EAST BRUNSWICK — Down by a point with nine seconds remaining, the East Brunswick High School girls basketball team was facing an upset in the eyes against 16th-seeded Metuchen.
The Bulldogs had just taken the lead and head coach Keith Lane called timeout to set up a play for junior Dayna Sclafani. As the guard drove towards the hoop, she was fouled and made the first of two free throws. But Sclafani missed the second and the game went to overtime.
“To be honest, when I was standing at the line to tie the game and I missed the second free throw, I thought we were down by two, and I thought the game was over,” Sclafani said.
In the extra session, Sclafani knocked down 4-5 free throws to ease her nerves and help the top-seeded Bears survive, 54-48, to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals against 24th-seeded South Amboy.
“As soon as we got to overtime, it was go-time,” Sclafani said. “We went into this one focused and this was a great win. When it came to the last couple of seconds, I just felt happy. This was the best accomplishment for us right now.”
Sclafani made a pair from the line with 12 seconds left in the extra session and on the ensuing inbounds play, she stole the ball, got fouled again and calmly sank another pair to put the game out of reach for good. Sclafani finished with a team-high 19 points — 9 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime. In between the two sets of free throws, she said that the only thing going through her head were nerves.
“But when I got to the line, I just took a deep breath and just shot and it went in,” she said.
In the fourth quarter, East Brunswick saw a five-point lead go away completely when Cassie Smith drilled a long 3-pointer to tie the game at 39-39 inside of a minute to play. After a Bears miss at the other end, Sam Streckfuss was fouled for Metuchen and she knocked down 1-2 from the stripe to give the Bulldogs the lead.
In overtime, Smith hit another 3-pointer and Lianne Cifrodelli canned a triple of her own, giving Metuchen a two-point lead. But Smith got a little out of sorts and missed her next three shots and East Brunswick capitalized at the line.
“My team is a lot tougher than I thought they were,” East Brunswick head coach Keith Lane said. “We talked about them being a little nervous, being the No. 1 seed, playing the 16-seed and the girls felt like they had a lot of pressure on themselves and it showed in the early part of the game. But at the end, they pulled themselves together and were confident and made some big foul shots.”
Smith, the conference’s leading scorer, nearly gave her squad a huge upset all by herself, scoring 13 of her game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. She finished with seven rebounds and five steals, shooting 8-20 from the field and making all eight of her free throws.
“For the most part, I was pretty happy with how we defended her,” Lane said. “We got some good pressure on her, but she’s a really good player.”
Sclafani said that Sydney Greenspan, one of East Brunswick’s taller players, asked for the assignment of defending Smith one-on-one.
“Before the game, at halftime and before overtime, Sydney said she was going to lock Cassie down and she did. It was great,” Sclafani said.
Cifrodelli chipped in seven points and Kelly Beck knocked down three jumpers for Metuchen, while Allie Warren supplied a bit of help for Sclafani, scoring nine points to go with seven rebounds.
Julia Simoes and Greenspan each added eight points for the Bears, who will play the surprising Governors from South Amboy in the fourth of Saturday’s four quarterfinal games at 6:30 p.m. South Amboy was a 56-50 winner over Timothy Christian Wednesday.
“When you get to this point in the season, everybody is bringing their A-game and everybody is playing hard,” Lane said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot, so we’ll talk strategy and we just need to play hard.”