PATERSON, NJ - In a dramatic duel which featured leads that see-sawed through the entire contest, the John F. Kennedy High School varsity girls’ basketball team defeated rival Eastside in Passaic County quarterfinal competition.  Only a blocked shot on the final play of the game prevented the Ghosts from sending the contest into overtime. Sporting a 13-8 season record, the Lady Knights entered the contest as the #3 tourney seed.  

Following the game, Knights’ veteran Head Coach MarQuette Burgess commented on his squad’s narrow, 45-43, victory.  

“It’s been tough to beat a team three times in one season,” Burgess stated. “We played them a little over a week ago.  They have a lot of good, young players on their team. The game came down to a final defensive stop. They played well. We were able to make the last play and were fortunate to win.”

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In just his second season at Eastside, Head Coach Brandon Pilgrim has seen his squad excel to consistently battle elite competition. The Lady Ghosts scrapped and scraped for the entire contest.

The first quarter was marked by furious action from the outset. The Knights were led by seniors Jenai Blue and Adrian Jackson. The Ghosts countered with the steady play of senior Sharini Beato.  

A steal and stop-and-pop jumper by Eastside freshman Symiaha Brown-Cobb was countered by a shot rejection from Kennedy sophomore center Samantha Ferraras. JFK’s sophomore point guard Nandi Cameron then shouldered the responsibility of solving the Ghosts’ 2-3 zone. With the score knotted at 19-19 with 3:34 left in the initial frame, Beato dished to freshman Ronshanae Austin who converted a 10-foot jumper. However, Blue calmly dropped in a pair of free throws to counter for the Knights. Following success with their half-court trap, Jackson found Blue at the low post who was fouled in the act of shooting.  Two successful free throws followed. The shots proved prophetic as the steady court leader would go on to sink no less than eight consecutive attempts from the charity stripe in the first half.  

Following a twenty-foot jumper from the right wing by Jackson, a shot attempt by the Ghosts hit nothing but air. The Knights quickly took advantage as the ensuing rebound led to Ferraras feeding Blue in the paint for a successful turnaround jumper. With 21 seconds left in the half, the Knights played keep away until another Blue shot attempt rolled off the rim. However, being fouled in the act, the starting center sank both free throws.  A desperation Eastside shot fell short at the buzzer.  

With the scored tied at 30 early in the third quarter, the Ghosts’ Jianni Fontan converted one of two attempts from the free throw line.  It was then that Eastside’s Precious Kitchen crashed to the hardwood under her own basket. However, the courageous junior was able to limp to the sidelines, with assistance, to warm applause from fans from both sides.  

After a 15-foot swish by Ferraras, the Knights continued to add to Eastside’s temporary woes by slapping on a full court press and forcing a traveling violation. However, the Ghosts countered with a 10-foot jumper from the left baseline by freshman Jayleen Valera, courtesy of an assist by Fontan.  Brown-Cobb then intercepted a Knights’ pass and went coast-to-coast for a sensational lay-up. With 13 seconds left in the third frame and up by a single point, 36-35, Kennedy chose to hold the ball for a final shot. However, the strategy backfired as the Knights were whistled for traveling. A desperation shot at the buzzer by the Ghosts followed but fell short.

Coach Pilgrim opted to employ a 2-3 zone defense for the final frame.  

Early on, pressure defense impelled both coaches to call timeouts.  With 6:23 left, two free throws provided Eastside with a 37-36 lead. Ferraras then turned in a clutch baseline scoring drive for the Knights. Following a shot by the Ghosts’ Valera that curled in and out, Kennedy capitalized on a successful low post banker by Ferraras via an assist from Cameron. 

After Blue and Beato traded baskets, a full court pass by the Ghosts nearly skittered out of bounds but was rescued by Fontan who wheeled up court, drove the lane, and cashed in on two free throws after being fouled while shooting. However, Blue answered for the Knights by following up a teammate’s airball with a rebound and basket.  

With 45 ticks of the clock remaining and up by single point, JFK held the ball thus forcing the Ghosts to foul.  The third such infraction saw the Knights go to the line. The first of a one-and-one missed but Ferraris snatched the rebound, depriving the Ghosts possession. Yet another Ghost foul and subsequent missed JFK free throw was again rebounded by the Knights, this time by Blue.  

With Kennedy ahead 44-43 and 5.9 seconds left, frenetic fan euphoria reached a crescendo. An Eastside player was fouled in the act of shooting. However, both free throws missed their mark. On the ensuing rebound, the Ghosts fouled immediately, resulting in Kennedy’s Trinaty Rivera going to the line. The senior center made one of two attempts setting the stage for an Eastside effort to send the game into overtime.  With 4.6 ticks remaining on the clock, the Ghosts were able to get the ball up the floor to the left corner. However, as the buzzer sounded the shot attempt was blocked out of bounds by Jasmin Adams which resulted in Kennedy fans rushing the court in celebratory pandemonium.  

Blue led the scoring parade for JFK with 19 points with Ferraris adding nine tallies.  

The Lady Knights will continue tournament play against Wayne Valley at home on Saturday, February 22, at 12:00 p.m.

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