By Brian Deakyne
WEST LONG BRANCH – Red Bank Catholic knew it would take every inch it had to stop Point Boro senior guard Kelly Hughes.
The top-seeded Lady Caseys took that literally on Saturday. Junior forward Grace Fallon got a fingertip on Hughes’ potential game tying three-pointer in the final moments of the Shore Conference Tournament to help Red Bank Catholic to the win.
With the third-seeded Lady Panthers trailing by three points, Fallon switched off a screen to contest Hughes’ shot from the right wing, and got a piece of it to ice the 50-46 win for Red Bank Catholic at Monmouth University.
It’s the Caseys’ seventh Shore Conference Tournament title in school history and sixth under current head coach Joe Montano.
“We worked on it for the last two days. We switch on a lot of things, anyway,” Montano said. “You can’t guard them that way – with the things they can do – you have to switch. I can’t say enough about our defense and I can’t say enough about Grace’s defense.”
“Kelly Hughes is a fantastic basketball player and it’s crucial to contest every shot she takes,” Fallon said. “Even to get a little fingertip on it can make a difference. So, I just really tried to contest her shot, but she’s a great player.”
Hughes scored 28 of Point Boro’s 46 points on Saturday, while Red Bank Catholic used contributions from several players to pull away with the win.
Senior guard Alex Alfano finished with a team-high 13 points, Fallon and senior guard Mary Kate Caverly added 12 points and senior guard Caroline Corcoran posted nine points on three three-pointers.
Red Bank Catholic jumped out on Point Boro early, and never trailed. The Lady Caseys went four-of-five from beyond the arc in the first quarter to jump out to a quick 12-6 lead and really never looked back.
“The fact that we shot well was a major difference maker in the game,” Fallon said. “Everyone can shoot on this team and that’s very important when a team zones you like that. They’re giving you the shot and you have to make it. So the fact that our girls banged down their shots was huge.”
The Panthers consistently hung around though, making run-after-run. But every time they did, Red Bank Catholic answered.
Point Boro went on a 6-0 run in the second half to pull within a point at 24-23, but Red Bank Catholic went on a 7-0 run right to end the quarter and took a 33-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
Point Boro continued to chip away at the Lady Caseys’ lead in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 47-44, then 47-46, but it just couldn’t find that game-changing bucket.
The Panthers had a chance to take the lead in the final minute, with possession and trailing 47-46, but Hughes was called for a questionable push-off offensive foul that gave the ball back to Red Bank Catholic. Caverly buried two free throws after being fouled on the ensuing possession, setting up Hughes’ blocked three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining.
“You’re going to say [Point Boro guard Kelly] Hughes got 28, she took 25 shots, she banked in two of her three three’s and she’s a great, great player and a great player’s not going to let her team lose,” Montano said. “Again, Mary Kate [Caverly] has done this for us all year. She wants to shoot, she wants to be on the foul line, she’s killed herself shooting the basketball and working on it.
“It’s about these kids. This team, out of all the team’s I’ve had win the Shore Conference, really exemplifies what a team is all about and I think that’s something that I’m most proud of.”
More than anything, the Lady Caseys impressively controlled the pace and tempo of the game. In Point Boro’s previous three Shore Conference Tournament games, it put up 75, 70, and 68 points. That fast-paced offensive style of basketball suits the Panthers, compared to Red Bank Catholic’s slower, defense-first style of basketball.
“[After] the first half, when I walked off the floor and saw the score, I knew it was good for us. My goal was to keep them under 25 at the half and keep them under 55. I didn’t know if we could win if it was over 55,” Montano said.
“It’s definitely a weight off our back,” Fallon said. “I think we’re more excited about the fact that not one person brought us here. It was a group effort the whole time and you don’t really see that anymore. The fact that we kind of did it the ‘old-fashioned way’ was just very important to us. This was a group effort and we’re going to enjoy it together because we deserve it.”
The Caseys allowed the Panthers to make a late run from turnovers and poor decision-making, but Point Boro never led in the game.
“I was concerned about their press,” Montano said. “Again, they’re long and they’re aggressive and Kelly Hughes is standing in the middle and she reads things so well. So, I was concerned, but we were tired. I didn’t play a lot of kids and we were tired and didn’t move to the ball maybe like we should’ve and make good decisions like in practice, but that’s part of the game. And you’ve got to stand up and make decisions when you are tired.”
“I really like playing with a lot of pressure,” Fallon said. “I think everyone does. It gets you excited and keeps your juices going so the fact that we were able to stay composed in this type of environment – it was awesome to play in – really shows how we grew as a team throughout the year and we put the game away which was very important.”
Red Bank Catholic, who still hasn’t lost to a New Jersey team at 24-1, will look to continue its impressive season this week as the top seed in the Non-Public, South ‘A’ state sectional playoffs.