WOODBRIDGE — For any team to be successful, having senior leadership in key.
For the J.F. Kennedy High School girls basketball team, Taylor Freeman and Jolie Tang stepped up and showed their poise when it mattered most, leading the Mustangs to a 69-54 victory over neighborhood rival Woodbridge Monday night.
Freeman and Tang each scored 26 points, and the latter had 12 rebounds and made all nine of her free throws in a contest that saw 45 fouls called and the teams shoot 60 combined free throws.
“This is absolutely a good win. The past two games against Colonia and tonight against Woodbridge, we haven’t had what I would consider to be the best officials, but I tell the girls that we need to be in control of the things we can control,” J.F. Kennedy head coach Heidi Hodnett said. “We know we need to step to the line and make free throws and that’s what happened tonight.”
Tang knocked down 7-7 free throws in the final eight minutes, with six of those coming in the final 1:37 to stretch a 61-53 lead into 68-54. Tang scored 20 of her 26 points in the second half, teaming with Freeman to nearly outscore the Barrons by themselves. Freeman had 13 in each half.
“As seniors, Jolie and Taylor have the mental toughness and when they get the ball in their hands, they’re going to get fouled,” Hodnett said. “Jolie did a great job of rebounding Woodbridge’s misses and getting fouled there in the fourth quarter. She’s really like ice out there.”
J.F. Kennedy was up 25-20 at halftime, as they shot just 8-30 in the opening 16 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, the Mustangs shot the ball at a much more efficient rate, connecting on 7-13 in the stanza. Tang scored nine and Freeman clicked for seven in the third, but Woodbridge refused to go quietly.
The Barrons actually won the quarter 22-20, with Brielle Bannister scoring eight of her 14 points. Gabby Jones, who led Woodbridge with 21 points on the night, chipped in six in the third. Jones also hauled in nine rebounds and made 10-12 free throws. Bannister recorded a double-double with her 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Barrons.
But in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, leading-scorer Brianna Valdes picked up her fourth foul for Woodbridge and was forced to the bench. Valdes, the Greater Middlesex Conference’s fourth-leading scorer for the season, would foul out with 1:37 to go, and finish with 16 points.
Fouls also affected J.F. Kennedy’s Rachel Andrejcak, who fouled out herself with 1:02 to play. Andrejcak, who leads the conference in rebounding per game, managed just four rebounds to go with seven points — four of which came in the fourth quarter.
“Rachel has struggled in some of our games this year and when she does, Taylor and Jolie step up on the outside,” Hodnett said. “Not too many teams have a girl strong enough to guard Rachel, so that’s the game plan going in: get her the ball and they’ll have to collapse on her and we can get the outside shooting going.”
J.F. Kennedy shot 14-26 from the field in the second half and made 19-30 from the charity stripe for the game. Woodbridge, by comparison, hit 11-25 from the field and 18-30 from the line.
“We always have close games with Colonia and Woodbridge, from the White and the Red divisions, respectively, so we know that these are must-wins for us. To beat a top 10 team in the county, that’s important for us.”