When you get to the championship game of a basketball tournament you want to see the teams battle right until the very end.
An attempt at a game-winning shot right before the buzzer wouldn’t hurt as well.
Fans of Union County girls’ basketball were treated to both Friday night.
When Westfield senior Jacqueline Knapp’s 3-point field goal try from the top of the key hit off the middle of the rim and bounced away with 2.2 seconds left, The Patrick School of Elizabeth was able to hold on for a hard-fought, highly-dramatic victory.
The 40th annual girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game, contested for the fifth straight year at Kean University’s Harwood Arena, saw second-seeded Patrick School edge fourth-seeded Westfield 45-43 Friday night as the Celtics captured their first county championship. It was a game that was about as evenly matched for 32 minutes as you will get.
“It was a matter of inches, not even, it was centimeters,” said Westfield first-year head coach Liz McKeon, describing the very closeness of the difference in the outcome. “If Jackie’s shot goes in, it’s a different story.”
The Patrick School – which won its fifth straight to improve to 20-6 – previously swept Westfield in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play, winning 46-34 in the season-opener for both right here at Kean back on Dec. 19 and then once more by double digits to the tune of 60-47 at Westfield on Jan. 31.
“Two months ago we played them here and we were shell-shocked,” McKeon said.
On Friday night, Westfield – which had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 15-8 – got off to a 6-0 lead before the Celtics scored. The Blue Devils took their final lead of 36-35 early in the fourth quarter when senior Lillian Scott scored her last basket. Westfield’s leading scorer finished with a team-high 12 points.
“We kept our composure here and feel this is a home court for us,” said McKeon, referring to Westfield’s 2-3 record at Kean this season. “From the first time we played them (Patrick School) we learned our schemes and how to play as a team and really developed.”
Westfield, which knocked off top-seeded and defending champion Roselle Catholic in the semifinals and in the process became the first in-state team to beat the Lions this season, had the game’s biggest lead of eight points at 32-24 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
“Coach (Patrick School head man Aaron Gratch) called a timeout and we then had to really play defense,” said Patrick School starter Amani Williams, who along with teammate Allyah Powell – who connected on four 3-pointers – paced the Celtics and all players in scoring with 14 points. “Defense won this game. We had to box out and rebound.”
The Patrick School immediately came right back after falling behind by eight points, producing a 9-0 run to take its second lead at 33-32.
Earlier in the third quarter, Williams banked in a shot from the lane to give the Celtics their first lead at 22-20. The game was tied at 20-20 at intermission, with Westfield never trailing in the first 16 minutes.
It was also an outside shot by Williams early in the fourth quarter that gave the Patrick School the lead for good at 37-36.
“We knew Westfield was going to be tough after they beat Roselle Catholic,” Williams said. “They really played great.
“It feels great to be part of history.”
Westfield could have caved after falling behind for the second time by five points in the fourth quarter at 45-40 with less than a minute to play. However, a fadeaway 3-point basket from the right side scored by sophomore Hannah Liddy put the Blue Devils right back in the game at 45-43. Then Westfield got a turnover when the Celtics stepped on the line, giving the Blue Devils one last opportunity with 30.1 seconds left.
Scott passed to Liddy, who passed to Amalia Montes, who passed the ball back to Scott. Montes then took the next pass and quickly got the ball to center Shannon Devitt, who passed back to Liddy.
Liddy then took a shot from the right side that wouldn’t go, but Devitt was there to grab the rebound and get the ball to Knapp.
Knapp’s shot was dead on, as accurate as could be, but fell just a little short.
Westfield only produced three 3-pointers, with Knapp hitting the first one in the third quarter. Liddy had the other two.
“When we were ahead by eight we knew they were going to come back,” McKeon said. “We didn’t let up, they just came back.
“We just needed to calm down and run our offense and run more plays in the second half, which we did.”
NOTES: Westfield almost beat two great teams – Roselle Catholic and the Patrick School – after losing to both twice in two tries in league play. The Blue Devils were seeking their second UCT crown and first since 2008.
40TH ANNUAL GIRLS’ BASKETBALL UCT
4-Westfield (15-8) 12 8 14 9 – 43
2-Patrick School (20-6) 8 12 15 10 – 45
4-WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (43):
32-Hannah Liddy, sophomore, 1-2-0-8
23-Amalia Montes, junior, 1-0-2-4
20-Lillian Scott, senior, 6-0-0-12
2-Jacqueline Knapp, senior, 3-1-1-10
21-Shannon Devitt, sophomore, 2-0-3-7
22-Oliva Luzzi, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Liddy, Montes,
Scott, Knapp, Devitt.
2-PATRICK SCHOOL CELTICS (45):
21-Qadashah Hoppie, sophomore, 3-0-2-8
11-Amani Williams, junior, 5-0-4-14
3-Allyah Powell, sophomore, 1-4-0-14
10-Shyasia Pridgen, senior, 1-0-2-4
33-Raven Farley-Clark, junior, 1-0-3-5
13-Shamachya Duncan, junior, 0-0-0-0
23-Zhane Irby, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Hoppie, Duncan,
Pridgen, Williams, Irby.