ROSELLE – Seeking to immediately create havoc and really put the ‘press’ure on visiting Cranford, host Roselle Catholic went to a full court press after the opening tip.
With hands up and bodies closely guarded, RC put the pressure on, with four of its players – seniors Niavanni Grant and Renee Oliver, junior Tori Pozsonyi and sophomore Allieyah Cubbage – combining to score the game’s first 10 points on four inside baskets and two free throws.
While Cranford, without the services of injured starting forward Kaitlin McGovern (ankle), overcame an early double-digit deficit, coming back from a second one was a bit too much.
The Cougars did, however, manage to pull back to within three points and had two possessions to tie the game with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter before the Lions ended the contest on a 13-6 run.
In Friday night’s battle of the last two teams that were undefeated in Watchung Division play, Roselle Catholic went on to post a convincing 51-41 victory over Cranford in a Union County Conference clash that was a bit closer than the final score indicated.
Roselle Catholic, which came off an impressive 61-54 home win over defending Shore Conference Tournament champion St. Rose of Belmar Thursday night, improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Watchung Division. The Lions will next take on Paramus Catholic Sunday at 7 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union. In the same setting last year, a 5-1 RC squad lost to Paramus Catholic 48-44.
Cranford slipped to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Watchung Division, its first year in the division after finishing second in the Mountain Division last year. Cranford will host Group 4 power North Hunterdon, 6-1 as of Friday, Saturday at noon at Cranford High’s Martin Gymnasium.
Cranford and Roselle Catholic battled for the first time in three years. They last played each other on Feb. 23, 2010 at RC, with the host Lions winning a Union County Tournament semifinal game 75-50.
This was the first time in five games that RC defeated Cranford at home in a regular season contest. Cranford defeated RC the previous four times they played each other in a regular season game at RC. Including Friday night, RC was undefeated all five times.
LAST 5 CRANFORD AT ROSELLE CATHOLIC REGULAR SEASON GAMES:
Jan. 4, 2013: Roselle Catholic 51, Cranford 41 – RC was 6-0
Jan. 16, 2010: Cranford 49, Roselle Catholic 47 – RC was 8-0
Jan. 15, 2009: Cranford 44, Roselle Catholic 33 – RC was 9-0
Dec. 14, 2007: Cranford 41, Roselle Catholic 38 (OT) – RC was 0-0
Dec. 20, 2006: Cranford 42, Roselle Catholic 27 – RC was 2-0
Roselle Catholic’s 10-0 run to start the game included inside baskets by Cubbage, Grant, Oliver and Pozsonyi, with two Pozsonyi free throws included in the mix. Those four players combined to score 50 of Roselle Catholic’s 51 points, with Pozsonyi leading all scorers with 17, while Oliver netted 14, Cubbage 11 and Grant eight.
Cranford was out of sorts at the onset and did not get on the scoreboard until there was 3:49 left in the first quarter following a 3-point shot that junior Mairead McKeary banked in.
“Having Kaitlin out, hurting her ankle, that really kind of threw everything off,” Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer said. McGovern hurt her ankle in practice Tuesday but, according to Dyer, was to be back in the lineup for Saturday’s game vs. North Hunterdon.
“Having someone consistently in the rotation out like that made it a little difficult against Roselle Catholic, which is a very good team,” Dyer said. “Breaking their press, we just had a hard time with it. Next time we need to tighten up our passes, some of them were soft, and be a little bit stronger with the ball.”
Sparked by five points from McKeary, three on a 3-pointer by junior Carly Maucione and two from junior Kerry Wischusen, Cranford immediately got back in the game by pulling to within 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.
The Cougars evened managed to take not one, but two leads in the second quarter. However, after their final advantage at 18-17, Roselle Catholic went on a 13-2 run that bridged the second and third quarters, giving it another 10-point lead at 30-20.
Cranford, without McGovern in the lineup and senior Jess McCoy held to zero points, actually did quite well to be down only three at the break at 21-18.
After closing the first half with inside baskets by Pozsonyi and Oliver, Roselle Catholic continued to dominate the paint in building up its second double-digit advantage.
“We’re lucky it’s early in the season that we can fix the mistakes that we made,” said McCoy, who scored her first points with 1:17 left in the third quarter and finished with seven.
Cranford was led offensively by senior shooting guard Jenna Goeller’s 12 points and Maucione’s 11. Stepping in for McGovern, Maucione also had two blocked shots in the fourth quarter, the first an impressive one of a shot that Pozsonyi took.
“We can’t have the breakdowns that we did and moments on the court when we turn the ball over,” said McCoy, who although she did not score a lot of points, was solid on the boards, coming down with 12 rebounds.
Cranford went on a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to make it a 38-35 game following two free throws Maucione made.
After the Cougars took the ball down twice with opportunities to tie the game, RC gained possession with a jump ball. Then Grant scored inside off a big offensive rebound to give the Lions a 40-35 lead.
Goeller’s final basket made it 44-38 with 1:20 to go before RC went on a 7-0 run. The game’s final points were produced by McCoy on a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“As a team we normally don’t give up,” McCoy said. “We always want to win, despite all of our struggles.”
Cranford, one of the top teams in North 2, Group 3, came into the game as the only Union County school that was state-ranked. RC may soon have that distinction.
“I think we got some turnovers, maybe not a lot or maybe not a lot of points off turnovers – but then we turned it back over a couple of times – but I think our press helped make it a 94-foot game and that helped us a bit,” RC head coach Joe Skrec said. “I think our press is pretty good and our defense is pretty good.”
While it might have been a bit rare that RC did not produce a single 3-point basket, the Lions did well to limit Goeller to just one. Four different Cranford players made just one each.
“I think we did a pretty good job on No. 20 (McCoy), who I think is a very good player and one of the best in the county and I think we did a pretty good job on No. 4 (Goeller), who is a pretty good 3-point shooter, but only got a couple of looks,” Skrec said.
Pozsonyi netted 10 of her 17 points in the second half – six coming in the third quarter – and Oliver eight of her 14 in the first. Oliver, who played her first two years at Scotch Plains, also grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds for a double-double.
Pozsonyi, a Roselle Park resident, also contributed five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
“Tori had a very good game today and also last night (vs. St. Rose),” Skrec said. “Tori works very hard and she does a lot of good things for us.
“A lot of times people don’t notice the other things players do when they’re scoring. Tori was struggling a little bit (to score), but she was doing other things like rebounding and playing defense.
“The ball’s going in the basket a little better and I think it will continue to go in the basket better for her. Oliver is doing a great job inside. Renee and Tori are really starting to work well together and are a nice tandem.”
Two Pozsonyi third-quarter free throws gave RC its first 12-point lead at 34-22. She had two inside baskets in the fourth quarter, with the first one coming when McCoy committed her fourth foul with 6:55 to go.
“We had really good team chemistry tonight,” said Pozsonyi, who played on the varsity as a freshman two years ago when Roselle Catholic last won the UCT and became a starter last year as a sophomore. “We made sure we got up on their 3-point shots because we know that’s an advantage for Cranford and they’re a good team.”
NOTES: RC took the lead for good late in the second quarter and also was not outscored in any of the four periods.
Cubbage also produced four rebounds, two assists, one block and four steals.
The teams are scheduled to play this season’s second and final Watchung Division game against each other Jan. 24 at 4 p.m. at Cranford.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION GAME
CRANFORD (6-1, 3-1) 10 8 8 15 – 41
ROSELLE CATHOLIC (7-0, 4-0) 12 9 15 15 – 51
CRANFORD COUGARS (41):
20-Jess McCoy, senior, 2-1-0-7
4-Jenna Goeller, senior, 3-1-3-12
15-Carly Maucione, junior, 3-1-2-11
32-Kerry Wischusen, junior, 2-0-0-4
13-Mairead McKeary, junior, 0-1-4-7
Starters: McCoy, Goeller,
Maucione, Wischusen, McKeary
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (51):
3-Niavanni Grant, senior, 3-0-2-8
23-Renee Oliver, senior, 6-0-2-14
32-Tori Pozsonyi, junior, 6-0-5-17
14-Kate Tobie, junior, 0-0-1-1
31-Allieyah Cubbage, 4-0-3-11
21-Ashley Skrec, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
22-Zhane Irby, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
24-Danielle Franklin, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Grant, Oliver,
Pozsonyi, Tobie, Cubbage