PATERSON, NJ - In a contest with a nail-biting finish, the Lady Knights of John F. Kennedy High School bowed to Wayne Valley by a score of 49-46. The outcome was in doubt until the very last moments as a parade to the free throw line by both squads added to already mounting tension.
Kennedy Coach MarQuette Burgess opted to rotate six guards throughout the game to battle against the omnipresent full court press of the visiting Indians. Seniors Taylor Yancey and Ron’Quay Gray, juniors Adrian Jackson and Ayanah Young, as well as sophomore Kiana Hardison and freshman Nandi Cameron, all saw extensive action. The sextet successfully solved full court pressure until a decisive stretch late in the third and into the fourth quarters.
The Indians presented a 2-3 zone defense after the opening tip while JFK employed a woman-to-woman front. Kennedy’s leading scorers Taniesha Gilbert and Jimmrah Johnson connected early with a lob pass into the right low post for two eventual points from the free throw line by the latter. Following a nice assist by Wayne Valley’s Briana Neary for an Indians’ score, Yancey found Gilbert at left block for a banker off the glass. After a tenacious defense by Jackson forced an adversary to step on the baseline, Neary returned the favor by knocking away a pass attempt into the paint. The Indians’ Janelle Sandowick then dropped in one of two from the charity stripe. Another perfect lob into Johnson at the low post, this one by Hardison, proved fruitful but Neary quickly answered for the Indians with a long three-pointer from beyond the arc. However, a Wayne Valley traveling violation was followed by a dramatic drive by Gilbert from the top of the key for two.
Persistent drives into the lane by Indian senior point- guard Carson Thomas were followed by kick-out, perimeter passes which continued to provide open shots for the Indians.
Following the relatively low scoring first frame, Wayne Valley portrayed offensive patience until a short jumper connected. However, a quick pass from Young and basket by JFK junior Jenai Blue beat the Indians down court. Neary responded with two successful foul shots for Wayne Valley. However, the visitors paid the price for leaving Hardison alone at the left baseline who translated an assist from Gilbert into a three-point rainbow. After Wayne Valley was tagged with another traveling violation, Gilbert notched one of two from the foul line.
In an ironic twist of events due to Wayne Valley’s weave offense, a defensive switch resulted in Kennedy’s Young, perhaps the shortest player on the court, winding up in the land of the giants defending Wayne Valleys’ center. However, the scrappy junior playmaker not only held her own but also managed to snare a number of rebounds throughout the game.
Neary continued to shine for the Indians with a steal and stop and pop for a 15-foot jumper. However, Gilbert replied with a three-pointer from the left wing. The Knights continued to solve the Indians’ full court press as Johnson contributed two consecutive blocked shots. However, Sandowick followed with a dramatic ten-foot runner in heavy traffic for Wayne Valley. Unchallenged at half court, Kennedy’s Yancey literally held the ball running off more than 25 seconds off the clock preparing for a last second shot to conclude the first half. However, the strategy was stymied by the Indians’ defense.
Third quarter scoring was inaugurated by Gilbert who notched a three-pointer from the left wing. The steady senior forward followed with a textbook lead pass to Johnson at the right, low block for an easy banker. Soon thereafter and conversely, the Johnson to Gilbert combination resulted in another two off the glass. Gilbert scored again, leading to a 34-24 Kennedy and forcing a Wayne Valley's timeout.
It was then that the Indians’ full court pressure began to take its toll. A series of steals, fast breaks, and scores quickly narrowed the sizeable Kennedy lead. Wayne Valley's scoring run was broken by a Johnson rebound and put back of a Gilbert 20-footer that missed the mark. Wayne Valley senior Stephanie LaGreca dropped in two free throws to answer before Kennedy inadvertently fumbled a defensive rebound out of bounds. The Indians’ senior Sam Matin added two more free throws and raced to the baseline to pull up for a buzzer-beating 15-foot swish to set up the pulsating fourth quarter finish.
The final frame began with the score knotted at 40-40. A sure Wayne Valley fast break was broken up from behind by Yancey with via a spectacular shot block. Following a rare palming call by officials on Kennedy, Neary missed from inside for the Indians but LaGreca was there for the rebound and put back.
With the score 47-40, advantage Wayne Valley, neither squad was able to hit pay dirt for several minutes. The stretch was marked by several contact fouls, a double-dribble call, and an over-and-back violation. Trips to the foul line by both squads highlighted the final minutes of play, including several clutch conversions by Matin. However, successive defensive rebounds by Kennedy of missed Wayne Valley free throw attempts turned up the game’s intensity to an even higher volume.
Down 48-46 with nine seconds left, a hush fell over the voracious crowd as Kennedy’s Johnson crashed to the hardwood, writhing in pain. However, after several long minutes of medical attention, the courageous senior center/leader was able to hobble to the sidelines, with assistance, to warm applause by fans from both sides.
The Knights were able to gain possession with 1.9 seconds left in regulation under their own basket. However, the 84 foot distance proved to be too long for a desperation shot attempt.
Kennedy was led in scoring by Gilbert with 18 points and Johnson with 14 tallies. The Indians were paced by Matin with 18.
Wayne Valley will take home court and face DePaul for the Passaic County championship crown on Saturday, February 23.
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