CRANFORD – Roselle Catholic senior Jennifer McClave has played in enough varsity games to know that excelling on defense is the key component for her Lions to have any kind of success.
That and being able to pass the ball around effectively on offense in order to set up the big girl inside or the sharpshooter out.
It took a bit of time, but Roselle Catholic – in its season-opener – had its game working pretty efficiently against an opponent that it went 0-3 against last year.
McClave was involved in all facets, leading the Lions in scoring with 18 points – pouring in nine in each half – in rebounds with nine and steals, along with Tyara McQueen, with six.
Roselle Catholic took the lead for good in the second half of the first quarter and then held off a Cranford rally in the fourth quarter to top the host Cougars 56-45 in Tuesday night’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division girls’ basketball clash at Martin Gymnasium.
Roselle Catholic, which was supposed to open at home vs. Watchung Division foe Westfield Saturday but the game was postponed because of snow, is now 1-0 overall and 1-0 in the Watchung Division.
Cranford, which opened Friday with a 63-46 conference-crossover triumph at Summit, fell to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in the Watchung Division.
Leading the Cougars in scoring in their home-opener vs. Roselle Catholic was junior Lauren Santarelli with 18 points, including a game-high four 3-pointers.
When the teams last met 10 months ago, Cranford scored a 71-63 victory in the Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University.
Roselle Catholic was aware that it had not beaten Cranford in three tries last year, that Cranford opened with an impressive win led by a 33-point performance from junior Camryn Wichelns and that it needed to step up defensively.
Roselle Catholic is not used to going 0-3 against a single opponent in a season and also giving up 71 points in a single game, especially when a trophy is on the line.
“We came out and played hard, with the focus being on defense,” said McClave, who guarded Wichelns and limited her to just three field goal attempts in the first half. Wichelns finished with seven points.
“It was team help on defense and us working together,” said McClave, who has been a solid four-year varsity player Roselle Catholic head coach Joe Skrec can count on to give 100 percent effort all the time.
Cranford’s only lead was at 3-1 after sophomore Lauren Williamson drained the first of her team’s seven 3-pointers. Williamson was the only other Cougar to score in double digits, finishing with 12 points.
Following the game’s second and final tie at 5-5, an inside basket by sophomore Jennisa Encarnacion put Roselle Catholic up for good at 7-5 with some three minutes to go in the first quarter. Encarnacion finished with seven points.
Roselle Catholic concluded the first quarter on a 6-0 run to take an 11-5 lead into the second. The final Lion first quarter points were scored by tall sophomore center Taniya Hanner, who after missing inside initially finished with 14 points on six inside baskets and one short jumper.
Hanner also pulled down eight rebounds. Roselle Catholic hit the boards right away, out-rebounding Cranford 9-3 in the first quarter, including seven offensive boards.
After Santarelli opened the scoring in the second quarter with the first of her four 3-pointers, Roselle Catholic went on a 10-0 run with four different players producing baskets.
Two free throws by McClave – she was 5-of-6 from the line – gave Roselle Catholic its biggest first half lead of 15 points at 25-10.
Roselle Catholic continued to score inside and then McClave hit her only 3-point basket from the top of the key to put the Lions up 43-23 midway through the third quarter. An inside basket by Hanner that followed gave Roselle Catholic its biggest lead at 22, with the Lions going ahead 45-23.
“We run our offense to play sharp and set up our scorers,” McClave said.
Cranford could have packed it in at that point, but didn’t. Wichelns hit her only 3-point basket to conclude a third quarter-ending 4-0 Cougar run that pulled Cranford to within 47-30 heading into the next eight minutes.
Cranford then scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to pull closer at 47-35.
Following a jumper made by Victoria Jacobs for Roselle Catholic’s first points of the fourth at the 5:35 mark, Cranford answered with consecutive 3-point baskets made Santarelli on the left side and Williamson from the top of the key.
All of a sudden an 18-4 run by the Cougars saw Cranford down by only eight points at 49-41 with 4:25 to go.
“We had to calm down and with each possession show mental toughness,” McClave said.
Roselle Catholic responded by scoring the next five points to take a 54-41 lead with less than two minutes to go. McClave scored Roselle Catholic’s first point of the night on a free throw and also the last two on an athletic bank shot off an assist from McQueen, who dished out a team-leading seven.
Jacobs also scored in double digits for the Lions with an 11-point effort, seven of them coming in the second half. McClave led Roselle Catholic’s scoring in the third quarter with seven points.
“Defense is the main thing for us,” McClave said. “We have to continue to work together and keep our heads up.”
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
ROSELLE CATHOLIC (1-0, 1-0) 11 18 18 09 – 56
CRANFORD (1-1, 0-1) 05 13 12 15 – 45
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (56):
4-Jennisa Encarnacion, sophomore, 3-0-1-7
25-Taniya Hanner, sophomore, 7-0-0-14
23-Jennifer McClave, senior, 5-1-5-18
1-Victoria Jacobs, junior, 4-1-0-11
3-Tyara McQueen, junior, 2-0-2-6
30-Aanisah Moorer, senior, 0-0-0-0
20-Nina Worthey, freshman, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Encarnacion, Hanner,
McClave, Jacobs, McQueen.
CRANFORD COUGARS (45):
32-Camryn Wichelns, junior, 2-1-0-7
20-Lauren Santarelli, junior, 3-4-0-18
10-Lauren Williamson, sophomore, 2-2-2-12
55-Brianna Scotti, senior, 1-0-0-2
13-Caroline Kelly, junior, 3-0-0-6
21-Charolette VanWhy, junior, 0-0-0-0
22-Ellie Rokicki, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Wichelns, Santarelli,
Williamson, Scotti, VanWhy.