SOUTH PLAINFIELD — With Bishop Ahr breathing down its neck and mounting a late rally, the South Plainfield High School girls basketball team looked to one Yasmeen Mighty to make the game’s biggest play.
As the clock ticked down to 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and a 10-point lead having been dwindled down to four, Mighty came up with a steal in the backcourt and a driving layup, pushing the lead back to six.
“Yasmeen made the play of the game, with the steal and basket at the end,” South Plainfield head coach Kevin Hughes said. “She has the ability and I just give her a little more freedom than everybody else because she makes plays like that.”
Despite getting just three points — all in the fourth quarter — from leading scorer Kate McLaughlin, South Plainfield held on for a 44-39 victory over Bishop Ahr Thursday night in a key Greater Middlesex Conference White Division showdown. The win coupled with a 57-52 defeat of the Trojans on opening night — gave South Plainfield a two-game cushion in the divisional race over Bishop Ahr, the two-time defending White Division champions.
“This is a great win; going in, having beaten them in the first game of the year, if things didn’t go well tonight and you told me at the beginning of the year that we’d go 1-1 against Bishop Ahr, I’d would have signed up for that,” Hughes said. “So to get two quality wins against them is great.”
The teams got off to an even start, with South Plainfield leading 17-13 at halftime, but Hughes knew his squad was capable of going on a game-defining run.
“I told the girls that I thought we were going to go on a run in the third quarter and we just had to keep playing defense the way we did,” he said.
And Hughes was right. In the decisive third quarter, South Plainfield out-scored Bishop Ahr 15-11, with Sarah Cargill and Amanda Harper each scoring five in the stanza. Cargill finished with a game-high 18 points, picking up the slack on a night where McLaughlin — who averages 11.8 points per game — made just three free throws.
“Sarah’s been getting there each game; becoming a little more aggressive and we’ve been talking about it long enough and tonight it clicked,” Hughes said. “She went to the basket and made things happen. We haven’t traditionally won games where Kate hasn’t been our leading scorer, so it was nice to see Sarah step up tonight.”
Mighty finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, to go with her game-deciding steal and South Plainfield made 4-6 free throws in the fourth quarter to keep its edge.
Bishop Ahr battled in the fourth quarter, with Lauren Barlow scoring seven of her team-best 15 points. The sophomore guard made three 3-pointers for the game and was the Trojans’ lone scorer to reach double-digits on a night where they shot 14-42 (33 percent) from the field. Jenna Harsh scored seven points and added seven rebounds and Brianna Foster, playing through foul trouble all night, chipped in five points and six boards for Bishop Ahr.
South Plainfield now sits in a first place tie with Monroe — each team is 6-1 in White Division play — as the season reaches its second month.
“Going into tonight, there were five of us within a game of each other in the White Division, so I think that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year,” Hughes said. “The more quality wins you can get prepares us for the next night and there is no easy game in the White this year. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s going to be a wild end of the season.”