Westfield girls’ basketball tough on boards in topping Watchung Division rival Cranford; Stravach, Klag, Kreusser excel for visitors

Blue Devils win 3rd straight to improve to 11-5; Cougars, sparked by rebounding of Pringle, fall to 6-8

PHOTOS BY JR PARACHINI – Westfield head coach Liz McKeon discusses strategy that worked well for Blue Devils in their win at Cranford.
Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer, at right, talks to one of her players during Cranford’s Watchung Division home game vs. Westfield.

CRANFORD – When you have two defensive-minded teams going at it a premium is put on being able to control the boards.
On the defensive end you’re looking to grab the ball and go. Offensively, you want to follow up a miss with at least a second opportunity.
While both Westfield and Cranford equally displayed a desire to come down with their share of rebounds for the game’s first 11 minutes, it was the visiting Blue Devils who began to assert themselves a bit more from that point on.
Westfield closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run following the game’s second and final tie and remained in front the entire second half largely in part to the strong all-around front court presence of senior Samantha Stravach and emerging freshmen Grace Klag and Chloe Kreusser.
The three Blue Devils combined for 27 rebounds, including 11 of them from the offensive end.
Westfield’s ability to time-and-time again manufacture second-chance opportunities offensively and limit Cranford from doing the same went a long way in lifting the Blue Devils past the Cougars 43-34 in Saturday morning’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division girls’ basketball game at Martin Gymnasium.
“We stress defense and today we showed our heart and toughness,” Westfield head coach Liz McKeon said. “Our stops gave us more confidence. No one shoots 100 percent, so following up our shots was also big.”
Westfield won its third straight to improve to 11-5 overall and 4-1 in the Watchung Division. Cranford, which was coming off Thursday’s 41-37 home win over a 9-4 Summit squad, slipped to 6-8 overall and 0-4 in the five-team Watchung Division.
The squads will clash for the second time in Watchung Division play in two weeks – at Westfield on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.
Following the game’s final tie at 15-15, Klag – Westfield’s imposing center – made her fifth free throw to give the Blue Devils the lead for good at 16-15 with three minutes to go in the second quarter. She then made her sixth.
Klag finished with 12 points, including a perfect eight-for-eight from the free throw line.
Just about the only thing Stravach did not do was make a free throw. In addition to tying Klag as the game’s high scorer with 12 points, Stravach pulled down nine rebounds (five of them on offense) and came up with three steals.
“As soon as the shot goes up I want to crash the boards,” Stravach said. “With Grace’s height and all of us boxing out we were able to get a lot of rebounds.”
It also seemed like all six of Stravach’s field goals came at critical times to prevent a Cranford run and at the same time enhance Westfield’s advantage.
“Samantha is a leader for us on offense and defense,” McKeon said. “Today she showed a lot of poise.”
Klag led Westfield with 10 rebounds, three of them on the offensive glass, and had one blocked shot. When she got fouled going to the basket she made Cranford pay at the free throw line.
Kreusser contributed five points and eight rebounds, three of them on offense.
Cranford was not only held to under 40 points, but the Cougars scored less than seven points in two quarters and its high-scorer was senior Olivia Speer with seven. Speer opened the game’s scoring with a 3-pointer.
“Our main objective was to shut down their shooters and we executed that well,” Stravach said. “We didn’t even let them get many of their shots up.”
“We stayed in a 3-2 zone and had our hands in their face,” McKeon said.
Two free throws by sophomore Kirsten Williams gave Cranford its second three-point lead at 11-8 to close the first quarter. After Westfield tied the game for the first time at 11-11 on Klag’s third free throw, the advantage on the scoreboard went back-and-forth a bit.
That was until Klag was fouled again and hit two more free throws to make it 17-15. Caroline Dwyer followed with a free throw in two attempts and then Stravach hit a jumper in the lane. Kreusser then made one of two from the line to put Westfield up 22-15 at intermission.
Cranford kept within striking distance for most of the third quarter, pulling to as close as five at 30-25 following two free throws from freshman Katy Wheatly. Consecutive baskets by Stravach, a jumper from the foul line, and Klag’s final field goal – off an assist from junior Ali Lisanti – pushed the Westfield lead to nine. Cranford junior Gianna Toretta’s only point made the score 36-28 heading into the fourth.
With six minutes left Cranford sophomore Elizabeth McCaffery produced a 3-point basket from the left side that got the Cougars back to within six at 38-32.
Cranford had a couple of possessions to get even closer, but they were thwarted by a team foul and then a turnover.
To Westfield’s credit, the Blue Devils took possession with 1:35 remaining and leading by nine at 41-32 and were able to run down the clock until there was just 16.2 seconds left. Lisanti then scored her only points on two free throws.
Cranford senior KC Pringle closed the game’s scoring with her only field goal. She did a fine job on the boards, leading the Cougars in rebounding with nine, including four on offense. Pringle also had two blocked shots.
“Westfield did a good job of getting offensive rebounds and that’s where we struggled,” Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer said. “We like to rebound the ball and push up the floor and we couldn’t do that. Give Westfield and Coach McKeon credit for that.”
In Cranford’s win against Mountain Division foe Summit Thursday, Dyer had this to say: “on defense we played together, we hustled and worked hard. All in all it was a good game for us.”
NOTES: Westfield has three Watchung Division games remaining, with two of them its next contests. The Blue Devils will play at Oak Knoll Tuesday at 4 p.m. and then host the Patrick School Friday night at 7.
Westfield beat Oak Knoll at home 46-35 on Jan. 3. The Blue Devils lost on the road against defending Watchung Division champion Patrick School 55-44 on Jan. 11.
Westfield’s final scheduled Watchung Division game is the one at home against Cranford.
These next two games for the Blue Devils will go a long way in determining Union County Tournament seeding and who will win the Watchung Division. The UCT will be seeded after the Super Bowl.
“This is a big week for us,” McKeon said. “At Oak Knoll will be very tough. The first time against Patrick School we didn’t take care of the ball. That’s nothing we can’t fix.”
“We were very sloppy the first time against Patrick School,” Stravach said. “We threw the ball away a lot; I think we had something like 30 turnovers. On Friday at home we need to make it one play at a time.”

Westfield upcoming:
Jan. 29 at Oak Knoll, 4 p.m.
Feb. 1 Patrick School, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 at Morristown, 7 p.m.

Cranford upcoming:
Jan. 28 at Carteret, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 31 Rahway, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 at Oak Knoll, 4 p.m.
Feb. 5 at Patrick School, 4 p.m.

Westfield (11-5, 4-1) 08 14 14 07 – 43
Cranford (6-8, 0-4) 11 04 13 06 – 34

11-Ali Lisanti, junior, 0-0-2-2
5-Charlotte Dursee, sophomore, 0-0-1-1
12-Emma Pietrewicz, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
33-Grace Klag, freshman, 2-0-8-12
21-Chloe Kreusser, freshman, 2-0-1-5
22-Samantha Stravach, senior, 6-0-0-12
3-Caroline Dwyer, junior, 2-1-0-7
10-Lily Maz, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Dursee, Klag,
Kreusser, Lisanti, Stravach.
Totals: 14-1-12-43.

22-KC Pringle, senior, 1-0-0-2
1-Elizabeth McCaffery, sophomore, 0-1-0-3
10-Lauren Williamson, senior, 1-0-3-5
13-Gianna Toretta, junior, 0-0-1-1
14-Katy Wheatly, freshman, 2-0-2-6
11-Ellie Rokicki, senior, 1-0-0-2
32-Kirsten Williams, sophomore, 2-0-2-6
24-Olivia Speer, senior, 2-1-0-7
20-Meghan Santarelli, senior, 1-0-0-2
33-Natalia Kruk, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Pringle, Rokicki,
Santarelli, Speer, Williamson.
Totals: 10-2-8-34.