UNION COUNTY, NJ — When the girls basketball Union County Tournament continued at Rahway High School’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 15, after the press deadline, the conventional wisdom was that the only thing that could prevent a second straight New Providence High School vs. Westfield High School final would be Elizabeth High School.
That is, the sixth-seeded Elizabeth Minutemen (22-1) would have to get past second-seeded Westfield in the first scheduled semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 15, to prevent another New Providence-Westfield title contest.
The second semifinal pitted top-seeded and defending champion New Providence (20-3) against fifth-seeded Roselle Catholic High School (11-12). New Providence was dominant in both wins against Roselle Catholic, first beating the Lions 68-39 in Roselle on Saturday, Jan. 28, and then by the score of 67-34 in New Providence on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 19, at 2 p.m. at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union.
Elizabeth was 20-0 before it lost, falling at Jonathan Dayton High School 63-58 in overtime on Wednesday, Feb. 1, in its final Union County Conference-Mountain Division clash. The Minutemen won the Mountain Division championship outright at 11-1, including a 44-31 home win against Jonathan Dayton on Saturday, Jan. 7.
Elizabeth played only one Watchung Division school before facing third-seeded Cranford High School in the quarterfinals at Rahway High School on Friday, Feb. 10. That was a win against Summit High School in December.
With a trip to the semifinals on the line for the first time since Elizabeth last reached the final in 2008, the lower-seeded Minutemen found a way to get past Cranford not once but twice.
With the game tied 51-51 and only seconds to go, a buzzer-beater basket by Elizabeth’s Ashanti Dewalt, which appeared to have been made before the final buzzer, was ultimately disallowed because of clock operator error. The clock was mistakenly stopped while Dewalt was making what Elizabeth thought was the game-winning basket.
“The fans and our team emptied out on the court. We thought we won the game when Ashanti made that basket,” Elizabeth girls basketball first-year head coach Chrystal Rinehold said. “Our girls felt like they got robbed, which made them play even stronger in overtime.”
Elizabeth never trailed in the extra session, taking it 8-6 en route to a 59-57 win against the 11-10 Cougars.
“I had a good feeling going into overtime, because one of the worst things for an opponent is to have to play our girls when they have a chip on their shoulder,” Rinehold said. “That’s how our girls were feeling when they were told they didn’t win the game in the fourth quarter and then had to go to overtime.”
Dynasty Chandler paced Elizabeth with 22 points, while Jah’nae Lembrick added 11.
“Our girls want to continue to make history,” Rinehold said. “In order to do that, we have to continue to limit our errors and make adjustments.
“We watched a lot of film on Cranford and broke it down. The room for error is slimmer and slimmer as we move on to Westfield, which is a much stronger team. Our girls want the opportunity to play New Providence and Westfield, which are seen as the best teams.”
Most of Elizabeth’s wins have come by double-digits, but only one in the regular season was against a Watchung Division opponent. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Minutemen had that opportunity to beat a second straight Watchung Division school.
If Elizabeth got past Westfield, most likely the Minutemen will be facing New Providence for the trophy.
“We’ve had highs and lows this year,” Rinehold said. “We were humbled by the one loss we have. We feel that we’ve learned from that.”
Three players scored in double-digits for Cranford against Elizabeth, including Bella Curanovic with 14 points, Kristina Lowe with 13 and Sophia DeMarco with 12.
Roselle Catholic got out to a solid start, winning the first quarter 17-6, en route to its 57-45 win against fourth-seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which fell to 15-8. The Lions lost both times to the Raiders in UCC-Watchung Division play. Scotch Plains-Fanwood won the Mountain Division title last year and moved up to the Watchung Division.
Roselle Catholic sophomore guard Jasmin McKay led all scorers with 24 points. She added five steals, two rebounds and two assists.
Freshman guard Sidney Smith made seven-of-eight free throws in the second half to help the Lions stay in front of the Raiders. Smith finished with 15 points.
Also for Roselle Catholic, Zahniya Castillo and Gabby Brown netted seven points apiece, while freshman Jordyn Batts grabbed eight boards.
2023 Girls Basketball
Union County Tournament
1-New Providence. 2-Westfield. 3-Cranford. 4-Scotch Plains-Fanwood. 5-Roselle Catholic. 6-Elizabeth. 7-Governor Livingston. 8-Jonathan Dayton. 9-Union Catholic. 10-Oak Knoll. 11-Plainfield. 12-Summit. 13-Arthur L. Johnson. 14-Abraham Clark. 15-Hillside, 16-Linden. 17-Union. 18-Rahway. 19-Kent Place.
Monday, Feb. 6
Union 39, Linden 32 – at Union
Rahway 44, Hillside 39 – at Hillside
Abrham Clark 48, Kent Place 20 – at Abraham Clark
Wednesday, Feb. 8
Top Side of Bracket
New Providence 54, Union 17 – at New Providence
Jonathan Dayton 61, Union Catholic 28 – at Jonathan Dayton
Scotch Plains-Fanwood 75, Arthur L. Johnson 48 – at Scotch Plains-Fanwood
Roselle Catholic 50, Summit 29 – at Roselle Catholic
Bottom Side of Bracket
Westfield 70, Rahway 22 – at Westfield
Governor Livingston 50, Oak Knoll 42 – at Governor Livingston
Cranford 66, Abraham Clark 51 – at Cranford
Elizabeth 74, Plainfield 54 – at Elizabeth
Friday, Feb. 10
Top Side of Bracket
At Arthur L. Johnson
New Providence 65, Jonathan Dayton 20
Roselle Catholic 57, Summit 45
Bottom Side of Bracket
Elizabeth 59, Jonathan Dayton 57 (OT)
Westfield 62, Governor Livingston 30
Wednesday, Feb. 15
6-Elizabeth vs. 2-Westfield
5-Roselle Catholic vs. 1-New Providence
Sunday, Feb. 19
At Kean University
Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.
Photos Courtesy of Chrystal Rinehold, Joe Skrec and JR Parachini