Teams with records that are four games under .500 don’t usually get seeded No. 1 for a county tournament.
The Patrick School of Elizabeth girls’ basketball team, which began the week at 7-11, is the exception.
The Celtics have gone 1-3 against teams from out of state and 0-7 vs. the likes of highly-regarded and highly-ranked state powers Rutgers Prep, St. Rose of Belmar, St. John Vianney of Holmdel, Gill St. Bernard’s, Saddle River Day, Franklin and Manasquan.
“I may have over-done it a bit,” third-year Patrick School head coach Damel Ling admitted, referring to the mighty ambitious non-conference schedule he prepared for his Celtics.
In contrast, he hopes that going up against those formidable foes will serve a purpose down the road when county and state tournament games fill the calendar.
No doubt Patrick School has already toughened up from facing such strong competition. The Celtics are 5-1 in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division. Should they beat Cranford this Tuesday night they will win the division title outright for the fourth straight season.
Patrick School beat Cranford 56-32 for its fourth straight outright UCC-Watchung crown.
Patrick School earned the top seed for the 44th annual girls’ basketball Union County Tournament in large part due to splitting with defending champion Roselle Catholic – Patrick School’s lone county loss – and sweeping Westfield and Cranford (the 2016 champion) once again in Watchung Division play.
Westfield, which began the week at 12-6, earned the second seed as a result of sweeping Roselle Catholic in Watchung Division play. RC, which was 10-6 as of Tuesday, is the third seed.
“Our league is tough and Westfield, despite the results, always gives us fits,” Ling said.
After splitting with Roselle Catholic in the division last year – Patrick School won the Watchung at 9-1 and RC was second at 8-2 – the Celtics fell to RC in the UCT final.
Patrick School won its first UCT crown in 2015 – defeating Westfield in the final – and then as the top seed fell to Roselle Catholic in the 2016 semifinals.
The Celtics bounced back to win the crown again in 2017 – one more time defeating Westfield in the final – and then last year fell to RC in the title contest.
“We want to win the counties so bad,” said Patrick School senior Dana Hill, a returning varsity player for the Celtics who off the bench scored a game-high 12 points on four 3-pointers in her team’s 50-33 Watchung Division triumph at Westfield this past Friday night. “It’s a big goal of ours.”
After just getting past Cranford 45-44 in the semifinals last year, the Celtics fell to Roselle Catholic 55-52 in the final. Patrick School led RC 24-23 at intermission.
“Roselle Catholic got us the first time this year and we, obviously, know they are capable,” Ling said.
Senior center Taniya Hanner – who earlier this year became the fifth girl at RC to reach 1,000 career points – scored a team-high 15 points in last year’s UCT championship game. Senior point guard Jenissa Encarnacion contributed nine.
As juniors 12 months ago the tandem helped lead Roselle Catholic to its sixth county championship and first since 2014.
“When we beat Patrick School this year we had 29 turnovers,” Encarnacion said. “Then they beat us.
“The second time we played Westfield the game was back and forth and we had a chance at the end.”
That was Westfield’s 50-47 home win over RC on Jan. 15, which was the game that Hanner reached 1,000. Hanner also had the game’s final shot, which didn’t fall to force overtime.
“I think we’re more motivated now,” Hanner said. “Westfield is well-coached and has an awesome team and our last game with them was neck and neck.
“The second time we played Patrick School (52-35 PS win at home last Tuesday) they just got on a run (Celtics won the third quarter 18-3 after leading by just two at the half).”
Oak Knoll, situated in the UCC’s Watchung Division this year, earned the fourth seed ahead of fifth-seeded Kent Place by virtue of its 51-42 home win over Kent Place on Jan. 19.
The Royals are lifted by the performances of junior Paige Morton and sophomore Greta Criqui. Morton is averaging 17 points and Criqui 11.
Kent Place, which leads the UCC’s Valley Division standings, is sparked by seniors Maggie Russell, 21-point average, and Eleanor Alix, 14 points per game.
Brearley captured the UCC’s Sky Division championship outright and sported a 15-3 record as the week began. The Bears are led by senior guard Hannah Bondalo, junior center Paige Middleton and Patrick School transfer Tahirah Kelley, a sophomore guard.
The tournament will commence with preliminary round games this Friday and/or Saturday and will continue with eight first-round games Feb. 13.
The quarterfinals are scheduled for Feb. 15 at two sites to be determined and the semifinals Feb. 20, also at a site to be determined.
The final will be Feb. 23 at 4 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union.
FRIDAY, FEB. 8 OR SATURDAY, FEB. 9: Preliminary round completion date. Games played at the higher seeds.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13: First round – eight games played at the higher seeds.
FRIDAY, FEB. 15: Quarterfinals – Neutral sites to be determined, with start times of 6 p.m. and 7:30. Note: in recent seasons, Johnson and Rahway have hosted this round.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 20: Semifinals – site to be determined, with start times of 6 p.m. and 7:30.
SATIURDAY, FEB. 23: Final – at 4 p.m. at Kean University.
44TH ANNUAL GIRLS’ BASKETBALL
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Patrick School. 2-Westfield. 3-Roselle Catholic. 4-Oak Knoll.
5-Kent Place. 6-Cranford. 7-Gov. Livingston. 8-Summit.
9-New Providence. 10-Union Catholic. 11-Brearley. 12-Dayton.
13-Elizabeth. 14-Plainfield. 15-Johnson. 16-Union.
17-Scotch Plains. 18-Hillside. 19-Benedictine. 20-Roselle.
21-Roselle Park. 22-Linden.
Friday, Feb. 8
Saturday, Feb. 9
22-Linden at 11-Brearley
21-Roselle Park at 12-Dayton
20-Roselle at 13-Elizabeth
19-Benedictine at 14-Plainfield
18-Hillside at 15-Johnson
17-Scotch Plains at 16-Union
Wednesday, Feb. 13
Union-SP winner at 1-Patrick School
Johnson-Hillside winner at 2-Westfield
Plainfield-Benedictine winner at 3-Roselle Catholic
Elizabeth-Roselle winner at 4-Oak Knoll
Dayton-RP winner at 5-Kent Place
Brearley-Linden winner at 6-Cranford
10-Union Catholic at 7-Gov. Livingston
9-New Providence at 8-Summit
Friday, Feb. 15
Two sites to be determined.
6 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 20
Site to be determined.
6 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 23
At Kean University, 4 p.m.
FRANK J. CICARELL UCT
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS:
2018 – Roselle Catholic
2017 – Patrick School
2016 – Cranford
2015 – Patrick School – first time
2014 – Roselle Catholic
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
Union Catholic 8
Roselle Catholic 6
Scotch Plains 3
Gov. Livingston 2
Patrick School 2
Mother Seton 1
New Providence 1