When Gov. Livingston and Union Catholic clashed in Scotch Plains back on Jan. 25 in a Union County Conference-crossover the visiting Highlanders were just beginning to get on a roll.
GL had just won five of six to even its record at 7-7 following a 2-6 start after its first eight.
A 14-3 first quarter domination by the host Vikings set the Highlanders back a bit. They never recovered. Union Catholic went on to post an impressive 47-22 triumph to move to 10-2 at the time.
Here they both are again facing one another. This time the matchup will mean a trip to the county championship game.
When Westfield lost at Oak Knoll 54-48 on Jan. 14 in its first UCC-Watchung Division game, the young Blue Devils saw their record dip below .500 for the first time this season at 4-5.
Since then Westfield has not known what it’s like to lose a game. A 14-game winning streak that has ensued includes a 35-31 division home triumph over Oak Knoll as the Blue Devils went on to win the Watchung Division title outright at 5-1.
Union Catholic won a share of the Mountain Division with New Providence, both 9-1, while GL claimed a share of the Valley Division title with Elizabeth, both also 9-1 in division play.
This year’s Final Four includes arguably the best four teams in Union County. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Rahway it will be seventh-seeded GL (16-9) vs. third-seeded Union Catholic (18-4) at 6 p.m., followed by fourth-seeded Oak Knoll (14-8) vs. top-seeded Westfield (18-5) at 7:30 p.m. in the 45th annual girls basketball Union County Tournament semifinals.
Oak Knoll and Union Catholic have both won four straight, while GL just had a nine-game winning streak snapped at New Providence 41-38 in Saturday’s annual Spread the Word event at NP. The day before, GL ousted second-seeded New Providence 42-27.
TUESDAY, FEB. 25
7-Gov. Livingston (16-9) vs. 3-Union Catholic (18-4), 6 p.m.
4-Oak Knoll (14-8) vs. 1-Westfield (18-5), 7:30 p.m.
IN REGULAR SEASON PLAY:
Jan. 25: Union Catholic 47, Gov. Livingston 22 – at Union Catholic
Jan. 14: Oak Knoll 54, Westfield 48 – at Oak Knoll
Jan. 23: Westfield 35, Oak Knoll 31 – at Westfield
New Providence, which slipped to 21-3 after opening with a school-record 19-0 start, previously defeated GL 50-42 in Berkeley Heights back on Jan. 4. That was when GL was in a different place. Now the Highlanders are on a roll at the right time of the year.
Providing most of the scoring to help GL advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2013 were sophomore Gianna Ciccimarra with 16 points and senior Skylar Dowling with 11.
GL, guided by head coach Chris Eckert, was the only lower seeded team to win in Friday night’s quarterfinals.
In Friday’s other three quarterfinals:
Fourth-seeded Oak Knoll ousted fifth-seeded Summit 45-33 in the first of the two games played at Rahway High School’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium. The Royals were lifted by the scoring of junior Greta Criqui with 19 and senior center Paige Morton with 17.
In the nightcap at Rahway, top-seeded Westfield turned back ninth-seeded Johnson 52-42 to increase its winning streak to 14 games. Freshman guard Annie Ryan poured in 16 points, while sophomore Chloe Kreusser added 10 and 11 rebounds. Westfield came back to take a one-point lead at intermission after Johnson, guided by former Westfield head coach Joe Marino, won the first quarter 17-7.
Present Westfield head coach Liz McKeon, the second 1,000 point scorer at Westfield, just won her 100th game as Westfield’s head coach.
Third-seeded Union Catholic downed 11th-seeded Roselle Catholic 40-26 in the second of the two games played at Johnson. Senior guard Abigale Ortiz and junior guard Sabrina Araujo each netted 10 points for the Vikings, who won the fourth quarter 15-6. Union Catholic reached the semifinals for the first time since 2005.
Union Catholic, with head coach Kathy Matthews now in her 43rd season at the helm of the Vikings, has won the most championships with eight. The last time Union Catholic won the title was in 2001 and the last time it reached the final was in 2005, which was for the fifth straight season.
Matthews, who became just the fourth girls basketball coach in state history to reach 700 wins three years ago, has guided Union Catholic to all eight of its UCT titles. Her record at the moment is 740-341 (.685).
GL last won the UCT in 2013 when the Highlanders repeated as champions after winning the crown for the first time the year before.
Westfield, which has appeared in three of the last five finals including last year, is seeking its second UCT crown and first since 2008. Oak Knoll, guided by head coach and former 1,000 point scorer Katie Cummings, is still seeking its first championship. The Royals made it to the final in 1998 and 2013.
The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 29, at 5 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union.