SAYREVILLE — After playing three ugly quarters and struggling to find any offensive rhythm, the Hunterdon Central High School girls basketball team found its game when it mattered most.
Senior Carli Wilson scored 11 of her game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, including four clutch free throws down the stretch, leading the fifth-seeded Red Devils to a 44-34 victory over Sayreville in the NJSIAA Central Group IV quarterfinals Thursday evening.
“This is huge. We haven’t been to a sectional semifinal in eight years,” Wilson said. “It’s such a great feeling and in the end, I knew we had to win this game. I stepped up with a lot of pressure on me.”
Wilson canned a pair of free throws with 1:28 to play to effectively put the game out of reach, putting Hunterdon Central up 38-30. The Red Devils forced 26 turnovers for the game and used an effective stall tactic in the fourth quarter to put the fourth-seeded Bombers away. Wilson was 6-8 from the free throw line and added six rebounds, sending the Red Devils into the semifinals against the winner of West Windsor Plainsboro-North and Freehold Township Saturday afternoon.
“Carli Wilson was big late when we needed her,” Hunterdon Central head coach Carmen Cook said. “They dogged her the whole game and she was so tenacious. She got a few boards, which helped, but shutting down Rodriguez was the story.”
Sayreville’s Jackie Rodriguez finished with 15 points, but only made one basket in the second half and it came in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Cook stuck Carli Mastrogiaccmo and Catie Perkins on Rodriguez in a rotating tandem throughout the game and frustrated the Bombers’ star.
“She’s an awesome player, so we just had to limit what she did and that was the difference tonight,” Cook said. “We handled the ball well in our stall game and made free throws down the stretch. We haven’t been this far in so long, so I’m really happy for these girls.”
Hunterdon Central made 10-of-14 free throws as a team and committed only two turnovers in the final eight minutes, after coughing the ball up 14 times in the first three quarters.
Sayreville only had five turnovers in the fourth quarter, after 21 in the opening three stanzas, but they were too many to overcome.
“We had too many turnovers. We’re young in some areas of the game; we start two freshmen and turnovers killed us,” Sayreville head coach Tara Currie said. “Credit to them; they came and played hard and we struggled a little finding our offensive groove. To their credit, tonight they were the better team and they’re moving on.”
Tess Richardson chipped in 12 points and five rebounds for Hunterdon Central and Mackenzie Roden added seven points and five boards. As a team, the Red Devils shot only 16-for-50 for the game, but the fourth-quarter free throws and Sayreville’s inability to hold onto the ball was the difference.