All season long, South Hunterdon’s boys basketball team has been working on ways to collect victories.
Monday night in a home first-round NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 game against No. 11 New Egypt, Chris Romano provided the difference.
The senior drained a 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that broke a 40-all tie and lifted the No. 6 Eagles to a 45-40 victory. He was the lucky recipient of a play originally designed for teammate Ian Sanders, who had 10 points.
“Ian tried to go to the rim and he got stopped,” said Romano, who led his team with 13 points from his four 3-pointers. “He kicked it out to me. I had already hit a bunch of threes and felt confident to take the shot. Once it left my hand, I knew it would go in.
“It was a great atmosphere with the whole area seemingly there with a sold-out crowd.”
New Egypt employed a box-and-one on Eagles’ leading scorer senior Drew Zalescik, and they also clogged the Eagles’ up-tempo attack.
“We pulled out a tough game,” said South Hunterdon head coach Jason Miller. “The pace wasn’t what we like and we were forced to slow down. Our M.O. has been finding ways to win all season.
“We can draw up the perfect game plans, but we don’t always get the chance to use it.”
Zalescik, who is averaging 18.6 points per game, knows expectations are raised at this point of the season.
“It was a well-rounded win as all contributed in a low-scoring game,” said Zalescik. “For me, the box-and-one is something that I have seen several times and enjoy having to evolve my game and contribute anyway that I can.
“Sometimes we create our own luck with consistent focus even late in the fourth quarter. It was a great competition for both teams and we were fortunate to walk away with a win.”
Junior Logan Conner has seen a steady progression throughout the season.
“We have played well and only have gotten better,” said Conner. “We have been playing with each other since elementary school and we all know our roles on the court. Our team struggled for two or three games in the middle of the season due to injuries, and we’re all healthy at this stage.”
The Eagles (17-8) advanced to the quarterfinal round and traveled to No. 3 Academy for Urban Leadership Charter School Wednesday (results unavailable at press time).
“It’s win or go home at this point, so every single player is putting forth his best effort,” added Zalescik.
“Now that we are all back, we are hoping to go on a run in the final tournament for our seniors so we can send them off on a good note. This group of guys worked hard all year to be in the spot we are now,” said Conner.
Before their NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I first-round home playoff game, Rylee Bordwick and Rebecca Phillips were concerned with their team’s predictable slow starts, especially in a playoff environment.
The duo, who are among the team’s statistical leaders in several categories, quickly had their fears alleviated.
No. 6 South Hunterdon jumped out to a 13-2 lead and the Eagles continued to soar onward to a 75-57 victory over No. 11 Somerset Tech.
Bordwick scored a game-high 15 points and Phillips added 13 as they helped the Eagles take control early with a 46-19 halftime lead. Junior Alana Catanzareti chipped in with 14 points.
“We wanted to pressure and get the jump on them,” said Bordwick, a senior who is third in points scored (150) and first in rebounding (140). “We knew it was over if we lost, so we gave it our all.
“The trend for us in the past was to start slow and then pick up the slack the rest of the way. We have been working on it and have gotten better the last couple of games. This was a very good effort for us.”
Head coach Gene Schaedel had a good feeling about his team’s chances.
“We have been scoring pretty well lately,” said Schaedel. “I thought they didn’t have the depth that we have. This was a nice win for us.”
“We got off to a good start and Rylee and Rebecca both got some early baskets for us.”
Even though they did well with their defensive pressure against Somerset Tech, Schaedel wants his team to increase the hype and work on their defensive rebounding as well.
“We have been inconsistent at pressuring the ball at times,” said Schaedel. “The only thing we didn’t do well (against Somerset Tech) was defensive rebounding. Another good team could give us problems in those areas.
“I was happy with the fact that we had 15 assists as a team, and we have been moving the ball well.” Schaedel saw the team’s recent surge as a potential springboard for the rest of the postseason.
“We have played really well the last five games,” said Schaedel. “But I can’t say that we’re peaking yet. They all know what I expect from them.”
Phillips, a junior, also has seen her team raise the bar. A win over Hopatcong in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex tournament as well as a win over Belvidere proved to make a difference.
“We have been getting stronger and we’re all working together,” said Phillips, the team’s leader in points scored (281) and assists (59) and third in rebounding (106). “It is important for us to stay determined.
“We had trouble beating some of the bigger schools in the past, and both of those wins were huge for us.”
The Eagles (15-11) traveled to No. 3 New Egypt in a quarterfinal game Wednesday (results unavailable at press time). If they win, they will again hit the road to Bound Brook – who thoroughly beat them twice during the regular season – Friday.
“We have been coming together,” added Schaedel. “We’re hoping to be around next week. We just need to keep playing hard.”