CRANFORD – Niavanni Grant saw the slightest of openings and made her move to the basket.
That was all the Roselle Catholic senior guard needed to produce her first points, which came at a time when the visiting Lions really needed them.
Down by eight to start the fourth quarter in hostile enemy territory, Roselle Catholic also needed to step up defensively in order to have a chance at knocking off division rival Cranford.
Grant’s oncoming fourth quarter performance both offensively and defensively was the added spark Roselle Catholic needed as the Lions came back Thursday night to thwart the host Cougars 32-26 in a Union County Conference-Watchung Division girls’ basketball clash at Martin Gymnasium.
“We had to keep our composure and stick together as a team,” Grant said.
Roselle Catholic, which did not run and wreak havoc with its trademark, game-opening, full court press, captured its eighth straight victory to improve to 15-2 overall and 10-1 in the Watchung Division. The Lions are now in the lead to repeat as Watchung champions – they have three division games left – and to garner the top seed for next month’s Union County Tournament, which will be seeded the first week in February.
Roselle Catholic, which held its fifth opponent and second straight to under 30 points this season, ended up sweeping Cranford in Watchung Division play. The Lions previously topped the Cougars 51-41 at home Jan. 4.
Cranford, which was held to its lowest output of the season two days after Roselle Catholic – in a 32-21 division home win – held Scotch Plains to its lowest output, had its second six-game winning streak snapped, falling to 12-4 overall and 8-3 in the Watchung. RC snapped both Cranford six-game winning streaks.
Grant scored the first five points of the fourth quarter and produced half of her team’s output in the period, netting all eight of her points in the fourth.
Grant hit a jumper and was fouled at the onset of the fourth, making the ensuing free throw for a conventional 3-point play. She then drove aggressively through the lane and put the ball up and in for her second field goal shortly after.
“There was an opening in the middle, just enough room to get through,” Grant said.
In what turned out to be one of its best quarters this year, Roselle Catholic outscored Cranford 16-2 in the fourth, starting the period on a 9-0 run and finishing the game on a 7-0 surge, all seven of those points coming from the foul line. Cranford last scored just two points in the fourth quarter on Opening Day at Governor Livingston, holding on for a 37-36 triumph.
“For us, it all starts with defense,” said Grant, with RC starting in man and then moving to a zone. “Defense is always our strong point.”
In between Roselle Catholic’s two fourth quarter runs, Cranford senior Jess McCoy made two free throws with just under five minutes to play to give the Cougars their second and final lead of 26-25.
McCoy ended the third quarter by making a wild, 3-point basket from the top of the key. The shot, from about 35 feet away, hit the rim, with the ball bouncing off of it twice before coming down and landing through the hoop.
That put Cranford up 24-16 and gave the Cougars tremendous momentum and their biggest lead of eight points.
At that moment in the game, it appeared that Cranford was on its way to gaining a division split with Roselle Catholic.
In order to get that lead, Cranford had to overcome McCoy and fellow senior forward Kaitlin McGovern both getting their first two fouls just 1:14 into the game, the Cougars missing their first 11 shots, McCoy missing her first seven and the team getting shut out in a quarter for the first time after not producing a single point in the first period.
Roselle Catholic won the first quarter 8-0, with Cranford – despite getting several good looks – shooting 0-for-10 and McCoy 0-for-5.
The Lions went ahead 10-0 before Cranford finally scored. In their first division meeting 20 days ago, Roselle Catholic also began that game with a 10-0 lead before the Cougars scored.
Roselle Catholic senior forward Renee Oliver scored the game’s first six points and finished with a team-high 10. She also paced the Lions on the boards with 12 rebounds.
Cranford finally got on the scoreboard with 6:36 left in the first half when senior guard Jenna Goeller was fouled going to the basket and then made both free throws.
Goeller then drained a 3-pointer from the right side for Cranford’s first field goal in 12 attempts. Quickly, Cranford cut RC’s lead in half at 10-5.
Once Goeller made Cranford’s first field goal, other Cougar shots started to fall. Goeller nailed another 3-pointer, this one from the left side, to get it to 10-8 and then junior guard Mairead McKeary hit a jumper to tie the game for the first time at 10-10.
McCoy followed with a conventional 3-point play that got the crowd going as they roared loudly to show their support of Cranford’s 13-point run that gave it a 13-10 lead.
After McCoy – who along with Goeller led the Cougars with 12 points – gave her team its final lead, McGovern ended up fouling out with 2:58 to go. McGovern, who missed the first RC game with an ankle injury, grabbed four rebounds, dished out two assists, blocked one shot and came up with two steals despite not scoring.
Grant tied the game for the third time at 26-26 by making her second free throw of the game and then with 1:30 remaining gave Roselle Catholic the lead for good with two more free throws, making the score 28-26.
Roselle Catholic junior guard Katie Tobie scored her only points when she made two big free throws with 41.6 seconds remaining. Tobie also produced three rebounds, three blocks and one steal.
“Our fourth quarter defense of Niavanni Grant and Kate Tobie helped spark the comeback,” Roselle Catholic head coach Joe Skrec said.
Oliver scored the game’s final points with 22 seconds left, making two free throws after getting fouled inside. In the final 11 seconds, Cranford missed three 3-point attempts.
NOTES: Roselle Catholic did not make a 3-point basket against Cranford in both division games against the Cougars.
This was a rare game in which Roselle Catholic junior forward Tori Pozsonyi did not produce a field goal. Pozsonyi finished with seven points – all from the free throw line – and eight rebounds.
Roselle Catholic made 10-of-14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, with Grant netting four and Pozsonyi, Tobie and Oliver two each. The Lions made 20 free throws and the Cougars six.
So on its way to improving to 15-2, Roselle Catholic won the last eight minutes 16-2.
“In the beginning of games we struggle here and there,” Grant said. “However, we never put our heads down.”
Cranford’s previous low output was 35 points in last Thursday’s 35-33 home division win over Governor Livingston.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION GAME
AT CRANFORD’S MARTIN GYMNASIUM
ROSELLE CATHOLIC (15-2, 10-1) 8 4 4 16 – 32
CRANFORD (12-4, 8-3) 0 15 9 2 – 26
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (32):
3-Niavanni Grant, senior, 2-0-4-8
44-Renee Oliver, senior, 3-0-4-10
32-Tori Pozsonyi, junior, 0-0-7-7
14-Katie Tobie, junior, 0-0-2-2
31-Allieyah Cubbage, sophomore, 0-0-3-3
21-Ashley Skrec, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
4-Dolapo Balogun, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Grant, Oliver,
Pozsoni, Tobie, Cubbage
CRANFORD COUGARS (26):
20-Jess McCoy, senior, 3-1-3-12
4-Jenna Goeller, senior 0-3-3-12
24-Kaitlin McGovern, senior, 0-0-0-0
13-Mairead McKeary, junior, 1-0-0-2
15-Carly Maucione, junior, 0-0-0-0
32-Kerry Wischusen, junior, 0-0-0-0
5-Hannah DeMars, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Maucione, McCoy,
McGovern, Wischusen, Goeller