SUMMIT – A critical part of Summit’s offense is, naturally, getting the ball inside to tall senior center Cassidy O’Malley.
In addition to her strong ability to haul in key rebounds on both ends, O’Malley is averaging a team-high 15 points.
Scotch Plains made it virtually impossible for the Hilltoppers to get O’Malley the ball on a consistent basis. As a result, Summit found itself out of sync offensively the entire first half.
Because of the way Scotch Plains was covering Summit and running to the ball, the visiting Raiders caused the Hilltoppers to turn the ball over more than they could fill the hoop with it.
Scotch Plains, seeking to beat Summit in Union County Conference-Mountain Division play after falling at home to the Hilltoppers back on Jan. 14, took a seven-point lead at intermission.
The Raiders were ahead by nine – their biggest lead – with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“You have to give Scotch Plains credit,” Summit head coach Tom Kenny said. “They took it to us in the first half. We had to really challenge our kids.”
Stepping up to that challenge for the Hilltoppers was senior Caitlin Osmulski, who led a Summit charge that saw the host team close the third quarter on an 8-0 run – Osmulski scored the last five of those points – to pull to within one.
Early in the fourth quarter Osmulski – Summit’s third-leading scorer – poured in five straight points, beginning with a conventional 3-point play, to give the Hilltoppers the lead for good.
After scoring only three points in the second quarter – which were the first of just eight total by O’Malley and they came within the first three seconds of the period – and just 12 in the first half, Summit rallied in the second half Tuesday night for an impressive 44-38 comeback division win over Scotch Plains.
Summit now leads the Mountain Division at 6-1, while Scotch Plains dropped to third at 5-3. GL, which is the only team to defeat Summit in league play, is second at 5-2.
A three-point basket by Christina Richson commenced Summit’s 8-0 run to end the third quarter after Scotch Plains was ahead 27-19 and looking like it would spoil Summit’s Seniors Night.
Osmulski, averaging seven points, followed with a 3-pointer and then scored another basket after grabbing an offensive rebound.
Osmulski also scored seven of Summit’s 18 fourth quarter points.
The Hilltoppers outscored Scotch Plains 32-19 in the second half after they simply could not get anything going offensively in the first 16 minutes.
“Caitlin had a monster game, Christina hit a big 3 and we were tested,” Kenny said. “Besides making shots we had to be more aggressive and spread the floor.
“Also, to hold a team like Scotch Plains to under 40 points twice talks to the toughness our team showed. There’s great parity in our division.”
Osmulski had the vision to realize that getting the ball to O’Malley was simply not working this time.
“At halftime we knew we had to pick it up offensively,” Osmulski said. “Our shots started to fall and we were playing with more heart. We were using each other to find shooting spots.”
A big three-pointer from the right side by Kathleen Morano – her only points – put Summit ahead 35-31 with less than five minutes to go.
Osmulski’s final points – she led all scorers with 16 – gave Summit a five-point lead at 37-32.
“That’s what senior leaders do,” Kenny said of Osmulski’s season-high point output. “Caitlin’s been kind of overlooked. None of her performances were bigger than today. She showed some kind of mettle.”
After a final push by Scotch Plains pulled the Raiders to within 37-36, Richson hit another big 3-pointer that ignited a final seven-point Hilltopper run. Richson, who made the game-winning shot in Summit’s 33-30 win at Scotch Plains, finished with 11 points, one under her average.
“They took Cass away from us and then we had to find a way,” Kenny said.
Caroline Babis paced Scotch Plains with eight points, while Brianna O’Brien poured in eight and Micaiah Battle six.
The Raiders closed the first half on an 8-0 run of their own to lead 19-12 at halftime.
NOTES: Summit’s final three division games are home against Plainfield Thursday, home against Johnson Saturday and – according to Kenny – home against Linden Monday. The Summit schedule has the Hilltoppers hosting Linden next Tuesday.
Summit’s five seniors honored Tuesday night were Kayla Hoesly, Cassidy O’Malley, Caitlin Osmulski, Kathleen Morano and Julia Harkins.
MOUNTAIN DIVISION STANDINGS
THROUGH TUESDAY, FEB. 2:
2-Gov. Livingston (5-2)
3-Scotch Plains (5-3)