There are always surprises when you get to the first round of the girls’ basketball Union County Tournament.
Monday night was no exception.
Again, this will be another year when all top eight seeds do not advance to the quarterfinals, which will be Thursday night at Rahway and Roselle Catholic.
Right off the dribble, the first two of the four 6 p.m. games from Monday night that were reported saw the lower-seeded teams triumph.
Scotch Plains, the 10th seed, topped seventh-seeded and neighborhood arch rival Westfield 46-44 at Rahway, while 13th-seeded Plainfield downed fourth-seeded New Providence 57-51 in one of the two Johnson gyms.
Scotch Plains, which improved to 10-12, previously lost at home to Westfield 54-50 in overtime on Feb. 1 in a Union County Conference-crossover contest. Westfield, which had a seven-game winning streak snapped at Union 49-47 last Thursday in a conference-crossover clash, fell to 14-9.
Plainfield, which improved to 5-19, lost at home to New Providence 51-38 in a conference-crossover contest just last Thursday. The Cardinals entered the UCT with a 3-18 record and then fell to 3-19 with the loss to New Providence. Plainfield then defeated Roselle in a preliminary round game.
New Providence, which won the UCC’s Mountain Division title with a perfect 14-0 mark, had a county-leading nine-game winning streak snapped.
It had to be the first time in UCT history that a 19-loss team defeated a 19-win team in a first round game.
The above games were a case of Watchung Division teams – Scotch Plains and Plainfield – defeating Mountain Division squads – Westfield and New Providence.
A third game that saw a lower-seeded team win was repeat Valley Division champion and 11th-seeded Hillside downing sixth-seeded Watchung Division foe Union 59-54 at Roselle Catholic. On the same night last year, Hillside – as the 15th seed – almost knocked off second-seeded and eventual finalist Cranford in the first round at RC before falling by the close score of 61-55.
Hillside doesn’t get any credit and nobody takes the Comets seriously because they play in the “weak” Valley Division.
Hillside deserves some respect now and will give defending champion Governor Livingston all it can handle in Thursday night’s quarterfinals at RC.
HERE’S A LOOK AT MONDAY’S
FIRST ROUND UCT SCOREBOARD:
Scotch Plains 46, Westfield 44
Cranford 47, Union Catholic 38
AT ROSELLE CATHOLIC
Hillside 59, Union 54
Gov. Livingston 60, Johnson 33
AT JOHNSON’S TWO GYMS
Oak Knoll 45, Dayton 36
Plainfield 57, New Providence 41
Roselle Catholic 61, Elizabeth 22
Linden 55, Summit 37
Oak Knoll, the eighth seed defeated ninth-seeded Dayton for a third time in three tries Monday night, downing the Bulldogs 45-26 at Rahway. Dayton reached the semifinals the last two years.
Oak Knoll will need to knock off top-seeded Roselle Catholic to reach Monday night’s semifinals. The top seed has won the tournament the last three years, including GL last year and Roselle Catholic in 2010 and 2011.
The last top seed not to win was Scotch Plains in 2009 when it was defeated by Roselle Catholic in a semifinal at RC.
Oak Knoll previously swept Dayton in Mountain Division play, winnning 45-34 at home in the season-opener for both on Dec. 14 and then 39-27 in Springfield on Jan. 17.
Oak Knoll second-year head coach John Bertollo said it was his team’s defense again that was at the forefront.
“It was a five-point game at the half and then we played much better defense (man-to-man) in the second half,” Bertollo said.
Oak Knoll outscored Dayton 22-8 in the second half, including 11-2 in the third quarter when Dayton’s only two points were on free throws.
Standout Cornell-bound senior Kerri Moran paced the Royals with 17 points.
“In the second half we were on cruise control,” Bertollo said.
It was Oak Knoll’s fifth straight win as the Royals – who finished second in the Mountain Division – improved to 19-3.
The team’s fourth straight victory was an impressive 39-28 conference-crossover triumph over visiting Cranford last Thursday. Oak Knoll held Cranford to its second-lowest offensive production of the season.
“Again, our defense took over,” Bertollo said. “We had to focus on Jess McCoy and Jenna Goeller, who usually makes a lot of 3s, only made one and I think finished with only three points.”
Oak Knoll did not face Roselle Catholic this year or last year, so this will be Bertollo’s first challenge against the favored Lions, who also improved to 19-3 Monday with its 61-22 first round win over Elizabeth in one of the gyms at Johnson.
“On paper RC is the favorite, but as you saw Monday night, not all the favorites won,” Bertollo said. “This is a county where anybody can beat anybody and that has been proven many times.
“We’ll play our game and see where that takes us.”