SOMERSET, NJ -- For all the many accomplishments the seniors on the Ridge girls basketball team have achieved in the last several years, the one thing they could never check off their bucket list was conquering Franklin.
In the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 4 championship game Monday night, Franklin built an early lead and added to it methodically, defeating Ridge, 57-39, for its fourth consecutive sectional title.
Franklin is the defending overall state champion, having won the 2019 Tournament of Champions.
Senior guards Sophie Beneventine and Taylor Smith each scored 14 points in their final games for Ridge (22-8). Beneventine, who also dished out five assists and grabbed eight rebounds, will move on to Boston University and play basketball there. Smith, like Beneventine a 1,000-point scorer in her high school career (which began at Kinnelon), has Ridge girls lacrosse season to look forward to before graduating to the University of Colorado to play lacrosse there.
While Beneventine and Smith held their own offensively against a quick, deep and defensively imposing Franklin squad, Ridge's trio of forwards were converged upon relentlessly when they got the ball on offense, and when Franklin (23-5) was on offense, the Warriors made a concerted effort to go right at Ridge's front line, resulting on a lot of foul calls.
"Franklin has so many assets on that team," said Beneventine, who along with her Ridge teammates has been on the losing end of five decisions to Franklin in five games the last two seasons.
Beneventine considered the issue of what made Franklin the one impossible obstacle for Ridge to get past these last several years.
"They all play AAU," she said. "Their whole team, their starters, the girls that come off the bench, they are all about basketball, 12 months a year. I am the only Ridge girl that plays AAU. But even so, we still came out this season and had a great year."
A critical sequence late in the second quarter helped Franklin pull away. After Smith canned a corner 3-pointer to bring Ridge within seven, 21-14, Franklin came back with consecutive threes (from Onoseta Ufuah and Gissell Gamble) to open a 27-14 with 2:47 left. The Warriors led, 29-16, at the half.
Junior center Delaney Donohoe, whose play in the post was integral in the Red Devils reaching the sectional final, was saddled with four fouls by the 4:00 mark of the third quarter. Senior forward Lauren Lusardi soon after was called for her fourth foul.
"Their 'bigs' took our 'bigs' out, and their guards were faceguarding me most of the game," Beneventine said of some of Franklin's more effective defensive maneuvers. Franklin never put together any sort of long, sustained run. The Warriors just chipped away and slowly, steadily pulled away, never allowing Ridge to string together more than four consecutive points and gather any comeback momentum.
Smith led the Red Devils in rebounds with nine and steals with four. Lusardi grabbed eight rebounds.
It was the final game for Ridge seniors Beneventine, Smith, Lusardi, Ava Haiback and injured reserve Allie Byrne. Beneventine and Haiback each saw action in their very first varsity games as freshmen in December 2016--a game Ridge lost, 36-11, to Hunterdon Central. Ridge finished that season with a 12-15 record, steadily improving and putting itself definitively on the extremely competitive Somerset County girls basketball map the last two seasons.
"I am extremely proud of this team and the chance to play with these girls no matter what," Beneventine said. "When I first started playing with them, our 'bigs', Lauren, Delaney and (sophomore) Carly Cambria were not nearly as developed as players as they have become now. I am very thankful I got to play with all of them."