BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- The Ridge girls basketball team spent the first half on the attack, forcing a fast tempo and smothering Westfield defensively.
Playing one of their best halves of the season, the fourth-seeded Red Devils built an 11-point halftime lead, then survived some late foul line woes to hold on for a 46-40 victory over the fifth-seeded Blue Devils in the quarterfinal round of the Section 2, Group 4 tournament Thursday night.
Ridge (21-7) will play top-seeded Watchung Hills in Warren in the semifinals Saturday at 5 p.m.
Senior point guard Sophie Beneventine scored 20 points, passed for two assists and even blocked a couple of shots for Ridge. Beneventine scored 12 points in the first half to help the Red Devils build a 22-11 lead, and she had nine of her team's first 13 points. Committed to Division 1 Boston University, Beneventine is usually the consummate point guard, a skilled scorer who frequently passes up chances to shoot to distribute the ball to teammates.
But last night, Beneventine was often looking shot first, part of an aggressive approach that helped Ridge set an early tone against a Westfield team that usually plays a more deliberate pace than what Ridge forced the Blue Devils into in the first half.
"As I've matured as a point guard, I still get yelled at in AAU being told, 'You gotta shoot more, you gotta shoot more'," Beneventine said. "I've developed a better floater that I use to my advantage when I do shoot, and I was able to use that tonight. We've got a lot of power tools on this team."
One of those "power tools," junior center Delaney Donohoe, scored just five points (about half her average), but she turned in a dominant game on the glass, ripping down 13 rebounds, and on defense with several blocks.
"Me and Delaney, we both have length, and we use that to our advantage on defense," Beneventine said.
While Ridge pushed a brisk tempo on offense in the first half, the Red Devils contested every Westfield shot and every pass with a passionate abandon. A perimeter shooting halfcourt team that came into the game on a 17-game winning streak, Westfield (21-6) made just three field goals in the first half.
"In the first half, defensively, we took a team that hadn't lost a game in a month out of what they wanted to do," Ridge head coach Eric Schroeder said. "They shoot a lot of 3s, and our players got right up on them and didn't let them get good looks."
Westfield cut the Ridge lead to eight, 23-15, early in the third before Ridge unleashed a 9-0 run to open a 17-point lead with under three minutes left in the quarter. Beneventine fed Lauren Lusardi for a layup to trigger the run. Beneventine scored a transition layup, Carly Cambria hit a free throw, Taylor Smith scored on a driving layup and Beneventine capped the spurt with one of those pull-up floaters she described to give Ridge a 32-15 lead late in the third period.
That run gave Ridge a cushion the Red Devils ended up needing, as relentless Westfield forward Faith Dobosiewicz, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, led the visitors on a 16-4 run to bring the Blue Devils back to within five, 36-31, with 4:13 left.
Beneventine drained a jumper from the foul line with 3:41 left and Donohoe hit a putback with 1:41 left to extend Ridge's lead to 40-31. From there, Ridge missed several opportunities to close out the game from the foul line, while Westfield chipped away by making its foul shots, ultimately getting as close as four, 44-40, with 21 seconds left.
Ava Haiback and Lauren Feldman each hit one of two free throws in the last 17 seconds for Ridge, which had to survive a 55-50 overtime victory over 13th-seeded Phillipsburg Tuesday night just to get this far.
"Phillipsburg is a more physical team than Westfield, and that game was tough for us because it's hard to play a team three times in a season," Beneventine said. "But now we have momentum going into the semifinals. I've played with a lot of those Watchung Hills girls on my AAU team."
Although the two schools are only six miles apart, Ridge and Watchung Hills did not meet each other this season.