MIDDLESEX — All season long, the Metuchen High School girls basketball team has looked to senior Cassie Smith to lead the way.
Entering Wednesday night’s game against Middlesex — a team that had beaten Metuchen twice in the regular season — the Bulldogs needed Smith more than ever, and she delivered yet another historic performance.
Early in the third quarter of a then 3-point game, Smith scored on a put-back layup after a missed free throw for her 2,000th career point. But she didn’t stop there, scoring 13 of her game-high 26 points to lead sixth-seeded Metuchen past Middlesex 58-48 in the NJSIAA Central Group I Tournament.
Smith, the school’s all-time leader in points scored, now has 2,013 for her career, with at least one game remaining – Metuchen will host 10th-seeded Shore Friday in the sectional semifinals.
“I knew I was that close to getting the record and I was trying to get it before halftime, but that didn’t happen,” Smith said. “But we were able to get the win and that’s all that matters. I never even dreamt of this until I knew halfway through this season, when I broke the scoring record, that I was somewhat close. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Smith added 16 rebounds on the night to go with her 24th game of 20 points or more this season.
“To coach someone like Cassie, someone of her caliber, I actually expect her to do great things,” Metuchen head coach Pat Mayo said. “It’s something we expect out of all of our players.”
The Bulldogs made sure that Smith’s big night would not come in a loss, as the supporting cast stepped up and knocked down some big buckets to put third-seeded Middlesex away in the second half. Sam Streckfuss canned a pair of momentum-swinging 3-pointers during a 14-3 run to open the third quarter and finished with 13 points and Katharine Chura added eight points, including clutch free throws in the closing minute, for the Bulldogs.
“Sam’s our spark-plug; she has all the energy and when she hit those 3’s, we knew this was our game,” Smith said.
As Middlesex fought back in the fourth quarter, closing the gap to 51-46 with led than two minutes to play, Chura stepped up for Metuchen, going 1-of-2 from the free throw line three consecutive occasions in the final minute to seal the deal. The Bulldogs finished the game on a 7-2 run, erasing two regular season defeats at the hands of the Blue Jays.
“Everybody we play is going to box-and-one Cassie, but if everyone else attacks the rim and goes to the basket, you can’t stop everybody,” Mayo said. “Complimentary players are all stepping up, scoring when we need them, and they’re improving their IQ of the game. We’re doing so much better than we did a month ago. Earlier this season, we would have panicked in the backcourt and handed them the ball, but at least we fought tonight.”
Rosie Guarino did all she could to bring Middlesex back late in the game, scoring seven of her team-best 19 points in the fourth quarter. She also hauled in 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double, and Amanda Abate chipped in a double-double of her own with 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Blue Jays. But in the end, eight second-half turnovers did Middlesex in.
“We just wanted revenge really badly and we really wanted this win,” Smith said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times, so we worked really hard to get this one. I know I didn’t want to end my career with a loss, and getting Shore in the semis, a team we lost to in the same spot last year, we’ll have more revenge on our minds. I can’t wait.”