Through the slew of missed layups and mistimed fastbreaks resulting from nerves at both ends of the court, a sense existed that the first offense to get hot Wednesday night would prevail in the matchup between the Delaware Valley and Manasquan high school girls basketball teams.
As it turns out, neither offense ever hit its full stride, but Manasquan warmed up just enough.
After Sam Sullivan scored 13 of her team’s 15 first-half points on her way to a game-high 19, Amanda Hagaman netted 10 second-half points to go with 12 rebounds and sparked seventh-seeded Manasquan to a 43-28 victory against second-seeded Delaware Valley in the NJSIAA Central Group II quarterfinals.
“We’re a very emotional team and our high intensity led to some missed layups,” first-year coach Lisa Kukoda said. “I told the girls at halftime that we’ve got to take our time with the easy shots. It was just a matter of settling down, and we came out strong in the second half.”
Playing with a significant size disadvantage, Delaware Valley (23-4) led 10-9 but faced a 15-12 halftime deficit after Haley Pilone’s transition 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds rattled out. It was a recurring theme for the guard-oriented Terriers, who continued launching from behind the arc but never made a 3.
“It happens some nights where your shots don’t fall,” said guard Justine Doran, who matched Pilone for the team-high with eight points apiece. “It never stopped us from hustling and trying to win the game.”
Manasquan (20-8) found a cure to its woes in sharing the ball as five players scored during the third quarter. Hagaman, who, along with Sullivan, is one the few remaining links to the team’s 2012 Group III and NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles, scored six points, and Molly Bryant’s 3 made it 31-20.
“I feel like it’s my role to score on the team,” said Sullivan, who had four in the third. “Every time I put on the Manasquan jersey I’m giving 100 percent. Having Amanda with me really helps. We can calm each other down or calm the other girls down if they need it. We’ve been through the battles.”
Delaware Valley, which reeled off 17 straight victories earlier this season, had its own intangible – a knack for winning plays – at work in the final 70 seconds of the third quarter. Pilone and Kristen Brokaw combined to shoot 5-of-5 from the free-throw to slice the deficit to five headed to the fourth.
“We were doing the little things and we hoped to win the game from the free-throw line,” coach Jeff Capone said. “We’re all guards and it’s hard to drive against the kind of size they have. That caught up to us – even though we play like we’re that big. Our girls played incredibly hard for me all year.”
Hagaman opened the fourth quarter with two straight baskets to push the margin back into double-digits and Bridget Ford drained a 3 to put Delaware Valley, which has not won a sectional title since capturing Central Group II in 1995, in an insurmountable 12-point hole with four minutes remaining.
Manasquan’s quest for a repeat will continue Friday against either Rumson-Fair Haven or Matawan.
“We knew we had a little bit of a size advantage and they had very good guards,” Kukoda said. “We said it was going to come down to who executed what they wanted to do better.”