PISCATAWAY, NJ -- The Piscataway High School girls basketball team defeated Highland Park in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Asjha Jones/Lisa Guarneri Pod final, 67-36, on Friday in Piscataway.
Piscataway (2-12) ends the year with two-straight victories.
The Lady Chiefs led just 31-23 at the half, and pulled away in the third quarter with their strong defense, rebounding, especially on the offensive end, and transition buckets. Piscataway outscored the Owls (2-8) in the frame, 28-7.
“We didn't come out as well as we should have, and I said at halftime that they've worked too hard to only be up eight. They really showed what they could do,” fourth-year Piscataway head coach Chris Puder said. “We got steals, we got to the basket, got into passing lanes. It was nice. It was great to have something to play for. The GMC did a great job with that. There were no championships, but it gave everybody a second chance and something to play for.”
After scoring 17 points on Wednesday in the win over New Brunswick, senior Mia Rose netted a new career-high of 22 points. Autumn John also was in double figures with 14 points while Julia Stewart added eight and Shanti Essannason had six. Maddison Boxley (five), Courtney Edmundo (five), Sky Johnson (four), and Alyssa Rice (three) all chipped in the scoring column as well.
Puder said he is going to miss Rose and fellow seniors Tori Fisher and Kaelonn Wilson. Wilson had to miss the entire season due to an ACL injury and Fisher was forced to miss the last four games due to her own ailment. Fisher led the team with 184 points this season while Mia Rose had 108 as the two seniors guided the otherwise young Lady Chiefs.
“Those three have been awesome. That's my first class when I took over,” Puder said. “They're special, and they are great kids who want the best for everyone. They're always talking to the younger players, and it's like having coaches. They want to see everybody do well. I wish them the best of luck. They're three special kids.”
And while Piscataway had just two wins this year in the rugged GMC Red Division they are prepared for the future. Puder’s club fell in seven games decided by eight points or less including a 60-59 double-overtime defeat to Edison and a three point loss to East Brunswick. There was no junior varsity or freshmen teams this season, so everybody was thrown into the fire, and the experience will pay for itself starting in the 2021-22 season.
Edmundo and Rice are both freshmen, Barber, Boxley, John, Aniyah Johnson, and Sky Johnson are all sophomores, and Esannason, Sarah Armory, and Stewart are juniors.
“We went on a 12-0 run without Mia and I said to them this is what you guys are capable of if you start talking on defense and doing the little things,” Puder said. “It was good for them to see that. Hopefully we have a summer league, or they can go to different places to get better. That'll help us improve.”
Friday night’s victory over Highland Park wasn’t the only win for Piscataway. No, Piscataway didn’t play a second game, but it played all 14 of its games during a pandemic campaign that consisted of wearing masks, screenings, and various other rules and protocols.
“I told them on day one, this is our family now. It may be tough times, but I trust you. We all trusted each other,” Puder said. “If you're sick don't come. The girls did get tested throughout because parents were worried, and we were always negative. Nobody did anything crazy. If they went out to dinner, they went out together. This was our immediate thing. It was weird getting temperature checks every day. The girls hadn't done organized stuff in over a year, so our trainer was at every practice. There were a lot more injuries, and they fought through it.
“I think we were the only team that's enough to shut down other than bowling. That was important. I'm proud of them. When you want to do something you buy in and that's what happened, and it was good to end the season on a high note with the two wins. Right away from day one this is going to be a year of experience, and we were able to get through everything.”
Twenty minutes away in the southern portion of the county, the Piscataway varsity boys hoops team fell to South River in overtime in the GMC Jackson Family Pod final by a score of 71-65.
Piscataway (1-8) trailed 32-22 at halftime, but battled back in the second half. Aaren Austin made the game-tying 3-pointer from the left corner with 1.1 seconds remaining to send the game into the extra period. He hit the game-winner jumper Wednesday against Sayreville in the closing moments.
Austin finished with a team-high 17 points. Justin Wyatt also netted 12 points and William Corley and Jalen Thomas each added 10 points. Elliot Benson also chipped in with eight points.
Lazaro Rodriguez bucketed a game-high 32 points for the Rams, including 15 on foul shots.
After a timeout with 21.7 seconds left, South River (8-6) fouled the Chiefs multiple times to whittle the clock down to 6.0 seconds. That’s when Piscataway was able to inbound the ball and pass the ball out to Austin.
South River outscored the Chiefs from the free-throw line, 21-2.
Because of a COVID pause, Piscataway had to cancel or postpone nine games, and the Chiefs picked up one last game on Saturday against neighboring Franklin at noon in Somerset.
The Asjha Jones/Lisa Guarneri Pod is named after two Piscataway greats, who led the Lady Chiefs to the 1997 Tournament of Champions final. Jones was a high school All-American, went onto to star at UConn, before going to the WNBA and enjoying more playing time overseas and winning an Olympic gold medal. Jones is Piscataway’s all-time leading points scorer (2,266) and rebounder (1,256). Guarneri scored 1,186 for Piscataway and went on to play for Illinois and Virginia Tech in college.
The Jackson Family Pod is named after Roger and Kenny Jackson, who scored 1081 and 1,078 points, respectively, at South River, and their nephew, Deon, who netted 2,307 points for the Rams. Each won Central Jersey sectional titles while Kenny also won a county crown and state title. Kenny and Roger both went on to play football for Penn State and Kenny also made it to the NFL.
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