A year ago, the Valley Division of the Skyland Conference was about one team dominating play and going undefeated in the division.
The South Hunterdon High School girls basketball team is proving that this year’s race will be anything but a solo performance.
The Eagles had a nice year in 2012-13, posting a 19-9 record and going to the semifinals of the Central Group I tournament, but spent the regular season looking up at Delaware Valley, which ran the table in the Valley Division, going 12-0 and finishing four full games ahead of second-place South Hunterdon.
Now, the Eagles are enjoying an even finer year, as one of several teams with their eye on the trophy, and, midway through the regular season, seems to be in a good position to claim the title.
Entering Thursday’s action, Delaware Valley held first place in the Valley Division, with a 6-1 conference slate, with Belvidere mathematically equal, though the County Seaters’ lone loss came to the Terriers, which at the moment, gives Delaware Valley the tiebreaker. But the Terriers’ only divisional loss was to South Hunterdon, which is at 5-1 in the division, and with the Eagles yet to face Belvidere — the teams had a game postponed from Tuesday to Saturday, Feb. 1 by the snowstorm — South Hunterdon’s destiny is firmly in its own grasp.
“Throughout the season, we just try and get better each game, and for the most part we’ve been doing that,” said South Hunterdon coach Dave Hallinan, whose team carries a 9-2 overall record, with an opening-night loss to Mount St. Mary and a setback to New Hope-Solesbury in the Over the River Holiday Tournament final the Eagles’ only blemishes. “The girls have been doing a great job on defense and that’s helped us out winning some games.”
Led by leading scorer Lauren McBride, who is also a big presence in the paint, as well as point guard Brett Leile and backcourt mate Aly Baggitt, South Hunterdon has been a steady force on both sides of the ball, with an emphasis on defense and contributions from, the entire roster. Hallinan said he’s been running a nine-deep rotation with everyone chipping in to the Eagles’ success.
After last Saturday’s win over Raritan Division and Group III contender Voorhees, there’s no reason to believe South Hunterdon isn’t in it for the long haul, even with Delaware Valley and Belvidere, and even teams like Mount St. Mary, Pingry, Bernards and Bound Brook figuring to be in the thick of things the rest of the way.
“I think the Saturday win against Voorhees was big for us, definitely a confidence builder,” Hallinan said. “They’re a bigger school than us and the girls we’re very determined to come out and play well that day, especially being at home. We played really good defense and the girls played very (unselfishly) on offense. We need to continue to do that. I’m very fortunate to have a group of girls who are definitely more concerned with team success than individual accolades.”
SCT seeding on tap
The Somerset County Tournament is scheduled to be seeded next Wednesday night, with play slated to begin Feb. 1.
Defending champ Gill St. Bernard’s, which has won three of the previous four titles, and last year’s runner-up Franklin, figure to be the top two seeds again, though, based on a head-to-head result earlier this season, this time the Warriors should get the top spot.
That could change, as the teams will face off today at Gill St. Bernard’s. If Franklin wins again, it should be the no-brainer pick for No. 1, while the Knights vie with Bridgewater-Raritan for the No. 2 spot. A Gill St. Bernard’s victory over Franklin would set up an interesting debate for the top slot at the seeding meeting.
Bridgewater-Raritan seems to have locked up at least the No. 3 seed, with a head-to-head win over projected No. 4 seed Rutgers Prep already in the bag, though a head-to-head win over Gill St. Bernard’s next week could boost the Panthers to No. 2.
Ridge figures to have the edge for the No. 5 spot. The Red Devils are the only other county team, presently, with a winning record, other than Bound Brook, which plays a much weaker schedule. The Crusaders could wind up sixth, unless the committee deems a team like Immaculata or Mount St. Mary should be higher because of their strength of schedule.
Stay close to MyCentralJersey.com and the Holding Court girls basketball blog, as we will post the seeds as soon as they’re released Wednesday evening.
Games to watch
As Franklin visits Gill St. Bernard’s at 7 p.m. today with Skyland Conference Delaware Division supremacy and, perhaps, the top spot in the county seeding on the line, there are several other key tilts slated for the coming week.
Ridge visits North Hunterdon on Monday in a game rescheduled after Tuesday’s snowstorm, and the Red Devils will look to make it two straight against the Lions after an opening-day win. While Phillipsburg looks to be running away with the Raritan Division, this game should go a long way toward not only deciding the No. 2 spot in the conference, but considering Ridge and North Hunterdon both will vie in the North 2 Group IV Tournament come playoff time, this one will have a big impact on the seeding there, as well.
Elsewhere, Bridgewater-Raritan will play at Gill St. Bernard’s at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, with second place in the conference and, perhaps, the No. 2 seed in the county tournament at stake.