Strong second half surge shows Westfield girls basketball the way in Watchung Division home win over Cranford

WESTFIELD – This seems to be the perfect time of the season for the Westfield Blue Devils to elevate their game.
Three division home games fill the schedule this week, starting with Tuesday’s matchup vs. Cranford.
“We feel this is one of the most talented teams Westfield’s had,” senior Caroline Dwyer said. “We’ll continue to take it one game at a time.”
Visiting Cranford held its own for the first 16 minutes, down by just three at intermission. Westfield then began the third quarter on a 5-0 run before the Cougars answered again with one of their own to get back to within three.
Westfield then, from mostly inside, reeled off a 7-0 run and ultimately outscored Cranford 16-4 down the stretch of the third quarter to begin to put the game out of reach.
With starters Chloe Kruesser and Charlotte Dursee out of the game because of foul trouble early on, freshman Annie Ryan stepped up off the bench to lead all scorers with a 17-point performance, eight in the first and nine in the second.
Westfield delivered the knockout blow in the third quarter and continued to remain in control the final eight minutes in handing Cranford a 60-43 defeat in Tuesday’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division girls basketball game played at Westfield High School’s gymnasium.
The teams had identical overall and division records entering, with Westfield now 6-5 overall and 2-1 in the Watchung Division, while Cranford slipped to 5-6 and 1-2.
They will face each other again in division play at Cranford’s Martin Gymnasium on Feb. 6.
Westfield, which also received double-digit scoring from freshman starter Paige Gorczyca with 11 points, will next prepare for Thursday’s big division home game against Oak Knoll. The first time the teams met in Summit the host Royals came out on top 54-48 last Tuesday. Oak Knoll began the week in first place in the Watchung Division with a 3-0 league mark.
Westfield’s second-to-last division game is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. at home vs. Roselle Catholic. The Blue Devils won at RC 49-24 on Jan. 9. The game at Cranford will be Westfield’s final division game provided the second Oak Knoll and RC games are completed later this week.
Cranford, which received 11 points each from starter Kathryn Wheatley and reserve Olivia Merriman, will wrap this week’s schedule with a non-division home game against Mountain Division foe Summit Thursday. The Cougars are then scheduled to host Oak Knoll, RC and Mountain Division leader New Providence next week.
In the first half against Cranford the Blue Devils were producing steals, as many as 10 of them, that helped them put up 38 shots, 19 in each quarter. However, the Cougars kept up by showing an edge on the boards with 14 rebounds. Wheatley, a promising sophomore, grabbed two and blocked three shots. Teammates Amanda Vath and Gianna Toretta grabbed four rebounds each in the first 16 minutes.
“I thought we did a good of moving the ball around in the first half,” Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer said. “In the second half we just didn’t match up. They came at us very strong.”
Dwyer connected on two three-pointers for six points, her second long-range basket extending Westfield’s slim advantage at the time to 19-15 midway through the second quarter.
“We were sloppy offensively in the first half,” Dwyer said. “We rely on our defense to propel our offense and that was the key in the second half. We forced turnovers with our press and then we were able to settle into our offense.”
Gorczyca scored the final seven of her 11 points in the third quarter, including the period’s first two baskets that each came inside, the first one off an offensive rebound.
Ryan connected on back-to-back baskets, the second one her second three-pointer of the day, to bring Westfield’s lead at the time to 44-31.
“We were able to get the ball inside to Paige there in the second half and Annie was able to score off our pressure defense,” Westfield head coach Liz McKeon said. “Cranford came out confident and we know they will always be tough and well-coached.”
Gorczyca grabbed six rebounds and Kreusser five, most of them coming in the second half.
“Offensively, early on, we weren’t hitting our shots,” McKeon said. “We pride ourselves on getting our defense to lead the way. Our full court pressure got to them in the third quarter.”
Although Cranford dropped its third straight following a three-game winning streak, Dyer is encouraged about her squad’s potential.
“I really like this group,” said Dyer, who has guided Cranford junior varsity and varsity teams to Union County Tournament championships. “They’re going through some ups and downs right now. It’s all a matter of who comes to play at the end.”
McKeon realizes the importance of this week’s slate as we inch closer to when this season’s UCT will be constructed.
“I think it will be a fun UCT,” McKeon said.
Westfield reached the final three of the past five seasons, falling each time in the title game to Patrick School. The Elizabeth school does not have a team this season. The Blue Devils are still after their second UCT championship and first since 2008.
“There’s New Providence, Oak Knoll and Roselle Catholic will get better to name a few,” McKeon said. “You can’t count anyone out.
“Our main focus continues to be us, Westfield. We’re doing what we can do. Seeding or what seed we get doesn’t matter. There are usually tough games right away in the first round.
“You still have to go out and beat pretty good teams in order to win it. Defense, rebounding, attacking the basket and playing as a team is what’s going to do it. Anyone can step up.”

Cranford (5-6, 1-2) 08 16 09 10 – 43
Westfield (6-5, 2-1) 12 15 21 12 – 60

32-Kirsten Williams, junior, 2-0-5-9
55-Samantha Brunton, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
20-Kathryn Wheatley, sophomore, 5-0-1-11
33-Olivia Merriman, junior, 4-0-3-11
13-Gianna Toretta, senior, 1-0-2-4
15-Sarah O’Donnell, freshman, 1-0-2-4
10-Elizabeth McCaffery, junior, 1-0-0-2
24-Amanda Vath, junior, 0-0-0-0
11-Caroline Bush, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Bush, McCaffery,
Vath, Wheatley, Williams.
Totals: 15-0-13-43.

23-Faith Dobosiewicz, senior, 0-1-2-5
20-Paige Gorczyca, freshman, 5-0-1-11
21-Chloe Kreusser, sophomore, 3-0-2-8
2-Annie Ryan, freshman, 5-2-1-17
11-Ali Lisanti, senior, 2-0-0-4
5-Charlotte Dursee, junior, 2-0-1-5
12-Caroline Dwyer, senior, 0-2-0-6
33-Sutton Factor, freshman, 1-0-0-2
4-Phoebe Chadowitz, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Dwyer, Lisanti,
Dursee, Kreusser, Gorczyca.
Totals: 19-5-7-60.