Two schools from the Union County Conference’s third division – the Valley Division – can flex their muscles among the top boys basketball teams in Union County on Saturday.
That’s because Summit, the outright champion at 9-1, and fifth-place Cranford advanced to Saturday’s Union County Tournament quarterfinals that will take place at Johnson High School’s Louis J. Peragallo Gymnasium in the evening and before that at Rahway High School’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium in the afternoon.
At Rahway it will be fifth-seeded Westfield vs. fourth-seeded Linden first at noon, followed by eighth-seeded Plainfield vs. top-seeded Patrick School at 1:30 p.m.
At Johnson it will first be 14th-seeded Cranford vs. third-seeded Elizabeth at 6 p.m., followed by seventh-seeded Summit vs. second-seeded and two-time defending champion Roselle Catholic at 7:30 p.m.
In Wednesday’s second round play it was Summit turning away 10th-seeded Rahway for the third time in three tries this year, this time by the score of 53-43. Summit standout senior guard Eric Baier paced all scorers with 29 points.
When Summit won at Rahway 62-56 back on Feb. 4 to clinch the Valley Division title for the first time, Baier – needing six points to reach 1,000 for his career – reached and passed the milestone after pouring in a game-high 22.
Summit, now 21-2, is one of the hottest teams in the state at the moment. The Hilltoppers have won 18 straight and have lost just once to a Union County opponent. After opening 3-0, Summit lost at home to Immaculata 47-42 on Dec. 28 in holiday tournament play and then in its next game fell at Oratory Prep of Summit 51-50 in its first Valley Division contest. Summit went on to win its final nine Valley Division games, including a 61-57 home win over Oratory Prep on Jan. 21.
When Summit takes on Roselle Catholic it will be a battle of UCC division winners. RC won the Watchung Division at 4-0 after sweeping Elizabeth and Linden.
Cranford fell to 5-9 on Jan. 28 when the Cougars lost at Summit 65-46 in a UCC-crossover. Since then the Cougars have won seven of their last eight to improve to 12-10 overall. Cranford finished 3-7 in the Valley Division.
After having a six-game winning streak snapped at Mendham 50-43 on Monday, Cranford ousted 19th-seeded Johnson 62-46 Wednesday night. Johnson, which entered with a 14-6 record and six-game winning streak, defeated Cranford 51-47 at home in a UCC-crossover on Jan. 11.
In Wednesday night’s Cranford victory, sophomore Liam Kwiatkowski paced the Cougars with 20 points, while fellow sophomore Zion Hammond added 14, junior Dennis DeMarino 12 and fellow junior Arjun Petgrave nine.
After a slim 16-14 lead at the break, Cranford outscored Johnson 19-13 in the third quarter and then 27-19 in the fourth.
The UCC’s Mountain Division champion at 8-0, Westfield, will take on Linden for the second time in less than two weeks.
Westfield improved to 17-5 overall after eliminating 12th-seeded Scotch Plains 56-34 at home Wednesday night. Westfield went 3-0 vs. its arch rival this season, including two wins over the Raiders in UCC-Mountain Division play.
Westfield has won four straight and is 6-1 in its last seven games, the only loss in that stretch coming at Linden 55-49 on Feb. 11.
Plainfield defeated ninth-seeded Union 63-56 at home Wednesday night after splitting with the Farmers in UCC-Mountain Division play.
Plainfield has not faced Patrick School, Cranford has not played Elizabeth and Summit has not clashed with Roselle Catholic this season.
SATURDAY, FEB. 22 QUARTERFINALS:
5-Westfield (17-5) vs. 4-Linden (15-8), noon
8-Plainfield (13-8) vs. 1-Patrick School (16-6), 1:30 p.m.
14-Cranford (12-10) vs. 3-Elizabeth (18-3), 6 p.m.
7-Summit (21-2) vs. 2-Roselle Catholic (15-6), 7:30 p.m.
(Records are through games played Feb. 19.)
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 19:
12-Scotch Plains at 5-Westfield
Westfield 56, Scotch Plains 34
9-Union at 8-Plainfield
Plainfield 63, Union 56
19-Johnson at 14-Cranford
Cranford 62, Johnson 46
10-Rahway at 7-Summit
Summit 53, Rahway 43