NEW PROVIDENCE – Cassandra Squeri realized the importance of her team tightening up defensively.
That’s what it was going to take in the fourth quarter if the host Pioneers were going to get past visiting Oak Knoll, led by Cornell-bound senior Kerri Moran, who already poured in 20 points in the game’s first 24 minutes.
“Their point guard (Moran) is phenomenal, so we really had to all help out defensively,” Squeri said. “Getting rebounds was big. Offensively, we had to work our offense and we made our first (fourth quarter) shots. Our offense was great in the fourth quarter.”
Behind a balanced offensive attack that saw freshman Sydney Morang net 17, senior Squeri 15 and senior center Kaycee deVoogd 13, New Providence pulled away in the final eight minutes Thursday afternoon to post a convincing 51-38 Union County Conference-Mountain Division triumph.
In an early season battle of undefeated squads, New Providence outscored Oak Knoll 20-11 in the all-important fourth quarter.
Moran, who netted 18 and 14 points in her first two games this season, led all scorers with 25. At intermission, Moran had 14 of Oak Knoll’s 15 points.
“I try not to be selfish and I dish off to everyone,” Moran said. “I just think we had an off game.”
“Kerri, obviously, gets our offense going,” second-year Oak Knoll head coach John Bertollo said. “She’s very good about breaking down a defense and then kicking it out to someone too. Now, we’ve got to start making our shots.”
New Providence improved to 4-0 overall and now leads the Mountain Division at 3-0. Oak Knoll – which swept New Providence in Mountain Division play last season by winning two close contests, one of them decided in overtime – slipped to 2-1 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain.
Both teams return three starters – Oak Knoll has seniors Moran and Kelly McAloon and junior Catherine Bonner back, while New Providence has Squeri, center deVoogd and junior guard Jill Balog to count on again – but the difference in many games this season could be the emergence of New Providence freshman swing player Sydney Morang.
The 5-10 Gill St. Bernard’s transfer produced 62 points in her first three games and after scoring only two points in the first half against Oak Knoll she still managed to finish with a team-high 17. It was the third time in four games that Morang, who can drain a jumper from the outside as well as filling the hoop from inside the lane, paced the Pioneers in scoring.
Except for the game’s only tie at 2-2, New Providence led from start to finish. Three times the Pioneers had seven-point leads in the first half before Oak Knoll managed to pull to within two points three times in the third quarter.
It seemed like every time Oak Knoll tried to get over the hump, New Providence answered with either a basket from Squeri off an assist from junior Casey Trezza or a hoop by Morang.
“Last year we had them down and they put a little pressure on us and they came back,” said New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera, now in his eighth season at the helm of the Pioneers. “This time it felt like we bent a little bit, but we were able to stay together and hold them off.”
When Oak Knoll pulled to within 24-22, New Providence quickly came back with a Squeri basket inside. When the Royals made it a 26-24 game, Morang made one of two free throws and then deVoogd – who led all players in the first quarter with seven points – grabbed an offensive rebound and scored inside.
After a 3-pointer by McAloon, which were her only points, pulled Oak Knoll to within 29-27 late in the third quarter, Morang – off an assist from Trezza – scored in the lane to give New Providence a 31-27 lead going into the fourth.
“When we got close our coach said for us to keep our heads up, we’re almost there,” Moran said.
Like most good teams do when they’re playing a tough opponent at home, New Providence took control of the game in the fourth quarter, making its first three shots and scoring six unanswered points to go up by 10 for the first time at 37-27.
“We really wanted this game, but their defense shut us down,” said Moran, a Bernardsville resident who committed to Cornell in September after her official visit that month to the Ivy League school. She signed her letter-of-intent last month.
“Our strategy in the fourth quarter is to come out and play tough defense,” Bertollo said. “They came out and hit a shot right away that kind of put us back and then we had to try to fight back.”
Just when Oak Knoll received back-to-back field goals from senior Monica Fritz and Moran to get the game to 39-34 with just over four minutes to go, Trezza and Squeri came right back down the court, with Trezza feeding Squeri for a big inside basket. That hoop was the start of a game-closing 12-4 run.
“It’s tough to come back from that,” said Bertollo, who guided Oak Knoll to a 15-12 finish a year ago. “When they get hot they’re a tough team to stop.”
“With Cassandra and Casey we expect them to step up in those spots,” Pazdera said.
The North 2, Group 1 champion and Group 1 state champ in 2010 and 2011 and the N2, G1 finalist last year, New Providence – now with three go-to players in Squeri, deVoogd and Morang – may be considered the favorite to win the section once again.
“It’s nice to have more than one option,” said Pazdera, whose state championship teams didn’t really boast a single player that was among the highest scoring in the conference and county the Pioneers play in.
“We did some good things, but we still have a lot of work to do, so we have to continue to work hard in practice,” is how Squeri described her team’s 4-0 start. New Providence finished 16-11 last year.
Moran made seven-of-nine first half shots, going to the hoop strong from the left side as well as pulling up and hitting jumpers.
“She’s such a great player,” Pazdera said. “We had one girl on her (Balog), so we just tried to keep her on her right hip. She knocks down that elbow jumper better than anyone in the state. We just try to help out as a team and cover her as best as we can.”
Morang, with less opportunies early on as she was covered by Bonner, made one of the three first half field goals she attempted. In a slow-moving, feeling-out first quarter, Morang did not get off a shot.
“Because she’s a freshman sometimes she’s not taking a leadership role and not realizing what she can do,” Pazdera said. “That will come with maturity.”
NOTES: New Providence will next play in Summit’s holiday tournament, with a game against Livingston Dec. 26. The next game that day will be Summit vs. Kent Place. The tournament will wrap Dec. 28.
Oak Knoll is scheduled to host Hawthorne Thursday and then next week play in a holiday tournament at Ridgefield in Bergen County.
Oak Knoll and New Providence are scheduled to play their second division game at Oak Knoll Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. in Summit.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-MOUNTAIN DIVISION GAME
OAK KNOLL (2-1, 2-1) 4 11 12 11 – 38
NEW PROVIDENCE (4-0, 3-0) 9 11 11 20 – 51
OAK KNOLL ROYALS (38):
10-Kelly McAloon, senior, 0-1-0-3
20-Kerri Moran, senior, 10-1-2-25
23-Monica Fritz, senior, 2-0-0-4
30-Catherine Bonner, junior, 1-0-2-4
50-Julia Wanfried, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
Starters: McAloon, Bonner,
Moran, Wanfried, Fritz
NEW PROVIDENCE PIONEERS (51):
12-Cassandra Squeri, senior, 5-1-2-15
32-Kaycee deVoogd, senior, 3-1-4-13
15-Sydney Morang, freshman, 5-0-7-17
2-Jill Balog, junior, 1-0-0-2
11-Casey Trezza, junior, 2-0-0-4
33-Kelsey Quinn, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Squeri, deVoogd,
Morang, Balog, Trezza
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
MOUNTAIN DIVISION STANDINGS
THROUGH THURSDAY, DEC. 20:
New Providence (3-0)
Oak Knoll (2-1)
Union Catholic (1-2)
Westfield was scheduled to play
at Elizabeth Thursday afternoon.