SOUTH RIVER — When junior Alyssa Barry first walked through the doors at South River High School, head coach Mike Feaster knew he had something special.
On Friday night, with a spot in the sectional final on the line, Barry stepped up in the clutch, scoring six of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, leading the top-seeded Rams past fourth-seeded Bound Brook 51-41 and into the NJSIAA Central Group I Final.
South River will host either sixth-seeded Metuchen or 10th-seeded Shore Monday night.
Barry also added five steals and four assists, leading the charge for South River (21-5), which forced 20 turnovers in the game.
“Alyssa has been the rock of this program and this team since she entered this school two years ago,” Feaster said. “She’s our core and the backbone of our team.”
Barry knocked down 5 of 8 free throws in the middle quarters, including a pair during a 7-3 run in the final three minutes of the second quarter, which gave the Rams a six-point lead at the half.
The run coincided with Bound Brook star Janeea Summers picking up her third foul at the 2:59 mark of the second quarter. The freshman forward had scored 10 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the first half, but went to the bench and didn’t return until after halftime.
“Having a lead at halftime is big in anything and we carried that through. Janeea is unbelievable. I mean, for a freshman, she’s as tough and as athletically basketball-sound as anyone we’ve seen in a while,” Feaster said. “She stops everything in the middle and clogs the lane, so we struggled to run our sets.”
Summers – who averages 19.4 points and 15.4 rebounds per game – finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, but had just six of each in the final 16 minutes. The Crusaders (13-15) ended up one game short of a sectional final just one season after going 0-24, with Summers’ presence a major reason why.
Olivia Nilsen, another freshman, scored 14 points – including 12 in the second half – for Bound Brook, which shot just 19-for-51 from the field and 1-6 from the free throw line.
South River wasn’t a ton better from the field, shooting 18-for-53, but the Rams made 11 of 21 free throws and got out in the open floor often in the second half.
“A helter skelter-type game works in our favor sometimes, because if nothing else, we have athletic girls that can run the floor,” Feaster said. “I would have liked to see them finish a little bit better, but right now, I’m not going to worry about the negatives.”
Gabby Harris chipped in 13 points and six rebounds for South River, eight of which came in the paint in the fourth quarter, and Lubica Zifkovski added 10 points.
“Gabby really pushed the tempo and her energy picked all of us up in the second half,” Barry said. “This is truly an amazing feeling to have gotten this far. We worked so hard all season long to get to this point.”
The Rams were just 13-14 last season, but Feaster knew his squad would be much improved this year. What he didn’t know was that they could get this deep into the postseason.
“I knew we were going to be a lot better than we were in the past, but if you told me we were going to be in the finals, I don’t know what I would have said. Now that it’s here, I’m ecstatic.”