Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ridge’s Palladino aims for repeat of boys lacrosse championship

Ridge's J.T. Palladino shoots on North Hunterdon goalie Liam Pearson in Wednesday's season opener. Photo by: Karen Mancinelli

Ridge’s J.T. Palladino shoots on North Hunterdon goalie Liam Pearson in Wednesday’s season opener. Photo by: Karen Mancinelli

Heading into his senior season, Ridge High School boys lacrosse standout JT Palladino has just one thing in mind — winning another state championship.

Ridge, No. 1 in the Courier News Preseason Top 5, took home its first Tournament of Champions title a year ago, with Palladino leading the way. In his junior season, Palladino scored 55 goals to go with 35 assists.

Palladino, a four-year starter for the Red Devils, scored five times in Ridge’s season opener Wednesday against North Hunterdon, getting him off to a good start as he looks to replicate his impressive stat line from a year ago. But Palladino said that this season, he wants to be more of a distributor to get his teammates more involved.

“I’d like to expand my game and become more of a feeder,” he said. “I’ve definitely tried to work out and be more athletic and faster and get a better IQ of the game. The more I play, the more I’m into the game, so that’s what I’m trying to do this year.”

With a commitment to Harvard for next season, Palladino not only has secured a place for his lacrosse career to continue, but he’ll be entering one of the most prestigious universities in the world for further his education. Ridge head coach Ken Marsh noted that Palladino has grown immensely from when he entered the program four years ago until now.

“He was a quiet freshman when he made the team, and he started in his first year. But during his sophomore season, he became more confident and he wasn’t the most coachable player,” Marsh said. “He matured last season and now it’s on a whole different level. He’s a leader and a team player and it’s been really nice to see him mature. He comes from a great family and he’s truly a great kid that has turned himself into one of the most dominant players in the state.”

While Ridge was rolling through the postseason, Palladino became a house-hold name, going up against some of the best teams in the state. He said that going through that helped his image, but winning was the most important thing of it all.

“Obviously we played some great teams and if you do well against great teams, people notice and the fact that we won was a huge bonus,” he said. “I did well, but I have to get better every day and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The fact that he continues to remain humble impresses Marsh, someone that said he’s one of the best players he’s seen come through his program.

“He had high expectations for himself last year and I know he has similar expectations this year,” Marsh said. “He knows that he can create offense on a regular basis and he’s going to take every chance he can get. He’s really a great physical specimen.”

If Ridge is going to repeat as state champions in 2014, Palladino is going to be the one that takes them there. But he’s up for the challenge of being the one that opponents look to for just about every second of a game – he didn’t come off the field in Wednesday’s win over North Hunterdon.

“I’m just trying to take it one game at a time and get as far as we can in the state tournament,” Palladino said. “That’s my main goal, to win another championship.”


Experienced North Hunterdon girls lacrosse team looks to tap potential

North Hunterdon's Julia Wood directs her teammates as she attacks during Thursday's season opener against Montgomery. Photo by: Jerry Wolkowitz

North Hunterdon’s Julia Wood directs her teammates as she attacks during Thursday’s season opener against Montgomery. Photo by: Jerry Wolkowitz

With all of the bad weather leading into the 2014 girls lacrosse season, North Hunterdon coach Stacy Ditze isn’t even sure how good her group can be.

But one thing she does know is that the experienced group of Lions has untapped potential just waiting to be unleashed as North Hunterdon looks to make it three straight Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament titles.

“With all of the weather we had to deal with, we’re just getting started with this team,” Ditze said in advance of North Hunterdon’s season opener. “But I just think that this team has no limits; we can really do something special this year and I think they’re going to grow with every game we play.”

Ditze is going to rely on a pair of senior midfielders in Julia Wood and Allison Lane. In 2013, the duo combined for 98 goals, even with Lane missing six games with a concussion. Wood was the team’s leading scorer with 60 goals and 18 assists, while Lane added 38 goals and five assists.

Ditze noted that the familiarity that the two have with one another, from playing on the varsity team the past three seasons plays into why they’re so comfortable on the field.

“They’ve been together a ton,” Ditze said. “If we need a goal late in a game, they’ll be the ones we’d look to, but neither of them is selfish. If one is having a good game and the other isn’t, they’ll share the ball and get it where it needs to be.”

Junior Grace Plassche (28 goals last season) will join Wood and Lane in the midfield, while the defense also boasts experienced players. Ditze mentioned senior Amanda Moss, the focal point of the defense, and junior Kelsey Shelofsky, who has been dominant in preseason scrimmages and a wizard in knocking down passes with her stick, as players to watch on the defensive side of the ball.

But turning defense into offense is something North Hunterdon is going to need to do to be successful this season.

“I’m hoping that our transition game will be something we can focus on this season,” Ditze said. “We weren’t running it so well in our scrimmages, but we were just adjusting to some new roles. I think it’ll start to work for us as we get going.”

The Lions should have some youthful energy to mix with the host of upperclassmen, led by sophomore Taylor Danson, who will push incumbent senior goalkeeper Madison Martino. Ditze said that once the season is well under way, they’ll ride the hot hand.

Another underclassman to keep an eye on is freshman midfielder Nicole Perez, who surprised the coaching staff by making the varsity team. Ditze said Perez has shown a great deal of talent for a first-year player.

But North Hunterdon won’t get too ahead of itself at all this season, instead focusing on the now instead of what lies ahead.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time. We’d like to keep the offense and defense on the same page, working together, and continue to iron out the details throughout the season,” Ditze said. “I just hope we can continue to improve our standing in the division and go further than ever into the state tournament before it’s all said and done.”

Experience is key for New Providence boys lacrosse team

New Providence, last season’s Kimber Division champions, have three experienced attackmen that will shoulder the load this season.

Seniors James Burke and Jon Ebert teamed for 61 goals and 38 assists last season and junior Jack Harvey led the way with 61 goals and 17 assists. With a pair of senior defensemen in Mimmo Coppola and CJ Kliesch anchoring the defense, look for the Pioneers to remain near the top of the conference. but head coach Vinny Carangelo said that this year’s success will hinge on the ability of the midfield and defense to come together.

• Montgomery brings back a host of younger players to a squad that head coach Tim Roy believes should be competitive in the Skyland. Behind attack Cam Garinger (34 goals, 18 assists last season) middie Matt Stagnitta (20 goals, 53 assists last season as a freshman). After just one year on varsity, Stagnitta has already committed to play collegiately at national powerhouse Johns Hopkins and freshman Jared Reinson is being scouted by division-1 programs, according to Roy. If youth prevails, Montgomery could make some noise in 2014.

• Watchung Hills faces as much of a challenge as any in the Skyland this season, forced to replace the scoring ability of 2013 Courier News Player of the Year Jeff George, who graduated as the school’s all-time leader in points. The midfielder scored 64 goals and added 29 assists last season and is now playing for UMass. But head coach Jamie Lovejoy said that a more balanced offense will be employed this season. He expects juniors Alec Orazietti and Ryan Cunningham, who combined for 60 goals last season, to lead the offense. Senior Zack Melillo should continue to dominate at the faceoff area and Danny Phillips and Matt Rozmerski are expected to lead the defensive unit.

• Scotch Plains-Fanwood brings back 16 seniors to a squad that reached the sectional semifinals a year ago, with captains Brian Heath, Sean Duthie, Joe Pagano and Justin Giacona leading the way. The midfield could be the strength for the Raiders, as Gabe Gibson – an NJIT commit – and Thomas Walker, who head coach Nick Miceli said will quarterback the middle of the field lead the way. Leading scorer Christian Gordon also returns as does leading assist-man Kervin Kerby.

• Chuck Apel begins his 35th season at Bridgewater-Raritan with a squad that’s capable of winning the Skyland Conference. Apel mentioned that attack Griffen Fiegel should be a leader on the field for the Panthers this season and an experienced group of defensemen will be looked to for leadership.

• The defending champions in the Waterman Division, Bernards, will be in a bit of a rebuilding year, according to head coach David Brothers. After losing three solid midfielders from a season ago, the Mountaineers will look to St. John’s-commit Declan Swartwood (38 goals last season) and Mount St. Mary’s-commit Robert Schaufler (37 goals) to shoulder the offensive load. The defensive corps is an experienced unit and junior Matt Bessasparis will man the pipes. Brothers expects this squad to get better as it goes along.

Somerville’s Pastore aims for another big season; Keller, Vath key for Delaware Valley

Somerville High School girls lacrosse standout Dakota Pastore comes into this season as one of players to watch, after eclipsing the 100-goal mark as a sophomore.

Pastore, who was selected as a first-team All-Area by the Courier News a year ago, scored 102 goals and 48 assists for Somerville.

In 2014, she should expect to see heavy double-teams – and even some triple-teams – from opposing defenses.

Somerville head coach Maylin Harter said that she expects Pastore to have an even better season this year, if that’s possible.

Harter said that Kailee Spotts and Meghan Nolte will provide Pastore support in the midfield and Devon Hawkinson and Riley Stanford should net goals from attack.

• Delaware Valley, a team that was 9-9 a year ago, will have two go-to scorers returning in Joanna Keller and Caroline Vath. Keller, a senior, notched 39 goals and 31 assists in 2013 and Vath, a junior, registered 52 goals and 23 assists.

Keller is a player that Delaware Valley counts on to control the ball off the draws and Vath is just four goals short of 100 for her career. Expect to see the Terriers play solid defense as a team this year, as head coach Stephanie Cirino noted that her squad is full of players that are expected to step up and carry bigger roles in 2014. Cirino said that communication will be a strong point on the field as Delaware Valley looks to continue its rise in the Skyland Conference.

• Look for Hillsborough to remain a force in the Skyland, as graduation was kind to Beth Murrin’s group. The Raiders are a senior-laden group, with Erika Cavallo leading the way. Cavallo was a second-team All-Area performerlast season and Murrin mentioned Alex DeGaris, Amanda Muller and Lauren Belskie as key players.

• Andrea McNeely of Scotch Plains-Fanwood enters 2014 just 12 goals short of 100 for her career. The Raiders have eight seniors returning, five in the starting lineup. Goalkeeper Megan Welch and attack Julie Haggan should anchor a young defensive unit.

• Watchung Hills went 15-5 a season ago, but after graduating nine starting seniors, this could be a bit of a rebuilding year. Coach Steph Linder still expects her squad to repeat in the division and make an extended run in the state tournament. Linder mentioned Kelsey Reed, Lauren Stone, Gabby Burton and Haley Frey as players to watch.

• Junior goalkeeper Jenny Wilkens, a stalwart for Pingry the last two seasons, has already committed to play at University of California-Berkeley. Wilkens should be the anchor for the Big Blue.

Ridge boys lacrosse defeats North Hunterdon

North Hunterdon goalie Liam Pearson stands ready as Ridge's J.T. Pelledino comes around to shoot, trailed by North Hunterdon's Pat Smith in Wednesday's season opener. Photo by: Karen Mancinelli

North Hunterdon goalie Liam Pearson stands ready as Ridge’s J.T. Pelledino comes around to shoot, trailed by North Hunterdon’s Pat Smith in Wednesday’s season opener. Photo by: Karen Mancinelli

BASKING RIDGE — For the Ridge High School boys lacrosse team, defense of last season’s Tournament of Champions title started with a bang.

Behind five goals and an assist from All-American J.T. Palladino and a lock-down effort by its defensive unit, Ridge defeated North Hunterdon 9-5 Wednesday on a windy and frigid afternoon.

Palladino scored twice in the first quarter, twice in the second and once in the fourth to lead the Red Devils (1-0) to a season-opening victory as they look to earn back-to-back Tournament of Champions crowns. Ridge never trailed, although North Hunterdon (0-1) tied the game at 3-3 with consecutive goals early in the second quarter. But, like he’s done many times during the past three seasons, Palladino refused to let his team lose.

“We came out strongly; North played tough with us right from the get-go and we just had to fight for the groundballs and a play physical game. Once we were able to put some in the net it helped us relax,” Palladino said. “Nobody really expects the No. 1 team to lose in its first game, so we just played hard and got out of here with a win.”

Ridge led 6-4 at halftime and really put the clamps down on North Hunterdon’s offense in the second half, yielding just one goal and finishing the game on a 3-0 run. Palladino put it out of reach for good early in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of a gaffe by Lions goalkeeper Zack Koehler, who attempted to clear the zone but lost the ball out of his stick and Palladino was able to walk in for an easy goal.

Matt Mullan, Mike Pellegrino, Gavin Kirkwood and Alex Gaydos also scored for Ridge, which got six saves from goalkeeper Owen Molloy. Even though his squad opened the season with a victory, head coach Ken Marsh wasn’t ready to compliment his players on all they’d accomplished.

“We have a lot of inexperienced guys working with some more experienced players, so we have some guys still trying to figure out what their roles are and how they fit in for us in different situations,” Marsh said. “Overall, I think we struggled a little bit today, but if we can improve on some of those little things, I think we’ll be solid.”

Marsh was quick to compliment North Hunterdon, led by first-year head coach Andrew Conforti. The Lions received a pair of goals from Tom Gallo and additional markers from Rory Alpaugh, Griffin Middleton and Sean Wood. Koehler made five saves for North Hunterdon, including a couple on the doorstep to deny Ridge’s attack.

“North played really hard and gave a great effort against us; hats off to them,” Marsh said. “This is one of the better North teams I’ve seen in the past few years and they gave us a great effort.”

Despite the howling winds and freezing temperatures, Palladino said that he and his teammates were able to stay focused on the task at hand, which was to get off to a winning start.

“We’ve actually had a stretch of warm weather here the last few weeks, so we got used to that, but we were playing in the same weather as they were,” Palladino said. “We just had to get over it, but we have a lot to do after this one. Hopefully we can continue to get better from here.”

St. Joseph reaches top of the mountain

TRENTON — The goal all season long for the St. Joseph High School boys basketball team has been to reach the New Jersey mountain top. Monday night, the Falcons did just that, reaching the summit in a thrilling 49-47 victory over Newark East Side in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions Final at the Sun National Bank Center.

The championship is the first by a Middlesex County boys team in the Tournament of Champions, erasing the sour memory of last year’s 65-49 debacle against Roselle Catholic on the same court that gave “The Big Three” of Wade Baldwin, Marques Townes and Karl Towns extra motivation in their senior seasons.

“Last year we lost to a tough team and we made it our goal and mindset that we wanted to be T of C champions,” Townes said. “We prided ourselves on that and we came out here and showed what we worked for. I’m proud of every single one of these guys.”

Townes finished with a team-high 11 points, including 3-for-4 free throws in the final minute to keep East Side at arm’s length. The Vanderbilt-bound Baldwin battled some inconsistency throughout the night, scoring 10 points and five rebounds, but ended his career with a victory along with his star-studded teammates to cap a season in which only one result would have sufficed.

“It was T of C or bust for us,” Baldwin said. “It was a failed season if we didn’t win.”

But the Falcons did win, even with Towns struggling throughout the night with foul trouble. The University of Kentucky-bound center finished with just eight points and nine rebounds, but his presence inside helped keep the dream alive to win that elusive T of C title for St. Joseph.

“I always wanted to win this one,” Towns said. “I’m real glad that we were able to accomplish something so meaningful. I wanted to win the T of C and I’m glad that I was able to fulfill my promise to coach Turco with this win.”

Turco noted that the experience his group earned last season in the loss to Roselle Catholic helped immensely in the opening quarter, as the Falcons jumped out to a 19-7 lead after eight minutes, with one of the “Little Two,” Breein Tyree, scoring eight points in the quarter.

East Side had the game’s last shot in the final seconds, but a long 3-pointer clanged off the rim and “The Big Three” finally had the elusive T of C title.

All-Area Player of the Year: Metuchen’s Cassie Smith

Cassie Smith of Metuchen has been named Home News Tribune All Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Cassie Smith of Metuchen has been named Home News Tribune All Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

When Cassie Smith got to Metuchen High School four years ago, her main goal was to get to 1,000 career points. Midway through her junior season, that goal was obtained, but Smith didn’t stop there, embarking on an incredible senior campaign, becoming Metuchen’s all-time leader in career points — for boys or girls — along the way.

Smith averaged 27.9 points per game and led the state in both field goals and free throws made, helping Metuchen win the NJSIAA Central Group I Tournament. She is The Home News Tribune’s Player of the Year.

“I never thought that I’d set all of these records, considering I only set out to get to 1,000 career points, so as I saw the records adding up, it was a great feeling for me,” Smith said. “But I’ll remember winning the sectional title more than anything else.”

In the Bulldogs’ final game of the season, Smith passed Artie Flaherty in career points, giving her 2,062 for her illustrious career, to cap a year in which she surpassed former head coach Val Gazda to become the all-time leader for points scored by a schoolgirl in Metuchen history. Smith recorded 22 double-doubles in 29 games, averaging 13 rebounds per contest, and tied for the state-lead with 810 points scored. Her scoring average was the fifth-highest in the state.

She eclipsed 20 points in all by one game, scored 20 or more in 25 of 29 games, 30 or more in 13 different games and topped 40 points twice. Smith finished her career averaging 19.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.

“She did so many things well,” Metuchen head coach Pat Mayo said. “She did it with humility and honor for her teammates. She was always encouraging her teammates to do better and when they did something well, she lauded them. It was one of the main reasons we were so successful.”

But as the records continued to pile up, Smith never focused on the numbers, instead keeping her eyes on the prize of winning the sectional tournament. She scored only 22 points in the final two games, both overtime victories over Shore and South River, but knew that her teammates would step up to deliver the crown.

“I just kept my eyes on the main goal to win the sectional,” she said. “It was exciting to win that game and the one before that in overtime; coach doesn’t like OT, but we liked to make it exciting.”

Smith’s entire season was exciting, as she adapted to playing for a new head coach in Mayo and upped her game all while facing constant double-teams and occasional triangle-and-two defenses.

“I don’t think I could have done anything I did this season without coach Mayo,” Smith said. “I owe it all to her; she was great in practices and in games and it helped having her this year.”

The Bentley University-bound star remained humble all season long, differing to teammates at times when her jump shot wasn’t going in, and she hopes that her name isn’t atop the record book forever.

“I hope someone works really hard and ends up breaking my records,” she said.

It won’t be easy, as Smith has set the bar incredibly high for any future Metuchen Bulldog to reach.

All-Area Coach of the Year: East Brunswick’s Keith Lane

When Keith Lane took over at East Brunswick High School before this season, he laid out four simple goals for his squad to reach.

They were to have good team chemistry, to play hard and compete in every game, defend from start to finish in those games, and to win the rebounding battle.

Never in his mind was a 12-win turnaround from the previous season to this, turning the Bears from a 5-20 squad to a 16-7 one. Along the way, East Brunswick scored a major upset victory at Piscataway and earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.

Lane is The Home News Tribune’s Coach of the Year.

“This ride was outstanding for us,” Lane said. “As the season progressed, after we beat Piscataway, the girls really started to exceed my expectations that I had for them. Early on, I didn’t know what to expect in my first year, but I laid some building blocks from day one and we centered around building team chemistry and playing hard together. It paid off for us.”

The Bears opened their season 7-1, only dropping a decision to South Brunswick in the All-Brunswick Holiday Tournament Final, and after a loss to eventual Central Group IV champion Colts Neck, East Brunswick won seven of its next eight, with the win at Piscataway highlighting that stretch.

With first place in the division in their pockets, the Bears earned the No. 1 seed in the county tournament, eventually reaching the semifinals before bowing out to surging Bishop Ahr. But Lane never expected his team to get that kind of recognition that early in his head coaching career.

“To be honest, getting the No. 1 seed wasn’t even a thought. We focused more on taking each game one at a time. We wanted to focus on the effort we gave and we battled through the tough Red Division and things fell into place for us,” he said.

With a host of young players on the roster, including the sharp-shooting duo of juniors Dayna Sclafani and Julia Simoes, the future remains bright for Lane and the Bears going forward.

“I’m optimistic about the future, but we can’t relax. There are a lot of good players in this conference and we have to keep getting better,” Lane said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

2013-14 All-Area Teams

The 2013-14 Home News Tribune All-Area Girls Basketball team: (from left) Jacqueline Rodriguez (Sayreville), Cassie Smith (Metuchen), Erica Junquet (Monroe), Adreana Miller (Franklin), Kiki Bynes (Piscataway). Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

The 2013-14 Home News Tribune All-Area Girls Basketball team: (from left) Jacqueline Rodriguez (Sayreville), Cassie Smith (Metuchen), Erica Junquet (Monroe), Adreana Miller (Franklin), Kiki Bynes (Piscataway). Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan



Kiki Bynes Piscataway Sr.


Pisctataway’s do-it-all guard averaged 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game to lead the Chiefs to the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title. Bynes averaged 12 points per game in the postseason.


Erica Junquet Monroe Jr.


The junior point guard gave Monroe real stabililty, averaging 13.4 points per game to go with 3.9 assists and 2.8 steals. Her ability to control the offense helped the Falcons win 22 games and reach the semifinals of both the GMCT and Central Group IV Tournament.


Adreana Miller Franklin Jr.


Miller averaged 14.9 points per game and 5.5 rebounds, shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line for the North 2 Group IV champs and two-time Somerset County Tournament finalists.


Jackie Rodriguez Sayreville Sr.


Sayreville’s go-to scorer poured in 71 3-pointers and averaged 19.4 points per night, all while doing the majority of the ball-handling and being the main focus of the opposition’s defense. Rodriguez finished her career with 1,147 points.


Cassie Smith Metuchen Sr.


The Bentley University-bound star led the state in points scored, field goals and free throws made, while finishing fifth in the state in scoring average at 27.9. Smith recorded 22 double-doubles in 29 games and averaged 13 rebounds per contest.



Taylor Freeman J.F. Kennedy Sr.
Kate McLaughlin South Plainfield Sr.
Dayna Sclafani East Brunswick Jr.
Brianna Valdes Woodbridge Jr.
Jaeda Wildgoose Franklin Jr.



Lauren Barlow Bishop Ahr So.
Cindy Foresta Monroe Jr.
Alexandra Jackson Franklin Jr.
Jackie Siva-Harrison South Brunswick Sr.
Kendrea Williams Piscataway So.


COACH OF YEAR: Keith Lane, East Brunswick — First-year coach steered East Brunswick to a 16-7 record, one year after winning just five games. Bears earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.

Honorable mention

Bishop Ahr: Brianna Foster, Jenna Harsh, Elle Cimilucca; Cardinal McCarrick: Brittany Clayton; Carteret: Courtney Hansen; Colonia: Madison Stanley; Dunellen: Jackie VonItter, Alyssa Buccino; East Brunswick: Allie Warren, Julia Simoes; East Brunswick Tech: Jodie Janas; Edison: Marisa Daniels, Maggie Johnson, Bianca Newsom; Franklin: Mary Trossi; Highland Park: Rachel Beyer; J.F. Kennedy: Jolie Tang, Rachel Andrejcak; J.P. Stevens: Molly Yelencsics, Kathy Tong, Rebecca DiSerio; Linden: NahQuasia Robinson, Keajah Hall; Metuchen: Lianne Cifrodelli; Middlesex: Tori Schweyher, Amanda Abate; Monroe: Erin Seppi, Demi Rousseau, Ashlyn Petersen, Nichole Tatte; Mother Seton:Lena Buccigrossi, Nikki Melie; New Brunswick: Destiny Potts; North Brunswick: Kyra Fox; Old Bridge: Taylor Torre, Amanda Carney; Perth Amboy: Desirae Rivera; Perth Amboy Tech: Yadeline Vargas; Piscataway: Taylor Nelson, Alliera McCoy, Kelsey Nugent; Piscataway Tech: Jasmin Patterson; Rahway: Ashley Spinks, Brianna Carr, Tolu Omole; Rutgers Prep: Olivia Dabney, Niki Metzel, Gabi Redden, Kendra Barat; Sayreville: Amanda Quintero; South Amboy: Amanda LaVigne; Shana Anderson; South Brunswick: Amber Brown; South River: Gabby Harris, Alyssa Barry; South Plainfield: Sarah Cargill, Yasmeen Mighty, Shannon Hughes; Spotswood: Ashley Pina; Timothy Christian: Hannah Saquian, Michaela Csorny; Wardlaw-Hartridge: Taylor Gerhart, Jessica Gural; Woodbridge: Brielle Bannister, Gabby Jones; Woodbridge Academy: Kiara Rodriguez.

Hot-shooting Haddon Township ends Metuchen’s run

Metuchen's Cassie Smith goes up with a basket against Haddon Township's Alayxiah Carr during the first half on Thursday in Deptford. Photo by: Peter Ackerman

Metuchen’s Cassie Smith goes up with a basket against Haddon Township’s Alayxiah Carr during the first half on Thursday in Deptford. Photo by: Peter Ackerman

DEPTFORD — Some nights, no matter what a team throws at the hoop, the ball goes in.

Thursday night in the NJSIA Group I semifinals, Haddon Township made it rain from the perimeter en route to a 70-42 victory over Central Group I champion Metuchen at Deptford High School.

The Hawks — the South Group I champions — shot 29-48 as a team (60 percent) and knocked down nine 3-pointers, with Bella Preziosi’s 28 points leading the way.

Morgan Lenahan added 21 points, including 17 in the first half, and the Hawks jumped out to a 37-21 halftime advantage and never looked back.

“I said at halftime that they weren’t going to shoot like that in the second half, but they made a liar out of me,” Metuchen head coach Pat Mayo said. “We did so many things right on defense and in the second half, we tried man-to-man and a triangle-and-two and they were still able to score with people in their faces.”

Haddon Township made 14-26 shots in the opening half and came out of the locker room flying in the third quarter, connecting on 12-16 shots to blow it wide open. Preziosi scored 11 of her points in the third quarter and three others scored four points apiece in the stanza to spoil yet another historic night for Metuchen’s Cassie Smith.

With her first points of the second half, Smith surpassed Artie Flaherty for the most points in Metuchen history — boys and girls — with 2,053. Smith finished with 27 points on 10-18 shooting (6-10 FT) to finish her career with 2,062 points. In a season in which she surpassed any female player in school history and eclipsed the 2,000-career point milestone, Smith continued to stay humble and do her best to get teammates involved.

“I’m proud of each and every one of them,” said Smith of her teammates. “It’s sad, but I’m looking forward to the future.”

The Bulldogs shot just 16-50 as a club on the night and couldn’t get enough stops on defense to cut into the Haddon Township lead.

“Haddon is a well-coached team and I wish them well,” Mayo said. “We knew we had a good chance in this tournament and we believed as a coaching staff that we could get here.”

Haddon Township will play state-power Shabazz Sunday afternoon for the Group I State crown.

Junior Lianne Cifrodelli scored five points and senior Sam Streckfuss added four for the Bulldogs, who emerged from a tough start to their season to get this deep into the postseason.

“I’ll remember this run forever,” Smith said.