Cranford wins a father–daughter coaches battle in girls basketball, 39-22

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CRANFORD, NJ — In the first quarter of their season opener on Saturday, Dec. 18, Cranford could do almost no wrong.

The Cougars found that the best way to get over possible first-game nerves would be to shoot almost 50 percent from the floor, going on a 13-0 run to quickly begin separation and to limit opposing Roselle Catholic to zero field goals in the first eight minutes of the season for both teams.

When Cranford struggled offensively in the second quarter, the Cougars managing just one field goal, that’s when the home team began to find out a little bit about itself.

“The most important thing is to stay strong mentally and physically,” said Cranford freshman forward Bella Curanovic.
Roselle Catholic did well to get back in the game by putting together a solid second quarter and was a missed 3-point field goal away from tying the game, after being down by as many as 14 points on two occasions in the first quarter.

Curanovic and Cranford, however, went on to play more consistently in the second half, en route to a 39-22 triumph in the Union County Conference–Watchung Division girls basketball clash at Cranford High School’s Martin Gymnasium.

Curanovic was impressive for her first varsity game for the Cougars, leading all scorers with 13 points. She also paced Cranford with seven rebounds and four blocks, tied Cranford sophomore Kristina Lowe with two steals and dished out one assist.

“I think we managed to shake off some jitters right away and played stronger as the first period went on,” Curanovic said.

Curanovic scored Cranford’s first points of the season off a rebound and then, moments later, drained her team’s first 3-point basket of the 2021-2022 campaign.

“We wanted to come out aggressive,” Curanovic said. “We wanted to play good defense and keep an eye on Amaris Jenkins.”
Jenkins, Roselle Catholic’s 5-8 senior forward, was held to just one basket, scoring the only 2 Lion points in the final eight minutes of the game.

Curanovic scored her first 9 points in a first quarter that Cranford dominated 17-5, with the visiting Lions scoring only from the free-throw line.

Five Cranford players scored in the first quarter, a sign that the Cougars were able to spread the wealth offensively right away, and, for the game, eight of its 11 players filled the hoop.

“We had good ball movement,” said second-year Cranford head coach Allison Skrec. “I’m proud of the way we came out and challenged RC.”

Curanovic’s 3-pointer began a game-defying 13-0 spurt that included six consecutive Cranford baskets, three by Curanovic and one each by junior guard Sarah O’Donnell on a left-handed move, Lowe on a layup and sophomore Maddy DeLong from the left side. Curanovic also scored in the sequence on a layup and an outside shot.

“I’m super proud of Bella and how she played in her first varsity game,” Skrec said. “We’re not surprised at all. It was great to see the way she kept her composure. She showed a lot of toughness and had a lot of deflection on defense.”

Another freshman who excelled was guard Jasmin McKay for Roselle Catholic. McKay was the only other player in the game to score in double digits, finishing with 12 points for the Lions. She scored in every quarter but the fourth.

Cranford made seven of 16 field goal attempts in the first quarter. The Cougars were successful on only one of 15 in the next eight minutes, however, as Roselle Catholic slowly chipped away at its double digit deficit to get to within 3, with the ball for one possession.

Although Cranford led from start to finish, the game went from being a rout to anyone’s contest as the second quarter progressed.
Roselle Catholic’s comeback, an 11-0 run to get the game to 17-14, began with two McKay free throws right before the first quarter closed.

McKay then opened the scoring in the second quarter by putting in a shot off a rebound. She later added one of two free-throw attempts, as did fellow freshman teammate Gabby Brown, to make it 17-9.

Sophomore guard Angelina Guzman scored inside to pull the Lions to 17-11. At that point, midway through the second quarter, Cranford called a timeout, as it continued to struggle from the floor.

McKay then completed the game’s only conventional 3-point play to make it 17-14. She made a layup in the lane, was fouled and then made the ensuing free throw. At that point, with 2:50 left in the first half, Cranford was 0 for 10 from the field.

Following another Cranford miss, Roselle Catholic came down with the ball and had a good look from the left side, a 3-point attempt just missing and hitting off the rim. That would have tied the game for the first time for the Lions, who still hung in there and were down only 19-14 at intermission.

“We shied away a little bit there in the second quarter,” Curanovic said.

“We were still getting shots; they just weren’t falling,” Allison Skrec said. “I told the girls at halftime that, even though we only scored 2 points in the second quarter, that we still led by 5, which was not a bad thing.”

Cranford scored the first two baskets of the third quarter, O’Donnell inside again and Curanovic from the outside. After sophomore guard Ariela Reyes-Sosa scored from the left side for her only points of the game to pull the Lions to within 25-20, Cranford responded with the final two baskets of the third quarter. The first basket came from senior Kathryn Wheatley from the left side, and the second from Curanovic on a layup for what turned out to be her final points.

DeLong opened the fourth quarter, scoring with back-to-back 3-point baskets, the first one from the left side and the second from the right.

Cranford put together a 12-0 run before Roselle Catholic scored again for its only points of the fourth quarter.

Cougar senior forward Zoe Hamilton closed the game’s scoring by making a jump shot from the left side.

“We wanted to limit turnovers and prevent McKay from getting close, as she is good with on-ball defense,” Allison Skrec said. “We wanted to set ourselves up to be in a good position. We didn’t want Roselle Catholic to get any quick transition baskets.”

“We always want to be able to make the next play,” Curanovic said. “We don’t want to focus on our mistakes.”

Cranford attempted only two free throws, both in the fourth quarter.

Wheatley was also active defensively, coming up with three blocks.
Lowe, off the bench, finished with 4 points, one rebound, three assists, two blocks and two steals.

Cranford was scheduled to play at Summit on Tuesday, Dec. 21, in Watchung Division play, after Union County LocalSource went to press. Summit opened its season on Friday, Dec. 17, with a 56-44 Watchung Division victory at Union Catholic.

Roselle Catholic was scheduled to host New Providence on Tuesday, Dec. 21, in Watchung Division action. New Providence opened its season on Friday, Dec. 17, with a 60-19 home win against Nutley. The Pioneers were originally scheduled to play division rival Oak Knoll, but the Summit parochial school was hit with a COVID-19 situation that prevented it from playing.

Photos by JR Parachini

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