Category Archives: Girls Basketball

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.

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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

Players:

 

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.

SECOND TEAM

 

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

THIRD TEAM

 

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.

Metuchen stops South River in OT in NJSIAA girls basketball Central Group I final

Metuchen's Katharine Chura reacts after scoring in overtime against South River in the Central Group I final at South River High School. Photo by: Jason Towlen

Metuchen’s Katharine Chura reacts after scoring in overtime against South River in the Central Group I final at South River High School. Photo by: Jason Towlen

SOUTH RIVER — With the clock ticking down in overtime and her team trailing, Lianne Cifrodelli stepped up and made the biggest shot of her life.

Cifrodelli canned a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 31 seconds left to put the Metuchen High School girls basketball team ahead 44-43, erasing a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes of the extra session.

Katharine Chura knocked down a free throw with 3.5 seconds left and the sixth-seeded Bulldogs emerged with a 45-43 victory over top-seeded South River in the NJSIAA Central Group I Final in front of a raucous overflow crowd at South River High School.

“When I got he ball, I was looking around, seeing who else was there, and I realized there was nobody right in front of me so I threw it up and hoped it went in and it did,” Cifrodelli said after the game. “It was like slow-motion, watching the ball go towards the hoop and it felt like such a long time, but it was such a great feeling.”

The Bulldogs, who will now play in the Group I semifinals Thursday at Deptford High School, had a 34-25 lead with 4:21 left in regulation, but South River refused to go away. The Rams went on an 11-2 run to close the fourth quarter, tying the game on a crazy 3-point play by Alyssa Barry, who was fouled while driving through the lane and banked in an off-balance runner.

South River, with all of the momentum, opened the extra four minutes on a 7-0 run, capped off by a Barry layup after Gabby Harris blocked Cassie Smith on the other end.

“We just had to stay focused and we had to go on another run,” Cifrodelli said.

Cifrodelli knocked down a long 3-pointer and Smith hit a pair of free throws to close the gap to 43-41 with one minute left.

“[Lianne’s first 3-pointer in overtime] got everyone hyped and we just had to focus on defense,” Smith said.

Cifrodelli scored a game-high 17 points – with 15 of those points coming in the second half and overtime – and added eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.

With 52.7 seconds left, Metuchen earned possession on a jump ball inside the paint on defense, setting up Cifrodelli to give the Bulldogs their fourth and final lead of the game.

Metuchen head coach Pat Mayo said that she told Smith – the team’s leading scorer – before the game that she needed her star to “take one for the team,” Tuesday night.

“Cassie knew this was going to be a box-and-one game and we asked her to take one for the team tonight, knowing she was going to be smothered on defense,” Mayo said. “But her teammates have been developing and had all the confidence in them and in the end, when it was rebound time, who came through for us? It was Cassie.”

Smith finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, the final one coming with 11.3 seconds left in overtime to give Metuchen another possession and allow Chura to step to the line and clinch the victory.

A win for Metuchen did not seem like it would be the outcome once South River got out to that fast start in overtime, carrying over its momentum from regulation, with Barry and Harris leading the way. The duo scored 31 points for the Rams, with Harris scoring 16 and Barry adding 15.

“We’ve been a team of highs and lows all season. This is still a young team and that wave is something we need to do a better job of controlling, as we grow as a team,” South River head coach Mike Feaster said. “I thought we were going to ride it through overtime and we just gave up a couple of offensive rebounds that hurt us.”

Freshman Aleah Bass gave South River a double-double inside, scoring 10 points to go with 13 rebounds, as the team’s lone post-presence. She also had three blocks and two steals.

Colts Neck run sends Monroe to defeat

COLTS NECK — Basketball is a game of runs and on Saturday afternoon, the Monroe High School girls basketball team was on the wrong end of a back-breaking run that ultimately led to the end of its season.

Colts Neck used a 13-0 run between the third and fourth quarters to turn a 27-27 game into a 40-27 advantage and the third-seeded Cougars knocked down six free throws in the final minute to win 49-36 in a NJSIAA Central Group IV semifinal matchup.

Seventh-seeded Monroe got within 40-32 with back-to-back jumpers from Demi Rousseau and Erica Junquet, but the Falcons could not keep Colts Neck off the line in the waning moments.

Colts Neck got to the line seven times in the final quarter, knocking down 10-14 to pull away from Monroe.

“We wanted to stop the clock and get some more scoring opportunities if we could, but we had some missed opportunities at the end,” Monroe head coach Leigh Vogtman said.

Monroe couldn’t get a shot to go down in the second half, shooting just 5-for-18 after halftime and just 3-for-12 in the fourth quarter. Erica Junquet did all she could to keep Monroe in the game, scoring seven of her team-best 14 points in the final stanza, but the Falcons were thwarted by a strong Colts Neck defense.

“They played really good defense; you have to give them credit for that. I knew that when I scouted them that we’d have to take care of the basketball and make good passes,” Vogtman said. “We falter sometimes when we see some pressure and make the wrong pass or the wrong shot.”

The Falcons turned the ball over 20 times in the game, including 13 in the second half, all while trying to keep themselves in the game at the defensive end. Vogtman used a box-and-one defense against Cougars star Lauren Zborovancik, and while she scored just 13 points, Colts Neck was able to adjust and get Zborovancik free for a couple of open jump shots.

“She was a kid that scored a lot of points in the last four games and even with the box-and-one she was able to shake the defenders we put on her and knock down a basket,” Vogtman said. “When we had the box-and-one on, we did a good job of limiting their scoring opportunities, and they adjusted after halftime. We went into this game thinking we needed to have multiple defenses to stay in it.”

Erin Seppi came out flying, scoring 10 points in the first half for Monroe, but she picked up her second and third fouls on back-to-back possessions early in the third quarter and didn’t score again. The sophomore forward still finished with a double-double, collecting 11 rebounds in the game. Monroe won the rebounding battle 31-17, but shot just seven free throws in comparison to 24 for Colts Neck.

Cindy Foresta chipped in seven points and 11 rebounds and senior Demi Rousseau, one of three fourth-year players on the Monroe roster, scored five points in her final game. Rousseau, Nichole Tatte and Victoria Porpora helped lead the Falcons to their first divisional title since 1988 and won a school-record 22 games this season, something that Vogtman was especially proud of in her first season at the helm.

“I’m proud of the three seniors who stepped up and played whatever roles they were asked to play, however big or small, and how these kids played as a team,” she said. “We were a grounded team and we were able to accomplish things as a team.”

Barry’s clutch performance leads South River girls past Bound Brook

South River girls basketball players celebrate their NJSIAA Central Group I win over Bound Brook on Friday. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

South River girls basketball players celebrate their NJSIAA Central Group I win over Bound Brook on Friday. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

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.”

Hunterdon Central defeats Sayreville in Central Group IV girls basketball quarterfinals

Hunterdon Central's # 10-Michelle Lalor (left) gets past the tight defense of Sayreville's # 34 (right)- Amanda Quintero. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Hunterdon Central’s # 10-Michelle Lalor (left) gets past the tight defense of Sayreville’s # 34 (right)- Amanda Quintero. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

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.

Smith reaches 2,000-point milestone, lifts Metuchen girls basketball over Middlesex

Metuchen's Cassie Smith (21) scored her 2,000th career point during her team's win over Middlesex Wednesday's state tournament. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

Metuchen’s Cassie Smith (21) scored her 2,000th career point during her team’s win over Middlesex Wednesday’s state tournament. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

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.”

McLaughlin scores 1,000th point, leads South Plainfield over Governor Livingston

South Plainfield's Kate McLaughlin is all smiles after scoring her 1,000th point during Tuesday's game against Governor Livingston. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

South Plainfield’s Kate McLaughlin is all smiles after scoring her 1,000th point during Tuesday’s game against Governor Livingston. Photo by: Ed Pagliarini

SOUTH PLAINFIELD — As she sat on the cusp of a milestone she’d dreamed about since middle school, Kate McLaughlin faced a lot of pressure for the South Plainfield High School girls basketball team.

McLaughlin entered Tuesday’s game against Governor Livingston with 998 career points, knowing she was just one basket from the century mark.

With 3:56 left in the first quarter, McLaughlin canned a corner jumper to reach 1,000 points and poured in 14 more to lead the seventh-seeded Tigers to a 52-44 victory in the first round of the North 2 Group III Tournament. The senior guard led all scorers with 16 points and made four clutch free throws down the stretch to boost South Plainfield into a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded West Essex Wednesday.

“It means a lot to me because I’ve been thinking about this since I was little, before I even got here to high school,” McLaughlin said. “So to get it in a state game is just awesome. It’s such a great feeling. But to get it in a game like this that we won is a big plus.”

McLaughlin scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the third quarter to thwart 10th-seeded Governor Livingston.

“She is the steadying influence on our team,” South Plainfield head coach Kevin Hughes said. “We have some players that can step up when Kate gets taken out of the game by the defense, but we go as she goes. It was nice for her to get it out of the way early, but she’s been incredible. She’s a big-game player and a gamer.”

McLaughin knocked down a pair of free throws with 25.5 remaining to push the lead to 50-41, after Governor Livingston was whistled for a technical foul. For the game, she made 5-6 from the line and the Tigers were 15-22 as a team from the charity stripe.

“We know that games are won and lost at the free throw line and we couldn’t lose this one at the line,” Hughes said. “I thought we out-played them and I didn’t want to see us lose it at the line. We stepped up and made some big ones.”

Sarah Cargill added 14 points for South Plainfield, including six in the final stanza. Yasmeen Mighty controlled the boards for the Tigers, hauling in 16 rebounds to go with four steals.

Hughes noted that a player like Mighty can control a game without scoring – Mighty had just three points for the game.

“She’s an x-factor. I told her before the game that they can scout us, but they can’t simulate Yasmeen running up and down the court and cleaning the boards,” he said.

Governor Livingston nearly made a dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t come up with a big stop on defense when it needed to down the stretch. Sara Dilly hit for five of her team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter for the Highlanders and both Hayley Berliner and Patrice DiTommaso chipped in 10 points. But DiTommaso fouled out with 2:13 remaining and scored just two points after the fourth quarter.

The teams played a sloppy final quarter, committing 14 combined turnovers and constantly getting trapped in the backcourt.

“We stuck together when they put a lot of pressure on us,” McLaughlin said. “We kept it together and pulled this one out.”

Hughes said that however far his team goes in the state tournament is “gravy,” considering the season they’ve had up to this point.

“We’ve won 19 games; we haven’t had that around here in forever. We’re division champions and we had a state playoff game at home that we won. We’ll go have fun Wednesday and let it ride,” he said.