UNION – Erin Ferguson’s teammates didn’t let her down.
And vice versa.
Oak Knoll led by six with 3:58 to go in the second quarter when Ferguson – Governor Livingston’s talented 6-1 senior center – went to the bench with her third foul.
That could have spelled big-time trouble for the defending champions.
However, Oak Knoll was not able to add to its lead with Ferguson – who scored a team-leading six points in the first quarter – out of the game for the rest of the first half.
Instead, senior Mallory George – who had only one point at that time of the game – began to get in the flow, hitting her first two field goals and scoring seven points while Ferguson was out.
GL scored nine of the game’s next 12 points without Ferguson in the mix, forging the game’s first tie right before halftime.
The Highlanders – also sparked by the timely outside shooting of reserve Patrice DiTomasso – took the lead for good in the third quarter and continued to expand on it in the fourth.
When Ferguson came back in the contest in the third quarter she led the way, finishing with a game-high 21 points, while also pulling down 12 rebounds and blocking five shots to lead third-seeded GL to a convincing 54-44 win over eighth-seeded Oak Knoll in Sunday night’s 38th annual Frank J. Cicarell girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.
Ferguson, who also scored a game-high 14 points in GL’s 36-27 start-to-finish triumph over Cranford Monday night in the semifinals at Rahway, was the dominant player in the UCT’s Final Four.
Ferguson, off numerous assists from fellow senior starters Alyssa Cranston and Sara Dilly, scored 15 of her 21 points in the second half.
JR’s UCT Final Four MVP and
MVP: Erin Ferguson, GL, senior
Mallory George, GL, senior
Alyssa Cranston, GL, senior
Kerri Moran, Oak Knoll, senior
Catherine Bonner, Oak Knoll, junior
Jess McCoy, Cranford, senior
Jada Lewis, Linden, senior
GL became the first program to win its first two crowns in consecutive years since Scotch Plains did so in 2004 and 2005, the Raiders beating in-town rival Union Catholic both years in title games played at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth.
The Highlanders improved to 20-4, won 20 games for the second consecutive season and will take a 10-game winning streak into the North 2, Group 3 playoffs. As the top seed, the Highlanders will host 16th-seeded Plainfield Tuesday night in first-round action in Berkeley Heights. GL swept Plainfield in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play.
GL, which was playing in its third straight UCT final, increased its UCT winning streak to eight and is 10-1 in the UCT the past three seasons.
GL, which also became the first repeat UCT champion since Roselle Catholic won three straight from 2009-2011, last lost on Jan. 18 at Scotch Plains 55-40.
Oak Knoll, which took out the top seed – RC – leading the Lions from start to finish in the quarterfinals, had a seven-game winning streak snapped and fell to 21-4.
The Royals, who still lead Union County in wins, are the second seed for the Non-Public, North B playoffs. After receiving a first round bye, Oak Knoll will host a quarterfinal round game Friday against either seventh-seeded Eastern Christian or 10th-seeded St. Mary’s, Rutherford. Those teams will play each other in a first round game Wednesday at Eastern Christian.
Oak Knoll was impressive for the first eight minutes against GL, making its first two 3-pointers – long-range shots produced by junior Catherine Bonner and senior Kelly McAloon – and taking a 10-4 lead without one single point from leading scorer, senior Kerri Moran.
Moran ended up pacing Oak Knoll with 17 points, which is her average, but she uncharacteristically missed five free throws during the course of the game, shooting just 50 percent (5-for-10) from the line.
Oak Knoll managed to twice take leads of eight points in the first half, initially at 16-8 in the first quarter and then at 18-10 early in the second when Moran opened the period with a layup.
DiTomasso’s first of her team-leading three 3-pointers – she made GL’s only 3-pointers of the game – pulled the Highlanders to within 18-13. The shot from the left side was an important basket for GL, with the Highlanders in danger of falling further behind as Oak Knoll continued its attempt to increase valuable momentum.
George scored the final two points of the first half on free throws to forge the game’s first tie at 24-24.
George scored 13 of her 14 points after the first quarter and DiTomasso scored all 13 of her points from the second quarter on.
After George opened the second-half scoring following an offensive rebound she grabbed, Bonner tied the game for the second and last time at 26-26.
Then after Oak Knoll senior Monica Fritz missed two free throws, GL came back down with DiTomasso – again from the left side – nailing a 3-pointer that gave her team the lead for good at 29-26.
Single free throws later in the third quarter by junior Keegan Kelly and Moran pulled the Royals back to within three at 31-28.
However, GL closed the period on a 5-0 run, with Ferguson producing a conventional three-point play and then scoring again inside after receiving a pass from Cranston.
Oak Knoll twice got within five points in the fourth quarter – the first time after Keegan’s only 3-pointer and the second time after a Moran jumper – but couldn’t make a further dent.
As was expected, the Royals had a tough time trying to prevent passes from Cranston, Dilly and other GL players to Ferguson for baskets in the paint.
“Ferguson is a hard matchup,” Oak Knoll second-year head coach John Bertollo said. “When she went to the bench with three fouls it was a missed opportunity for us.”
GL picked the best time of the season to be playing its most consistent basketball. The Highlanders have defeated their last 10 foes by an average of just under 15 points.
Oak Knoll, which finished second in the Mountain Division, but finished the season 4-1 against teams from the Watchung Division – including conference-crossover wins against Scotch Plains and Cranford and UCT victories over Roselle Catholic and Linden – has plenty to be proud of despite just falling short of gaining its first county crown.
The Royals took out ninth-seeded Dayton in the first round – beating the Bulldogs for the third time in three tries – and then knocked out higher-seeded Watchung Division foes Roselle Catholic and Linden to reach the final for the first time since 1998.
“Our girls never quit,” Bertollo said. “We showed that in our game against Linden.”
Oak Knoll outscored fifth-seeded Linden 22-9 in the fourth quarter of its semifinal Monday at Rahway, beating the Tigers 46-42.
“GL is a great team and the county champion again, so they deserve a lot of credit,” Bertollo said. “We still had a fantastic run.”
UCT FINALS AT KEAN UNIVERSITY:
2013: Gov. Livingston 54, Oak Knoll 44
2012: Gov. Livingston 31, Cranford 25
2011: Roselle Catholic 33, Gov. Livingston 26
COUNTY COACHES TOP 6 PLAYERS FOR 2012-2013:
1-Kerri Moran, Oak Knoll, senior
2-Jada Lewis, Linden, senior
3-Sydney Morang, New Providence, freshman
4-Drew Winter, Plainfield, junior
5-Jess McCoy, Cranford, senior
6-Erin Ferguson, Gov. Livingston, senior
As voted on Sunday at Kean by county coaches.
1,000 POINT CAREER SCORERS THIS SEASON:
Tabitha Davis, Benedictine Academy, senior
Jess McCoy, Cranford, senior
Jada Lewis, Linden, senior
Cassandra Squeri, New Providence, senior
Taylor Sebolao, Scotch Plains, senior
Drew Winter, Plainfield, junior
Breana Spencer, Plainfield, junior
NOTES: Third-seeded Cranford came back in the second half to defeat sixth-seeded Gov. Livingston 34-30 in the JV championship game at Kean. Cranford beat GL three times in three tries.
Head coach: James Brennan
UCT FINAL AT KEAN UNIVERSITY
8-OAK KNOLL (21-4) 16 8 4 16 – 44
3-GOV. LIVINGSTON (20-4) 10 14 12 18 – 54
8-OAK KNOLL ROYALS (44):
20-Kerri Moran, senior, 6-0-5-17
10-Kelly McAloon, senior, 2-1-2-9
30-Catherine Bonner, junior, 3-1-3-12
50-Julia Wanfried, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
23-Monica Fritz, senior, 1-0-0-2
33-Keelin O’Loughlin, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
35-Megan Wynne, senior, 0-0-0-0
14-Keegan Kelly, junior, 0-1-1-4
25-Helena Sommer, junior, 0-0-0-0
22-Emily McCarthy, freshman, 0-0-0-0
13-Naji Thompson, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Moran, Bonner,
Wanfried, Fritz, McAloon
3-GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS (54):
15-Mallory George, senior, 4-0-6-14
22-Erin Ferguson, senior, 9-0-3-21
5-Marielle Jankowski, senior, 0-0-1-1
10-Alyssa Cranston, senior, 2-0-0-4
21-Sara Dilly, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
23-Patrice DiTomasso, junior, 1-3-2-13
13-Haley Berliner, sophomore, 0-0-1-1
44-Katie Rielly, junior, 0-0-0-0
2-Jenny Pires, junior, 0-0-0-0
24-Lauren DiStaso, junior, 0-0-0-0
12-Lauren Sorrano, freshman, 0-0-0-0
Starters: George, Ferguson,
Cranston, Jankowski, Dilly
38th ANNUAL FRANK J. CICARELL
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.
Sunday, Feb. 10
Plainfield 68, Roselle 38
Union Catholic 61, Brearley 27
Johnson 60, Rahway 47
Elizabeth 33, Kent Place 23
Monday, Feb. 11
Scotch Plains 46, Westfield 44
Cranford 47, Union Catholic 38
At Roselle Catholic
Hillside 59, Union 54
Gov. Livingston 60, Johnson 33
Oak Knoll 45, Dayton 36
Plainfield 57, New Providence 51
Roselle Catholic 61, Elizabeth 22
Linden 55, Summit 37
Thursday, Feb. 14
Linden 57, Plainfield 50 (OT)
Oak Knoll 49, Roselle Catholic 43
At Roselle Catholic
Gov. Livingston 66, Hillside 54
Cranford 43, Scotch Plains 37
Monday, Feb. 18
Gov. Livingston 36, Cranford 27
Oak Knoll 46, Linden 42
At Kean University
Sunday, Feb. 24
JV: Cranford 34, Gov. Livingston 30
Varsity: Gov. Livingston 54, Oak Knoll 44
FRANK J. CICARELL UCT
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
2013 – Gov. Livingston
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; Gov. Livingston 2;
Benedictine, Mother Seton, Hillside, New Providence, Summit,
Union, Roselle, Cranford, Westfield 1.