RAHWAY – When it’s time to ratchet up defensive pressure Westfield head coach Liz McKeon inserts senior Faith Dobosiewicz. On Tuesday night her assignment was to contain Oak Knoll 6-0 senior center Paige Morton.
While Dobosiewicz performed admirably without the ball, preventing Morton from scoring at all in the fourth quarter, McKeon didn’t realize she was also going to get added offense from one of her key bench players.
With less than four minutes to go and Oak Knoll still in the lead from the final seconds of the third quarter, it was Dobosiewicz who stepped up offensively for the Blue Devils.
Dobosiewicz would go on to score Westfield’s next seven points, with the score going from Westfield being down by one to the Blue Devils taking a two-point lead into the final seconds.
It was not only Dobosiewicz’s defense, but her offense – she finished with nine points, seven of them in the fourth quarter – as was well that helped propel top-seeded Westfield to a come-from-behind 40-36 victory over fourth-seeded Oak Knoll in Tuesday night’s second Union County Tournament semifinal contest at Rahway High School’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium.
Westfield got out to a 13-3 lead in the second quarter and then Oak Knoll took its first lead at 26-23 right before the third quarter buzzer when Morton banked in a three-pointer from the right side.Oak Knoll led by five twice at 28-23 and 30-25 in the fourth before Westfield (19-5) found a way to extend its winning streak to 15.
With less than three minutes remaining Oak Knoll (14-9) was up 36-33 and had possession of the ball before committing turnovers on their next three possessions.
In the opening game, which was just as thrilling as the nightcap, standout senior shooting guard Skylar Dowling almost single-handedly led seventh-seeded Governor Livingston to a come-from-behind 36-31triumph over third-seeded Union Catholic.
Dowling, after producing just three points at the break, finished with a game-high 26, including the most three-point baskets any player scored the entire night – both games – and a near-perfect 12-for-13performance from the free throw line.
Dowling scored 15 of GL’s 17 points in the final eight minutes, including 10-of-11 from the foul line. The Highlanders won the fourth quarter 17-4, which was in total contrast to them shooting just2-for-23 from the floor in the first half, including 20 missed shots in a row – their last 10 of the first quarter and first 10 of the second.
GL (17-9) came back from a 14-3 deficit that Union Catholic (18-5) built in the second quarter to tie the game for the third time at 31-31 on a Dowling free throw and then take the lead for good at32-31 on another Dowling free throw.
Dowling scored the game’s final six points.
So that means the 45th annual girls basketball Union County Tournament championship game this Saturday at 5 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union will pit seventh-seeded GL (17-9and winners of 10 of its last 11) vs. top-seeded Westfield (19-5 and winners of 15 straight). They did not meet in the regular season.
GL is in the final for the first time since repeating as champions in 2013. The Highlanders own two UCT crowns, winning in 2012 and 2013.
Westfield is in the final for the second straight season and for the fourth time in the past six. Westfield lost to the Patrick School of Elizabeth in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 finals. Westfield’s lone UCT title came in 2008 when the Blue Devils defeated Elizabeth in that year’s title contest.
YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE FAITH AND WESTFIELD SURE DID
A basket made from the top of the key by freshman Paige Gorczyca, her first and only field goal of the game, pulled Westfield to within one at 32-21. Oak Knoll then turned the ball over. Westfield made the Royals pay.
Dobosiewicz, with only two points at the time, banked in a shot to give Westfield its second lead at 33-32.
Oak Knoll came back to score the game’s next four points, including a short jumper by Greta Criqui and two foul shots by Devin Gogerty, which were her only two points.
Westfield senior Caroline Dwyer, who paced the Blue Devils with 12 points, then took a three-pointer that went in and out. Oak Knoll, now up 36-33 drove for more,but then turned the ball over.
Westfield took possession with 2:15 left and after moving the ball around Dobosiewicz decided not to pass, but to take an uncontested long-range shot from the top of the key. Dobosiewicz’s attempt hit nothing butthe bottom of the net as her three-pointer with 2:03 left tied the game for the third and final time at 36-36.
“I was getting open, no one was marking me,” Dobosiewicz said. “I knew immediately I shot the ball well and that it was going down.”
Following another costly Oak Knoll turnover, Dobosiewicz this time drove to the basket to score what turned out to be the game-winning basket with just 1:27 to go, giving Westfield its lead back and the advantage for good at 38-36.
“Charlotte Dursee set a screen and I was able to go right to the basket,” Dobosiewicz said. “Our defense usually propels our offense.”
Gorczyca closed the game’s scoring by making two free throws with less than two seconds on the clock.
The Blue Devils were able to get back to the final. One more win is needed for Westfield to capture its first county crown in 12 years.
“This is amazing,” Dobosiewicz said. “We’ve wanted this since freshman season.”
Dwyer scored nine of her 12 points in the first half. Her only points in the second half came on a three-pointer late in the third quarter that put Westfield ahead for the secondtime at 23-20 after Oak Knoll tied the game for the first time at 20-20 on a Morton inside basket.
A DOMINATING DOWLING PERFORMANCE
Dowling was not only held to three points at the half, but she hardly shot the ball at all during the game’s first 16 minutes. The opportunities were just not there.
“Even though we were down we never stopped playing,” Dowling said. “We have a ‘Next Play Mentality’ that is written on our shoes. We knew the game wasn’t over.”
Dowling opened the third quarter scoring with her second three-pointer and her third with 4:11 to go in the period pulled GL to within 17-15.
However, a layup by Union Catholic junior Madison Johnson gave the Royals a lead of eight again at 29-21 with just over four minutes to go. Dowling then missed a three-pointer.
Dowling made it 29-22 after making one of two free throws, her second attempt the only one she would miss.
Then Dowling produced a three-point play, scoring in the lane, getting fouled and making the ensuing free throw, to make it a 29-25 game.
Dowling’s fourth three-pointer with 1:41 to go gave GL its second lead at 30-29 as the gym went nuts. GL’s only other lead was 2-0 when Reagan Hopeck opened the game’s scoring with an inside basket.
Two free throws by Abigale Ortiz gave Union Catholic its final lead of 31-30 before Dowling scored the game’s final six points.
Dowling said each player takes at least 25 free throws during every practice session. She was never nervous at the line or thinking about anything other than putting the ball through the hoop, whichshe successfully did 12 out of 13 times.
“Our team wanted this so bad,” Dowling said. “We wanted to prove that we were better than a seventh seed.
“Union Catholic is an amazing team and fought until the end. The game just went our way in the second half.”
Third-year GL head coach Chris Eckert knew the ball was in the right person’s hands when the game was on the line.
“Skylar wanted that moment,” Eckert said. “She’s built for that moment.”
A key player off the bench for the Highlanders was sophomore Allie Post, who came up with a huge offensive rebound after she missed a free throw, enabling GL to call a timeout with just 9.9 secondsremaining.
“We put her in there and Allie works her butt off,” Eckert said. “Her length is a problem for the opposition. She stepped up in some big moments.”
Before going to the line Post – who led last year’s GL junior varsity team to the UCT championship by scoring 24 points in its double overtime title game win over Union Catholic – came up with a hugesteal.
“Our kids trust the process completely,” Eckert said. “We knew we were going to be in a dogfight.
“Our sophomores are growing, we don’t have any juniors, and our sophomores believe in themselves.”
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
AT RAHWAY HIGH SCHOOL’S
EARL H. WALTER GYMNASIUM
7-Gov. Livingston (17-9) 03 03 13 17 – 36
3-Union Catholic (18-5) 08 06 13 04 – 31
GOV. LIVINGSTON HIGHLANDERS (36):
30-Skylar Dowling, senior, 1-4-12-26
14-Julia Byrne, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
12-Gianna Ciccimarra, sophomore, 2-0-1-5
42-Reagan Hopeck, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
15-Paige Phillips, senior, 0-0-1-1
23-Shannon Polimeni, senior, 0-0-0-0
22-Allie Post, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Dowling, Phillips,
Polimeni, Ciccimarra, Hopeck.
UNION CATHOLIC VIKINGS (31):
5-Abigale Ortiz, senior, 2-1-2-9
32-Madison Johnson, junior, 4-0-0-8
4-Gianna Peralta, junior, 1-0-0-2
14-Kaleigh Gunsiorowski, freshman, 1-1-2-7
3-Sabrina Araujo, junior, 1-1-0-5
35-Olivia Magliacano, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Johnson, Ortiz,
Peralta, Araujo, Magliacano.
4-Oak Knoll (14-9) 02 09 15 10 – 36
1-Westfield (19-5) 09 08 06 17 – 40
OAK KNOLL ROYALS (36):
3-Devon Gogerty, sophomore, 0-0-2-2
5-Greta Criqui, junior, 4-0-5-13
32-Katelyn Glory, sophomore, 2-0-2-6
34-Paige Morton, senior, 5-1-0-13
12-Elizabeth Archer, freshman, 0-0-2-2
2-Haley Meehan, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Glory, Meehan,
Gogerty, Criqui, Morton.
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (40):
20-Paige Gorczyca, freshman, 1-0-3-5
23-Faith Dobosiewicz, senior, 3-1-0-9
5-Charlotte Dursee, junior, 1-0-3-5
21-Chloe Kreusser, sophomore, 3-0-0-6
12-Caroline Dwyer, senior, 1-2-4-12
2-Annie Ryan, freshman, 1-0-1-3
11-Ali Lisanti, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Dwyer, Lisanti,
Dursee, Kreusser, Gorczyca.