The free-throw line has not been kind to the Pingry School girls basketball team for much of the season, and that remained true for the better part of Monday’s matinee meeting with Bernards.
But in the final seconds, the charity stripe couldn’t have been more helpful.
Junior Cory Ransom followed up the game-tying layup with 12 seconds to go by burying a pair of free throws with four seconds left and Pingry held off a fierce Mountaineers rally to grab a Skyland Conference Valley Division victory, 38-36 at Bernards High School.
“I just had to focus,” said Ransom, whose team finished 9-for-17 from the line and was just 3-for-9 in the fourth quarter before the junior sunk her pair. “I have a little spot on the rim I focus on and I just thought I’ve got to make it. I’ve been a little bit off this game, but this is where it counts. I thought, I just got to let it go and just make these two.”
Pingry led 13-2 after the opening quarter and 22-14 at halftime, before Bernards outscored the Big Blue 11-2 in the third period to take a 25-24 advantage into the final stanza.
Lauren McLaughlin opened the fourth quarter hitting one of two free throws for Pingry, before she and Ransom contributed field goals to give the Big Blue a 29-25 advantage. But Bernards used a 7-1 run to lead 32-30 with 4:02 left, thanks to three straight baskets from freshman Caroline Baratta, who finished with a team-high 12 points, and Ransom missing 3-of-4 free throw attempts.
That’s when Ransom shook off her early-game struggles and went to work, starting with a long 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give Pingry a 33-32 lead with 3:35 left.
But Bernards wasn’t done fighting, as Laura Galli hit a field goal and Baratta sunk both ends of a 1-and-1, and the Mountaineers had a 36-33 lead with 2:37 remaining.
Ransom then hit the back end of a 1-and-1 to draw Pingry to within two points with 1:18 to go, and after Bernards missed a free throw, Ransom gathered the rebound, drove down the court and dropped in a layup to tie it with 12 seconds left.
Pingry then caught a break, as Bernards committed an ill-timed turnover and was then whistled for a foul, sending Ransom to the line, where she converted both ends of the double-bonus attempts.
“We got a little frazzled with about four or five minutes left to go, but we just told each other to stay calm and that there was a lot of time left,” said Pingry coach Courtney Tierney, whose team improved to 4-8, snapping a two-game losing streak. “We’ve been struggling with our free throws all season, but Cory was able to nail those big ones, so that’s good.”
“I think we did really well in the first half, but we came out a little bit shaky in the second half,” said Ransom, whose 15 points led all scorers. “But I think we all really pulled it together and that’s the most important. We really fought to stay in the game.”
For Bernards, which did a fantastic job climbing back into the game after being severely outplayed in the opening quarter, Monday’s result was frustrating, especially for a team making its way through what’s been an inconsistent season and is still learning how to win.
“When you come out flat and you have fight and claw for everything in the end, you set yourself up for a game where you made things harder than they need to be,” said Bernards coach Sandy Whelan, whose team fell to 5-6. “We knew Pingry was a good team and that they would come in ready to go, and we just weren’t. Credit to Pingry, they came here and played a better game than we did.”