RAHWAY – Despite fast starts to the first and second quarters and double-digit leads in each of the first three once again Summit found itself in a dogfight with Rahway.
When the fourth quarter commenced the Hilltoppers were only ahead by one after producing a lead as big as 15.
“Going into the fourth quarter we said that we’re a senior team and we’re not going to be playing much longer, so we used that as motivation,” senior guard Eric Baier said. “We were fatigued, but we found a way to push through.”
Baier used his left hand to put up a layup for the first points of the final eight minutes. Then Rahway answered on a Leon Lawson, he revitalized the Indians off the bench, putback to get back to within one.
Baier then drove to the basket again and scored inside with 5:24 to go. It was an important basket not only for the Hilltoppers, but for Baier who reached and passed 1,000 career points on it.
“Once I got it (his 1,000th point) it was like a weight off my shoulders,” Baier said.
Baier immediately continued to score, draining his only three-pointer and then producing another layup to put the Hilltoppers ahead by eight.
Rahway got no closer than six the rest of the way.
A true, senior-dominated team effort paved the way for the Summit Hilltoppers to get past the Rahway Indians 62-56 in Tuesday night’s Union County Conference-Valley Division boys basketball clash at Rahway High School’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium.
As a result, Summit, which led from start to finish with the exception of the game’s only tie of 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, clinched the UCC’s 2019-2020 Valley Division championship outright by sweeping the season series. Summit also edged Rahway 57-55 at home on Jan. 14.
Summit will host Governor Livingston Thursday night at 7, while Rahway plays at Oratory Prep Thursday at 7, which will be the final division games for both this season.
Last year Rahway won at Summit by one point and then defeated the Hilltoppers by five at home to win the Valley Division for the fourth straight season.
THE LAST 6 UCC-VALLEY DIVISION CHAMPIONS:
2019-2020: Summit, 8-1 and 1 game to go, outright
2018-2019: Rahway, 6-0, outright
2017-2018: Rahway, 12-0, outright
2016-2017: Rahway, 11-1, outright
2015-2016: Rahway 9-1, outright
2014-2015: Gov. Livingston, 8-2, outright
Summit finished second in the Valley Division last year, third in 2018, tied for third with Roselle in 2017, second in 2016 and tied for third with Rahway in 2015.
“We didn’t beat them (Rahway) last year and when we played them here we had a chance to tie them for the division, so this is sweet,” Baier said.
The No. 13 Baier led Summit to its 13th straight victory by leading all scorers with 22 points. Baier also grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. He now has 1,006 career points.
“He did say that reaching 1,000 was weighing on him a bit,” Summit second-year head coach Tim Simo said. “Once he reached it, though, you could tell a sense of relief came his way.”
Summit improved to 16-2 overall and 8-1 in the Valley Division, while Rahway had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 13-3 overall and 7-2 in the Valley Division. Rahway is 10-2 in its last 12 games, both setbacks to Summit.
Summit dominated early on, producing a 9-0 lead before Rahway’s first point came on a Tahlee Bailey free throw with just 3:45 remaining in the first quarter. Rahway did not make a field goal until Amari Thompson connected a three-pointer with 2:45 left in the first.
To Rahway’s credit the Indians immediately battled back to get the game even after the first eight minutes.
“We knew their pressure would come and that they would want to play a North-South game,” Baier said. “We were able to handle it. Everyone really played well.”
Summit got out to an even better start in the second quarter, starting the period on a 12-0 run that culminated with the hot, long-range shooting of senior Charlie Lord. Rahway did not get a hand in his face and Lord made the Indians pay for it by nailing three threes in short time span.
Lord scored all 11 of his points in the second quarter, with Summit going on to take a 34-26 lead at intermission
“Charlie was on fire there,” Baier said. “We knew we had to come out and play with a lot of intensity.”
Rahway closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run to make it a much closer contest heading into the third period.
“We felt this would be a game of runs and it would be emotional and we would have to handle Coach (Jeff) Lubreski’s pressure,” Simo said. “We had to attack their pressure with our pressure.”
Stepping up in senior Jackson Rind’s absence was senior Jalen Russell, who poured in 16 points, including three threes.
“He’s started two games for us now and has scored 30 points,” Simo said.
Simo said that Rind, who is wearing a boot over his right foot, rolled his ankle. “He’ll be out for a couple of weeks, but thankfully it’s just a sprain,” Simo said.
One of Russell’s three-pointers gave Summit its biggest lead at 34-19 later in the second quarter. A layup by Baier built Summit’s lead back up to 11 at 41-30 with three minutes to go in the third.
Then Rahway closed the third quarter on a 13-3 run to get the game to 44-43 heading into the fourth. Lawson was a spark off the bench for the Indians, scoring the first five of his seven points in the period. He also grabbed six rebounds and blocked one shot in the final 16 minutes.
“After Rahway made that run to get back into it, at the start of the fourth quarter our kids just responded,” Simo said. “Our kids have been playing with a lot of confidence.
“We lost seven seniors from last year and four of them were starters. We’ve now won 13 in a row and when you have a streak like that we know people start to talk about it.
“However, for being 16-2 I bet 11-12 of our wins are by seven points or less. Winning the division and having Eric do what he did, we’re very proud of the kids.”
Thompson paced Rahway with 15 points, while Jordan Bell added 13 and Ernest Carter 12. Carter scored 34 points and Bair 24 in the team’s first meeting last month.
Rahway vs. Summit could happen again, maybe even twice. There’s the possibility of a Union County Tournament matchup, the UCT will be seeded next Tuesday, and then a possible North 2, Group 3 encounter could ensue. Top teams in N2G3 at the moment include Irvington (17-1), West Morris (16-1), Summit (16-2), Carteret (16-4) and Rahway (13-3).
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-VALLEY DIVISION
BOYS BASKETBALL AT RAHWAY HIGH SCHOOL
Summit (16-2, 8-1) 13 21 10 18 – 62
Rahway (13-3, 7-2) 13 13 17 13 – 56
SUMMIT HILLTOPPERS (62):
22-Will Hellings, senior, 3-0-3-9
13-Eric Baier, senior, 7-1-5-22
15-Joe Lusardi, senior, 1-0-2-4
34-Jalen Russell, senior, 2-3-3-16
4-Charlie Lord, senior, 1-3-0-11
Starters: Baier, Lord,
Lusardi, Russell, Hellings.
RAHWAY INDIANS (56):
4-Jared Vertil, senior, 2-0-0-4
3-Ernest Carter, junior, 4-1-1-12
2-Amari Thompson, junior, 2-3-2-15
32-Jordan Bell, senior, 2-2-3-13
23-Leon Lawson, junior, 3-0-1-7
11-Tahlee Bailey, senior, 1-0-3-5
Starters: Bailey, Bell,
Vertil, Carter, Thompson.