Sunday’s UCT girls’ basketball final features defending champ and experienced GL vs. Oak Knoll and best player Moran

The county's top 2 teams will face each other for the first time this year at Kean's Harwood Arena

UNION – The favorite is the defending champion for the first time in its program history and owners of a 45-6 record in its last 51 games, including its first county championship game victory 12 months ago.

The underdog is the county’s winningest team this year, is 4-0 vs. Watchung Division squads (including the UCT’s top two seeds), knocked off the top seed by leading the Watchung Division champion from start to finish and possesses the best player in the county in the school’s all-time leading scorer, senior Kerri Moran.

So here are the first two questions:

  1. How will Oak Knoll be able to prevent GL senior guard Alyssa Cranston from feeding the ball underneath to senior forwards Mallory George and Erin Ferguson?
  2. How will GL try to contain Moran and prevent the outstanding shooter and ball-handler from taking a game over?

We have a very intriguing matchup here for the 38th annual Frank J. Cicarell girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game that will tip off Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.

It will be eighth-seeded Oak Knoll (21-3) – the Union County Conference’s second-place Mountain Division squad and perceived as the underdog although the Royals defeated top-seeded Roselle Catholic in the tournament’s quarterfinals and second-seeded Cranford in a conference-crossover game – vs. third-seeded Gov. Livingston (19-4) – the third-place Watchung Division team and thought of as the favorite considering the Highlanders play in the higher division and are in the county final for the third straight season – all at Kean.

GL also defeated Roselle Catholic – sweeping the Lions in Watchung Division play – and just defeated Cranford for the first time in three tries, leading the Cougars from start to finish in Monday night’s first semifinal at Rahway.

GL has also won a season-high nine straight over a period longer than a month. Oak Knoll has won seven straight and is also undefeated in February.

Both are playing – perhaps – their best basketball of the season and have not played again since Monday night’s semifinals.

Oak Knoll, playing in the final for the first time since 1998 when as the top seed it lost to Union Catholic in the championship game at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, is seeking to win its first crown and go 5-0 vs. Watchung Division foes this season.

“We never thought in the beginning of the season that we would be in this position,” said Moran, a Bernardsville resident who is nearing 1,500 career points. “When we got the eighth seed we still knew we were going to have to beat some really good teams in order to make it this far.”

GL, which won its first title last year, is seeking to repeat for the first time and also become the first repeat champion since RC won three straight from 2009-2011.

Since 1999 there have been eight first-time winners, including GL last year. Will Oak Knoll make it nine in the last 15 seasons or will GL continue its county dominance and grab title No. 2 in a row?

The teams did not face each other this year, with GL moving up to the UCC’s Watchung Division and a conference-crossover game not scheduled between the two.

On its way to last year’s Mountain Division championship, GL swept Oak Knoll, winning 61-38 at home on Jan. 20, 2012 and then 49-38 in Summit on Feb. 7, 2012, which was the last time they played.

“GL is a great team, we played them twice last year and went up against Ferguson and George and the rest of their players,” Oak Knoll second-year head coach John Bertollo said. “We know that we have a big task ahead of us.”

The teams split Mountain Division games two years ago, which included the last time Oak Knoll defeated GL. On Feb. 8, 2011 in Berkeley Heights, Oak Knoll downed a 13-3 GL squad by double digits, winning 54-40 on the road.

On Monday night, GL never trailed a Cranford team it was previously 0-2 against in Watchung Division play, while the only quarter Oak Knoll scored in double digits and the only one fifth-seeded Linden didn’t was the fourth quarter.

GL has won its last nine games by an average of 15 points, with its offense clicking at a high level. Head coach Andy Silvagni knows he will only be able to limit Moran and will have to pay attention to a supporting cast – which includes fellow starters Kelly McAloon, Catherine Bonner, Monica Fritz and center Julia Wanfried – that has stepped up their play as of late.

Oak Knoll went on a 12-0 run to take the lead in the fourth quarter against Linden, with Bonner scoring six points and Moran, Fritz and Wanfried two each in the stretch. Wanfried and Bonner also proved highly-valuable under the boards against the Tigers, coming up with huge rebounds.

After being limited to single digit points in the first three quarters, Oak Knoll came back to outscore Linden 22-9 in the all important fourth quarter.

GL led Cranford 20-8 at the half and then never trailed by less than four points the rest of the way. Ferguson finished with 14 points, George with 13 and Cranston with eight, which as all but one point of GL’s offensive production.

“Everyone has counted us out so far,” Bertollo said. “Our motto is, ‘not bad for an 8th seed.’”

NOTES: GL lost to two-time defending champion and top-seeded Roselle Catholic 33-26 in the UCT final two years ago, which was the first one contested here at Kean.

GL defeated Cranford 31-25 in last year’s final at Kean, winning its first county crown as the top seed.

This will be the first year the top seed didn’t win the tournament since 2009 when fourth-seeded Roselle Catholic ousted top-seeded Scotch Plains in the semifinals en route to the title. RC repeated as champion in 2010, winning that title also as the top seed.

GL is 64-12 the last three years, including 19-6 in 2010-2011 and 26-2 in 2011-2012.

 

 

JR sees one of the following scenarios unfolding:

Here are my predictions for Sunday, with GL the favorite and Oak Knoll senior Kerri Moran regarded – by most – as the top player in Union County this season.

GL 48, Oak Knoll 41 – Moran gets her points, but Cranston to Ferguson and George in the paint are too much for the Royals to handle.

GL has experience factor on Kean court also, with this being its third straight year in the final at Harwood Arena.

Oak Knoll is in the final for the first time since 1998 and would like to follow GL as a second straight first-time winner.

Or …

Oak Knoll 39, GL 37 – Other Oak Knoll starters such as Bonner, Fritz, McAloon and Wanfried – which was the case vs. Dayton, RC and especially Linden – play

huge contributing roles. Moran takes over the fourth quarter.

Predicting a GL blowout win is too easy and also disrespectful to Oak Knoll, despite the fact that some of the Highlanders – specifically Ferguson and George – have played on this stage the last two years.

 

 

8-OAK KNOLL ROYALS (21-3)

2012-2013:

10-Kelly McAloon, senior

13-Naji Thompson, sophomore

30-Catherine Bonner, junior

20-Kerri Moran, senior

50-Julia Wanfried, sophomore

23-Monica Fritz, senior

33-Keelin O’Loughlin, sophomore

35-Megan Wynne, senior

14-Keegan Kelly, junior

25-Helena Sommer, junior

22-Emily McCarthy, freshman

Brielle Ercole, freshman

Anna Smollen

Gianna Castellano

Head coach: John Bertollo, 2nd season

2013: (21-3). 2012: (15-12).

36-15 (.706).

 

 

3-GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS (19-4)

2012-2013:

15-Mallory George, senior

22-Erin Ferguson, senior

5-Marielle Jankowski, senior

10-Alyssa Cranston, senior

23-Patrice DiTomasso, junior

44-Katie Rielly, junior

2-Jenny Pires, junior

24-Lauren DiStaso, junior

13-Haley Berliner, sophomore

21-Sara Dilly, sophomore

12-Lauren Sorrano, freshman

Head coach: Andy Silvagni, 6th season

2013: (19-4). 2012: (26-2). 2011: (19-6).

2010: (11-12). 2009: (15-10). 2008: (14-8).

104-42 (.712).

 

 

38th ANNUAL FRANK J. CICARELL

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT

 

SEEDS: 1-Roselle Catholic. 2-Cranford. 3-Gov.Livingston. 4-New Providence.

5-Linden. 6-Union. 7-Westfield. 8-Oak Knoll.

9-Dayton. 10-Scotch Plains. 11-Hillside. 12-Summit.

13-Plainfield. 14-Johnson. 15-Union Catholic. 16-Elizabeth.

17-Kent Place. 18-Brearley. 19-Rahway. 20-Roselle.

 

PRELIMINARY ROUND

Sunday, Feb. 10

At Johnson

Plainfield 68, Roselle 38

Union Catholic 61, Brearley 27

Johnson 60, Rahway 47

Elizabeth 33, Kent Place 23

 

FIRST ROUND

Monday, Feb. 11

At Rahway

Scotch Plains 46, Westfield 44

Cranford 47, Union Catholic 38

At Roselle Catholic

Hillside 59, Union 54

Gov. Livingston 60, Johnson 33

At Johnson

Oak Knoll 45, Dayton 36

Plainfield 57, New Providence 51

Roselle Catholic 61, Elizabeth 22

Linden 55, Summit 37

 

QUARTERFINALS

Thursday, Feb. 14

At Rahway

Linden 57, Plainfield 50 (OT)

Oak Knoll 49, Roselle Catholic 43

At Roselle Catholic

Gov. Livingston 66, Hillside 54

Cranford 43, Scotch Plains 37

 

SEMIFINALS

Monday, Feb. 18

At Rahway

Gov. Livingston 36, Cranford 27

Oak Knoll 46, Linden 42

 

FINALS

At Kean University

Sunday, Feb. 24

JV: 4-Gov. Livingston vs. 3-Cranford, 4 p.m.

Varsity: 8-Oak Knoll (21-3) vs. 3-Gov. Livingston (19-4), 6 p.m.

 

 

FRANK J. CICARELL UCT

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS

2012 – Gov. Livingston – first time

2011 – Roselle Catholic

2010 – Roselle Catholic

2009 – Roselle Catholic

2008 – Westfield – first time

2007 – Scotch Plains

2006 – Cranford – first time

2005 – Scotch Plains

2004 – Scotch Plains – first time

2003 – Roselle Catholic – first time

2002 – Roselle – first time

2001 – Union Catholic

2000 – Union – first time

1999 – Summit – first time

1998 – Union Catholic

1997 – Elizabeth

1996 – Elizabeth

1995 – Elizabeth – first time

1994 – Linden

1993 – Linden

1992 – Union Catholic

1991 – Linden – first time

1990 – New Providence – first time

1989 – Union Catholic

1988 – Union Catholic

1987 – Union Catholic

1986 – Union Catholic

1985 – Hillside – first time

1984 – Plainfield

1983 – Plainfield

1982 – Plainfield

1981 – Plainfield

1980 – Plainfield

1979 – Plainfield – first time

1978 – Mother Seton – first time

1977 – Union Catholic – first time

1976 – Benedictine – first time

Championships: Union Catholic 8; Plainfield 6; Roselle Catholic 4;

Linden, Elizabeth, Scotch Plains 3;

Benedictine, Mother Seton, Hillside, New Providence, Summit,

Union, Roselle, Cranford, Westfield, Gov. Livingston 1.

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