By Ryan Fennell
Long Branch – The white board in the Rumson-Fair Haven locker room had “3rd Quarter” written all over it prior to Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the Bulldogs and unbeaten Neptune in the Hoop Group Battle of the Boardwalk at Long Branch High School.
And Rumson’s third quarter effort propelled the Bulldogs to a 40-29 victory and handed Neptune its first loss on the season.
After taking an 8-point lead into the half, Rumson-Fair Haven came out in the third and put up seven unanswered points keyed off by Casey Weis’ three-pointer to open the half and stretched the Bulldog lead to 15 against a Neptune team that hadn’t lost a game to a Shore Conference opponent in 64 straight matchups.
“Our third quarter has been an enigma for us [this season],” said Rumson-Fair Haven head coach George Sourlis. “We lost some games we were winning at half and played an awful third quarter.”
As strange as it might seem, foul trouble early for the Bulldogs helped RFH contain Neptune’s offense in the second half.
Rumson’s Jessica Harvey, who lead all scorers with 11, picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and added her third at the start of the second quarter while Catie Ebner tallied four by the end of the first half.
“We came out [in the second half] in a little more zone than we would normally like to play,” Sourlis said. “It helped because we were able to protect Jess a little bit and slow them down.
“[Neptune] had a hard time getting the ball inside so it was kind of like a blessing in disguise that our foul trouble forced me to come up with something else.”
And it played right into the Bulldogs game plan coming into the game.
“We wanted to limit their ability to get the ball inside and try to keep it on the perimeter and hope they would miss and limit them to one shot,” said Sourlis. “For the most part we really did a good job at that today.”
Rumson opened the game strong limiting Neptune to just three first quarter points and scoring seven unanswered to grab a 10-3 lead early.
After the Bulldogs added five to go up 15-7 the Scarlet Fliers took off on a 7-0 run to pull within one at 15-14.
But with three minutes remaining in the half and Neptune in foul trouble of its own, Harvey hit the front end of a one-and-one before laying one up and hit a jumper after Sam Sabino hit a free-throw and the Bulldogs were back on top, 22-14, at the half.
Rumson’s strong effort in the third maintained an 8-point lead heading into the fourth. A quick steal and layup by Harvey to open the final quarter put the Bulldogs up 10 before Sabino dropped a hook to make it 33-21.
Free throws by Emma Miller and Claire Stefanelli followed by another layup from Harvey extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 39-25 as time ran out on a chance for Neptune to make a comeback.
“It’s a big win for us,” Sourlis said. “I thought we grew up a little bit today.”
Harvey was named Player of the Game for the Bulldogs while Amerisse Rogers took home the honors for Neptune.