By Ryan Fennell
Red Bank – It took the game to be nearly out of reach for the Caseys to pull it together.
For much of the first half of the NJSIAA Non-Public, South A semi-final against Saint John Vianney, the Red Bank Catholic Caseys couldn’t find their game.
But, after quickly falling behind by 12 early in the third quarter, RBC found some fire and cut the Lancers’ lead down to one with less than 10 seconds to play in the game.
Down 40-38 with 25 seconds to go, RBC’s Grace Fallon found an opening in the lane and sunk a layup to make it 41-40 with 12 seconds to play.
RBC quickly fouled SJV’s Kat Egan on the inbounds, who went to the line to shoot two, but missed both shots with 9.8 left on the clock.
However, the Lancers’ Jill Brunori came down with a huge offensive rebound to take the ball, and the game, out of the Caseys’ hands and sealed the eventual 43-42 victory for the Lancers.
“We were tight,” RBC head coach Joe Montano said of the way his team opened up the game. “There were a few things we practiced that we just didn’t do that cost us baskets early. My first time out was to tell them just to relax and to play basketball.
“It’s funny,” he added. “When it looked like the game was going to be out of reach, that’s when we relaxed and started playing. When the lead was , our girls relaxed and started to play they way we expected them to play.”
SJV opened the game with seven unanswered points on a three from Lyndsay Rowe and a pair of layups from Brunori. The Lancers brought a smothering full-court press that the Caseys couldn’t break for the majority of the first half and had trouble countering for the majority of the game.
After Montano settled his team down with an early timeout, RBC found a few openings and managed to get within 9-8 on three’s from Alex Alfano and Caroline Corcoran and a layup from Fallon.
Midway through the second quarter, with the Caseys still having a difficult time weaving through SJV’s pressure, Montano put senior Jackie Cajigal into the game, who helped limit the damage with her defense to keep SJV only ahead by five at the half at 16-11.
When play resumed, SJV jumped out to a 12-point lead at 24-12, on a flurry of scoring from Egan, who had a game high 14 points.
And as it began to look like all was settled but the final score, the Caseys came alive with their first run to pull within four at 24-20 when Corcoran hit her second three of the game. Morgan Arnott added a basket for RBC, but the Lancers managed to spread their lead to eight at 30-22 by the end of the third.
After SJV opened its lead back to 10 at 32-22 and again at 35-25 with 4:10 remaining, the Caseys made their second surge of the game lead by Arnott and Fallon, who combined for 16 in the quarter, before Fallon’s drive and layup with 12 seconds left set up the Caseys’ best chance to steal the game away from the Lancers. But, Brunori’s rebound off the missed free throws from Egan put RBC’s comeback hopes to rest.
“We had seven or eight tapes on them and [Brunori] does it all the time,” Montano said. “We practiced blocking her out, squeezing her with both kids. Even though we practiced it, she still got the ball.”
“[Brunori] just has a knack for the ball and she made a great play there,” said SJV head coach Dawn Karpell. “That was pretty much the game there. That decided it.”
Following the rebound Brunori got the ball outside to Jackie Gallagher, who was quickly fouled and sent to the line in double-bonus. Gallagher hit both shots and, although RBC added a bucket on an Alfano layup before time expired, there wasn’t enough left on the clock for another chance at the win for the Caseys.
“It’s frustrating,” Montano said, “Because this team has given us everything they have every single game.”