CRANFORD AND WESTFIELD – Both Cranford and Roselle Catholic were in trouble and come crunch time in the fourth quarter each had to display a kind of resiliency if they were to be victorious on Opening Day.
The Cougars – at home – and the Lions – on the road – had to reach back and come up with a solution for their deficits. Cranford trailed Summit by three going into the fourth quarter and then by five early in the fourth, while Roselle Catholic – which was behind by 11 at intermission – was still down two against Westfield entering the final eight minutes.
Cranford, behind a clutch, 11-point fourth quarter performance from returning senior starter Camryn Wichelns, and Roselle Catholic, behind the inside presence of 6-1 junior forward Taniya Hanner and the perimeter shooting of 5-4 senior point guard Tyara McQueen, found a way to get the job done.
First on Saturday in a rare 11:30 a.m. start, Cranford came back to halt visiting Summit 47-42 in a UCC-crossover game. Then a bit later on Saturday, Roselle Catholic came back to top host Westfield 44-38 in a UCC-Watchung Division clash.
Cranford won at Summit 63-46 in the season-opener for both last year, with Watchung Division squad Cranford going on to produce a 10-15 record, while Mountain Division foe Summit went 8-18.
In their only meeting last year – RC did not host Westfield because The Patrick School of Elizabeth already clinched the Watchung Division crown outright – Westfield won 48-28 at home on Jan. 17.
Roselle Catholic went 19-7 last year, while Westfield finished 19-6 and lost to The Patrick School in the Union County Tournament championship game for the second time in three years. Both finished tied for third in the Watchung Division at 5-4.
At Cranford Saturday, Summit came back from a five-point deficit in the second quarter to take a two-point lead before the Cougars forged a 26-26 deadlock at intermission behind two free throws from Ellie Rokicki.
Cranford was held to just two points in the third quarter, but they were the first points produced by Wichelns, who picked up two quick fouls early in the game and had to sit and then was called for her third foul just one minute into the third quarter.
Wichelns came back to finish as Cranford’s high-scorer with 13 points, all of her offense produced in the final 16 minutes.
A basket by Summit senior Grace Keegan gave the Hilltoppers their second-biggest lead of five points at 33-28 early in the fourth. Summit’s largest advantage was six at 14-8 when freshman Kiran McCormick’s first varsity points – a 3-pointer from the left side – concluded the first quarter scoring.
Cranford junior forward Olivia Speer hit consecutive 3s to commence the second quarter scoring, tying the game for the third time at 14-14.
In the first half, Summit had three leads, Cranford one and there were five ties. Speer grabbed seven of her eight rebounds in the first 16 minutes and finished with 11 points, nine of them coming on three 3s.
Wichelns, although she missed a couple of close-range shots, came through big-time in the final eight minutes for the Cougars. She hit an important 3 to pull Cranford to within 33-31 and then scored from the left side to give the Cougars the lead for good at 36-35 with 3:35 to go.
Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer, now in her 11th season at the helm of the Cougars, liked that her team was victorious when not at its best.
“We missed 11 layups and that could have taken us out of the game mentally, but it didn’t,” Dyer said. “The girls continued to work hard.”
Wichelns made two free throws to make it 41-35, two more to give Cranford a 45-40 edge with less than 20 seconds remaining and then her final two to put the Cougars in front 47-40 right before the end.
Summit standout senior guard Christina Richson – a four-year starter -closed the game’s scoring with a layup to give her a game-high 23 points. Richson scored Summit’s last nine points.
“In any case you have to rely on your teammates,” said Wichelns, who was a key player as a sophomore when she helped lead Cranford to the 2016 UCT championship.
Senior guard Caroline Kelly – known as CK – stepped up in Wichelns’ absence in the first half by producing a solid, eight-point effort, all of her scoring done in the first and second quarters.
“CK has impressed us so far this year,” Dyer said. “She’s fearless and attacks the basket.”
“She came out so strong for us,” Wichelns said.
Cranford ended up outscoring Summit 19-11 in the all-important fourth quarter as the Cougars were able to get to the ball better and then finish most of the time.
“In the fourth quarter we came out strong, had better ball movement and made our foul shots,” Wichelns said.
“Camryn was key for us,” Dyer said.
Cranford shot 8-of-10 from the free throw line in the final eight minutes, Wichelns 6-for-6 and junior Lauren Williamson 2-for-4.
“Missing our layups was frustrating, but we were stronger and more relaxed later on,” Wichelns said. “In the first quarter we had to calm down.”
“We are a quick transition team and early on we were one step off, a bit out of rhythm,” Dyer said. “In the fourth quarter it was the little things we did on defense that helped us.”
Summit was solid in the first quarter, grabbing nine rebounds and taking 15 shots. The Hilltoppers were also strong on the boards in the third quarter, grabbing 12 more rebounds.
“We missed some layups bridging the third and fourth quarters that might have allowed us to have a double-digit lead,” said Summit head coach Tom Kenny, who two years ago guided the Hilltoppers to the UCC’s Mountain Division championship.
“We played three freshmen, all of them playing well, and Grace Keegan came back from major knee surgery,” Kenny continued. “Cranford has been here and done that and didn’t get rattled later on.”
Richson led all players at the break with 12 points.
“Their No. 32, Wichelns, is one of the best players in our conference,” Kenny said. “Richson is in that same group.”
“We have such high hopes,” Wichelns said. “Ten of us have been playing since 4th grade. We have such a great bond.”
Returning Cranford starters include Wichelns, Williamson, senior Lauren Santarelli and Kelly.
Speer proves tough inside grabbing rebounds while also displaying a soft touch outside, with the ability to hit long-range shots. She made three big 3s for Cranford, the final one giving the Cougars a 39-35 edge with 2:25 left.
“She’s predominantly an outside shooter,” Dyer said. “She’s very strong.”
Roselle Catholic was just strong enough – and played much better defensively – in the second half in its comeback win at Westfield.
The Lions, after down 28-17 at intermission, began the third quarter on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 28-25 before Westfield hit a 3-pointer for its first points of the quarter at the 3:10 mark.
Westfield – which received nine points in the first half from senior Molly Ryan, eight from sophomore Faith Dobosiewicz, six from senior Grace Elliott, four from junior Samantha Stravach and one from senior Josie Greenwood – entered the fourth quarter with a 33-31 advantage.
Roselle Catholic’s halftime scoring included Hanner with eight, McQueen with five and senior Victoria Jacobs and junior Jenissa Encarnacion with two each.
Hanner scored inside to tie the game at 33-33 and then she scored inside again to give Roselle Catholic the lead at 35-33 with 4:32 left.
Westfield produced a conventional 3-point play to take the lead back at 36-35 one minute later before McQueen drilled a 3-pointer from the left side to give Roselle Catholic the lead for good at 38-36 with 1:46 remaining.
“I was feeling it,” McQueen said of the big 3-pointer.
Jacobs followed with a free throw in two attempts to make it 39-36 before Encarnacion scored inside following a steal by McQueen for a 41-36 RC advantage.
An inside basket by Westfield pulled the Blue Devils to within 41-38 with 49 seconds left.
After Westfield missed inside once it got the ball back, Encarnacion scored again – this time on a layup – to make it 43-38.
Encarnacion then made one of two free throws for the final score of 44-38.
“In the second half we were stronger, hungry and aggressive,” Hanner said. “We wanted it more.
“They started to double team me and then that left the shot open for our guards. We lost to them by 20 last year, so this feels great.”
McQueen, a returning starter, has come up big on several occasions over the years for the Lions.
“We had to make stops on defense in the second half and apply pressure,” McQueen said. “We tried to get it into the paint in the fourth quarter and then they started to collapse.
“We really had to dig deep to get this first win. There is still a lot for us to improve.”
Roselle Catholic head coach Joe Skrec, now in his 22nd season at the helm of the Lions, saw it this way after his team held the Blue Devils to just 10 points in the second half, five in each quarter: “We made a couple of minor adjustments and tried to take away their first option.
“Kayla (Haywood) on Ryan did a nice job and got help from her teammates. We rebounded well at times.
“We also went to a half-court man (defense) and that helped. We’re still trying to figure it out.
“What I thought we did was compete, compete and compete. We were persistent.”
Hanner led RC with 17 points and 16 rebounds. McQueen scored 11 points, Jacobs had four points and 10 rebounds and Encarnacion produced eight points, two rebounds and five assists.
Ryan and Dobosiewicz each poured in a team-high 11 points for Westfield. Greenwood pulled down a team-high four rebounds.
“We were just cold in the second half,” Westfield head coach Liz McKeon said. “We have a mix of a young and veteran team.”
Westfield scored 16 points in the first quarter and 12 in the second. Elliott finished with nine.
“We worked our butts off and on defense were tenacious,” McKeon said. “It’s a learning curve. RC always gives a strong, team effort.”
Ryan and Elliott are the returning starters. Five girls total are back from last year’s successful squad.
“We feel good,” McKeon said. “We have young talent and we will always compete.”
NOTES: Roselle Catholic did not score in double digits in any of the first two quarters and Westfield did not in any of the final two.
Roselle Catholic and Cranford both won games Saturday that they did not score in double digits in two of the four quarters.
Skrec’s record at RC is now 365-164 (.690). Assistant coaches, all RC graduates, include Charlie Wischusen, 11th season; Tim Hagan, fourth; and Allison Skrec, first. Junior varsity coach Dennis Quigley is now in his 16th season.
Last year, Hanner averaged 12 points and seven rebounds; McQueen nine points, 4.5 assists and two steals; Jacobs eight points and five rebounds; Encarnacion 7.5 points, two assists and one steal and Nina Worthey – now a sophomore – 3.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-NON-DIVISION GIRLS’ BASKETBALL
Summit (0-1) 14 12 05 11 – 42
Cranford (1-0) 08 18 02 19 – 47
SUMMIT HILLTOPPERS (42):
10-Christina Richson, senior, 5-3-4-23
22-Grace Keegan, senior, 1-0-2-4
5-Sylvie Goudreau, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
20-Catherine Maloney, senior, 1-0-1-3
2-Kiran McCormick, freshman, 0-2-0-6
11-Bella Cusamano, junior, 1-0-2-4
3-Annabella Yorio, freshman, 0-0-0-0
15-Micaela Nardino, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Richson, Keegan,
Maloney, Cusamano, Yorio.
CRANFORD COUGARS (47):
32-Camryn Wichelns, senior, 1-1-8-13
10-Lauren Williamson, junior, 1-0-2-4
24-Olivia Speer, junior, 1-3-0-11
20-Lauren Santarelli, senior, 0-1-1-4
15-Ellie Rokicki, junior, 0-0-2-2
33-Caroline McCaffery, senior, 1-0-0-2
13-Caroline Kelly, senior, 3-0-2-8
22-Charlotte VanWhy, senior, 0-1-0-3
Starters: Kelly, VanWhy,
Speer, Santarelli, Wichelns.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION GIRLS’ BASKETBALL
Roselle Catholic (1-0, 1-0) 09 08 14 13 – 44
Westfield (0-1, 0-1)
16 12 05 05 – 38
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (44):
1-Victoria Jacobs, senior, 1-0-2-4
3-Tyara McQueen, 1-3-0-11
4-Jenissa Encarnacion, 2-1-1-8
23-Kayla Haywood, 2-0-0-4
25-Taniya Hanner, junior, 7-0-3-17
44-Princess Moise, 0-0-0-0
11-Janelle McNeill, 0-0-0-0
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (38):
32-Lauren Sgro, senior, 1-0-0-2
22-Molly Ryan, senior, 4-1-0-11
2-Samantha Stravach, junior, 2-0-0-4
12-Grace Elliott, senior, 3-0-3-9
25-Faith Dobosiewicz, sophomore, 2-2-1-11
Josie Greenwood, senior, 0-0-1-1