UNION – Cranford, a team known for winning big games because of the way the Cougars thrive defensively, found out that filling the hoop can also lead to mighty success.
Cranford wasted no time setting up and taking long-range shots to its liking. When they go in, it opens up the game in a positive way and allows a team to attack in different ways.
Whey they don’t go in, often one-shot possessions can lead to a team falling behind.
Not only were Cranford’s shots immediately going in, but because of the success the Cougars had hitting 3s, it allowed for everyone on the court to get involved.
As a result it was a true team effort that lifted third-seeded Cranford past fourth-seeded Roselle Catholic 71-63 in Sunday afternoon’s 41st annual girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.
Cranford limited Dayton to 34 points, Summit to 44 and then New Providence – after losing twice to the Pioneers – to 39 in its first three UCT victories. You can say that this one was captured with the offense leading the way.
Just 6-18 overall and 0-10 in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division a year ago, Cranford captured its second UCT title and first since 2006.
Roselle Catholic, which was upset as the top seed in the semifinals last year after a 21-1 start, fell for the first time in six tries in the final.
Also, just like 2006, Cranford won the junior varsity and varsity UCTs. Cranford’s top-seeded JV team downed seventh-seeded Roselle Catholic 49-25 in Sunday’s title contest at Kean.
Cranford improved to 15-8 with its third straight win and also went 3-0 against Roselle Catholic this year, including two Watchung Division wins.
Cranford stormed out to a 9-0 lead after freshman Lauren Williamson sandwiched 3-point baskets around one made by sophomore Camryn Wilchens.
Cranford made five of its first six 3-pointers and eight-of-13 in the first half. The Cougars finished with 10, total.
Wilchens led all scorers with 23 points, including four 3-pointers. Williamson was next for Cranford with 18 points, including five 3-pointers all in the first half. Senior guard Cerys MacLelland also produced a solid game, finishing with 17 points.
“We were switching screens and getting rebounds and then good looks,” MacLelland said. “Roselle Catholic is very good and very well-coached, so we knew we had to pressure them on defense.”
Roselle Catholic, which came back from a 20-9 deficit in the first quarter when it went on a 13-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, made four 3-pointers. Three of them were put in by senior Kamille Jacobs, who finished with 13 points.
The Lions had four players score in double digits, with freshman center Taniyah Hanner leading the way with 15. Unfortunately for RC, Hanner fouled out with 7:09 to go.
Sophomore Tyara McQueen scored 14 points and junior Jennifer McClave 12 for the Lions, who had one very short-lived lead of one point at 24-23 midway through the second quarter.
After Cranford scored its first 20 points in just 5:14, the Cougars did not score again until the 5:29 mark of the second quarter.
“We couldn’t rely all the time on our outside shot,” MacLelland said. “We had to work the give-and-go and find the open player. It was very exciting how we were able to do that.”
Williamson’s fourth 3-pointer – this one from the left side – gave Cranford its third lead and the advantage for good at 26-24.
All but two of the game’s points – a basket by Roselle Catholic reserve Ariel White in the second half – were scored by the game’s starters.
Cranford led by seven at the half at 35-28, which included a very late inside basket by MacLelland following a steal by Williamson.
“We were very motivated,” MacLelland said. “We wanted this very bad. The seniors wanted to go out on top.”
Cranford’s biggest lead in the game was 14 at 57-43 late in the third. Roselle Catholic closed the period on a 5-0 run to make the score 57-48 going into the final eight minutes.
One of two free throws made by Jacobs pulled the Lions to within three at 61-58 with 2:50 to go. However, that was as close as RC would get.
Cranford senior center Isabella Speer put in a shot after grabbing a big offensive rebound and then after another free throw by Jacobs, Cranford answered with a free throw from Wilchens and a inside basket by Williamson – her first points of the second half – to go up 66-59 with 47 seconds left.
MacLelland then made two big free throws, followed by two more by senior guard Lyndsay Pace. At 70-59 Cranford with less than 30 seconds to go, it was clear the Cougars had clinched their first UCT title in exactly a decade.
Cranford has now won nine more games than last year, with the state tournament still to go.
“We worked very hard in the summer and the hard work paid off,” MacLelland said. “I’m super proud of everyone.”
Present Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer led Cranford’s JV team to the 2006 title, while the UCT championship varsity team that season was guided by Brian Chapman.
Cranford’s present JV coach, James Brennan, has now led the Cougars to county championships twice, the first time in 2013. Like Cranford beating Roselle Catholic three times in three tries this year, Cranford’s 2013 JV team defeated Governor Livingston three times in three tries, including in the county final when the Cougars came back to win 34-30 at Kean. Pace and MacLelland were freshmen on that Cranford county championship JV squad.
When Dyer led Cranford’s JV team to the county championship in 2006 it was also against GL.
Now in her ninth season as the head coach at Cranford, Dyer is 1-1 in UCT finals. Her 2012 Cranford squad lost to GL in the final at Kean. Then the next season, Cranford won at GL in the 2013 North 2, Group 3 championship game.
Dyer also led Cranford to the 2010 North 2, Group 3 championship.
This year’s squad has rebounded in a big way from a rare under-.500 season a year ago.
“We graduated a lot of players and it took some time,” Dyer said.
Dyer is a 2001 Union Catholic graduate who played on UC’s last UCT championship team her senior season. She has now won a UCT title as a player and head coach.
Not many coaches can say that they beat Roselle Catholic and RC head coach Joe Skrec – owner of more than 300 wins and five UCT titles – three times in one season.
“We had to look at this game as if we had not played RC yet this season,” Dyer said. “I’m very happy for our players. They deserve this.”
NOTES: Cranford first defeated Roselle Catholic 52-38 at home back on Jan. 7 and again by the score of 44-40 on Jan. 30 at the Elizabeth Dunn Sport Center as part of the annual House the Homeless Classic Games.
41st ANNUAL GIRLS’ BASKETBALL UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AT KEAN
4-Roselle Catholic (16-8) 18 10 20 15 – 63
3-Cranford (15-8) 20 15 22 14 – 71
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (63):
5-Kamille Jacobs, senior, 2-2-3-13
23-Jennifer McClave, junior, 6-0-0-12
31-Anajah Williams, senior, 3-0-1-7
3-Tyara McQueen, sophomore, 3-2-2-14
25-Taniyah Hanner, freshman, 6-0-3-15
20-Ariel White, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
44-Jennisa Encarnacion, freshman, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Jacobs, Williams,
McClave, McQueen, Hanner.
CRANFORD COUGARS (71):
10-Lauren Williamson, freshman, 1-5-1-18
13-Lyndsay Pace, senior, 1-1-2-7
33-Cerys MacLelland, senior, 7-0-3-17
32-Camryn Wichelns, sophomore, 5-4-1-23
24-Isabella Speer, senior, 2-0-2-6
15-Julia Schork, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: MacLelland, Pace,
Speer, Wichelns, Williamson.
1-The Patrick School
9-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth
Friday, Feb. 12
Dayton 59. Hillside 46
Oak Knoll 37, Plainfield 24
Saturday, Feb. 13
Elizabeth 74, Linden 50
Union Catholic 46, Kent Place 27
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Westfield 56, St. Mary’s 41
Patrick School 74, Elizabeth 39
Union 41, Rahway 40
Roselle Catholic 56, Oak Knoll 33
Gov. Livingston 54, Scotch Plains 37
New Providence 43, Union Catholic 32
Summit 57, Johnson 42
Cranford 59, Dayton 34
Friday, Feb. 19
Roselle Catholic 44, Union 36
Patrick School 60, Westfield 54
Cranford 55, Summit 44
New Providence 43, Gov. Livingston 23
Thursday, Feb. 25
Cranford 50, New Providence 39
Roselle Catholic 47, Patrick School 34
Sunday, Feb. 28
At Kean University
Cranford 49, Roselle Catholic 25
Cranford 71, Roselle Catholic 63
FRANK J. CICARELL UCT
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS:
2016 – Cranford
2015 – Patrick School – first time
2014 – Roselle Catholic
2013 – Gov. Livingston
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
Union Catholic 8
Roselle Catholic 5
Scotch Plains 3
Gov. Livingston 2
Mother Seton 1
New Providence 1
Patrick School 1