CHESTER – Basketball has obviously not been the top priority for the Gill St. Bernard’s High School girls squad this week in the wake of the news Monday that sophomore guard Nyla Mulcahy and her family of 10 had lost their Bayonne home to a fire. And though the Knights spent much of the past three days focused on what they could do for their teammate, they took the court Thursday without her in the building, but certainly on their minds.
It took about a quarter for Gill St. Bernard’s to find its groove in Thursday’s quarterfinals of the Somerset County Tournament, before the fourth-seeded and three-time defending champion Knights kicked it into gear in the second to build a big lead, and they came together to hold off a late charge by fifth-seeded Ridge and scored a 58-46 victory at Aresty Pavilion
“I feel like right now, especially with what’s going on from a non-basketball perspective, it’s really motivating us to all play more together as a team and play for Nyla,” said senior Morgan Rooks, who joined her teammates and coaches in wearing purple t-shirts – Mulcahy’s favorite color — adorned with her No. 12 in warmups and on the bench. “I think right now we’re in a good place and we’re all working together really well.”
Coach Josuf Dema said his team spent much of Wednesday’s practice talking about Mulcahy and everything the Gill St. Bernard’s and basketball community was doing to help the family. That included the school collecting gift-card donations for the Mulcahys at the game, as well as donating all the night’s admission and concession monies to the family from both the girls game and the boys county quarterfinal game with Bridgewater-Raritan that followed.
“It’s obviously been an emotional week with a lot of things going on outside of basketball,” said Dema, whose team will face top-seeded Franklin in the semifinals on Saturday at 2 p.m. Montgomery High School in a rematch of the two previous years final. “Credit to the kids showing their maturity. Monday – the day it happened – we had a game, and now we’ve had a few days to kind of soak everything in and all the support we’ve been doing. Even in practice we talked (mostly) about her and what we’re trying to do for her family, and we came out here a little bit slow and Ridge came out with a lot of energy, but we were able to put together a few good quarters, build up a nice lead and take care of business.”
The teams both played a clean and competitive first quarter, with Ridge pulling out to a 19-15 lead after finishing the period on a 6-0 run, paced by eight first-quarter points by junior Chrissy Weyrauch, who finished with 12.
But as Gill St. Bernard’s continued to improve as the game wore on, Ridge went cold from the field, shooting 1-for-8 in the second, while losing Weyrauch and senior 1,000-point scorer Monica Schumacher to foul trouble for much of the period. That allowed the Knights to hold the Red Devils to just two second-period tallies and dominate on the boards where they outrebounded Ridge 13-5 in the period, including eight on the offensive glass.
“Our girls were ready to play,” said Ridge coach Eric Schroeder, whose team was led by 18 points from Schumacher, including 10 in the fourth quarter. “They came out and we were winning by four after the first quarter. We were ready to go right from the beginning, we just took a quarter or two off. We knew coming into the game that they were a lot bigger than we were and that we had to beat them on the board. In the second quarter they kind of beat us and that’s where they got the big lead.”
Gill St. Bernard’s led 27-21 at halftime and 47-28 after three quarters, but Ridge wasn’t done, playing its best basketball of the night, as its pressing and trapping produced nine Knights turnovers and netted a 14-0 run that allowed the Red Devils to close the gap to as close as nine points before they ran out of time.
“Offensively, we missed a bunch of shots and only scored two points in the second quarter, so we dug ourselves a hole coming out of halftime,” Schroeder said. “But I’m proud of them for the fourth quarter when they picked it back up again and made it competitive and made it real interesting at the end.”
“We have experience in terms of some girls who are sophomores and juniors who have played in big games in the past, but we only have one senior (Rooks),” said Dema, whose club was led by junior Sam Kramer with 17 points, including 14 in the second half, and got 11 points and 11 rebounds from sophomore Alexia Allesch. “And sometimes that shows. I don’t mind being in a situation like where we were tonight in the fourth quarter with a single-digit lead and having us come together and put the game away. That’s only going to help us in the long run. Ridge came out, played well, very well coached, disciplined, and they fought to the end and made us earn it.”
To donate to the Mulcahy family, go to http://www.youcaring.com/ and search for “Mulcahy family.” Over $60,000 has been raised, so far, as of Thursday evening.
Simeon Pincus can be reached at CNGirlsHoops@aol.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus