CRANFORD - Strong 3-point and free throw shooting keeps Cranford alive in the county tournament.
Gianna Toretta scored a season-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead sixth-seeded Cranford to a 64-58 overtime victory over 11th-seeded Brearley in the first round of the Union County Tournament on Wednesday night.
It was the fourth quarter where Toretta truly shined. Cranford entered the quarter trailing by nine, but little by little, the Cougars chipped away. Toretta knocked down two 3's and went 3-for-4 from the free throw line, including sinking two while down 50-48 with 45 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
"I just know we needed to comeback so I had to pick it up a little bit with my team and I knew my team would pick it back up with me too," said Toretta.
Toretta served as Cranford's sixth woman off the bench Wednesday but saw more minutes then most starters. This season, Toretta has seen an inconsistent number of minutes per game depending on the matchup, but after reviewing game film of Brearley's defense not defending beyond the arc, it allowed Toretta's 3-point shooting to shine.
Though 3's were the key for the Cougars through the first four quarters, it was free throws that won it for them in OT. Cranford went 8-for-8 in the four-minute extra period and finished the game 17-for-21. Liv Speer knocked down both of her free throws down 57-56 with 1:54 left to give Cranford the lead, which it wouldn't relinquish the rest of the way.
Liv Speer got Cranford out to a 6-0 lead to start the game with back-to-back 3-point swishes. Spear would add another basket as she scored eight points in the opening eight minutes to give the Cougars a 14-9 lead after one. She would finish with 13 points.
The Cougars struggled to find their shot in the second quarter as they only netted six points but their defense held strong to sneak into halftime up 20-18. That defense didn't have an answer for Brearley's Micaela Etlinger the rest of the way as she scored 10 points in the third, 21 points in the second-half and overtime, and 28 in total.
Lauren Williamson added 12 points for Cranford and Elizabeth McCaffery scored 10 points off the bench. Ellie Rokicki had six points.
Cranford advances to take on third-seeded Roselle Catholic on Friday in the quarterfinal round. The Cougars have dropped both regular season matchups with RC this year by scores of 53-48 and 62-37. Toretta believes the key to beating the Lions will be to box out.
"When we played Roselle Catholic, we were only down by six at halftime. In the second-half, I think we just got out boxed-out, out hustled, and everything," said Toretta. "If we play like we did today, we should win."
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