WARREN, NJ -- Trailing by eight points midway through the third quarter, the Ridge girls basketball team rallied for a 43-36 victory over top-seeded Watchung Hills in the semifinal round of the Section 2, Group 4 tournament on Saturday.
Senior point guard Sophie Beneventine scored nine of her 19 points in the third quarter and finished with four assists for Ridge, which turned a 28-20 deficit into a 37-29 lead with a 17-1 run spanning the final two quarters.
Ridge (22-7), the fourth seed, will play at third-seeded Franklin for the sectional championship Monday night. Franklin has won the last three state Group 4 championships and is the defending overall winner of the 2019 NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
While Beneventine led the Red Devils in scoring, the comeback against Watchung Hills was truly a team effort, with everyone on the court making a measurable contribution during the rally.
Beneventine, the Boston University commit, went on a desperately needed scoring binge late in the third quarter.
Senior guard Taylor Smith, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three steals, was at times unstoppable in the open floor and in transition.
Senior guard Ava Haiback opened the game's scoring for Ridge with a 3-pointer, and, while she didn't hit another basket, she came up with several absolutely critical steals in the fourth quarter.
Junior center Delaney Donohoe grabbed seven rebounds and had a brilliant defensive game, blocking five shots.
And forwards Lauren Lusardi and Carly Cambria also came up big on the boards and on defense as Ridge eventually figured out a way to deal with Watchung Hills forward Mahogany Jenkins (13 points, 10 rebounds) after she was integral in helping the Warriors build their eight-point lead.
"We have already been in a lot of high pressure situations before in this tournament," said Smith, who had five fourth-quarter points. "When we were down in the third quarter, we said we just have to pick each other up, box out better and rebound. We felt we had nothing to lose."
When the Warriors built their lead to 28-20, Smith said Ridge focused on two areas of emphasis.
"There were two things: We had to get a lot more rebounds, and not let (Jenkins) get second and third shots off offensive rebounds," Smith said. "And we needed to attack the paint. They were shutting off Sophie, so we had to attack. Our game plan was to give them pump fakes or floaters."
"When we were down eight," said Ridge head coach Eric Schroeder, "we told the girls there's still a lot of game left. Watchung Hills was taking the ball to the basket, so we needed to get in front of Mahogany. Sophie hit a big '3' to bring us back, and our forwards, Delaney, Lauren and Carly, did a great job on Mahogany in the second half. Delaney has become very good at help side defense and she gets a lot of her blocks that way."
Beneventine scored on a baseline drive to bring Ridge within six, 28-22, and ignite the season-saving 17-1 run. Sophie then scored on the break and then sank a 3-pointer to get the Red Devils within a point, 28-27. After Jenkins hit a foul shot, Ridge closed out the third quarter with Beneventine hitting a 15-foot pull-up jumper and Lusardi finishing a fast break with a layup after a Donohoe block at the other end with 22 seconds left.
Ridge went into the fourth quarter with a 31-29 lead and kept its foot on the accelerator, with Beneventine feeding Lusardi for a layup to open the fourth, Smith finishing a fastbreak initiated by another block by Donohoe, and then Smith scoring on a spinning drive through the lane for a 37-29 Ridge lead.
"Taylor is great in transition," Schroeder said. "Any of the five girls we have on the floor, anybody can score. We feel we can run our offense through any of them."
"I like transition. I like to run," said Smith, one of New Jersey's most accomplished girls lacrosse players and a University of Colorado commit for that sport.
Ridge's girls lacrosse team began its spring practices Friday without Smith. "I've missed two practices so far," Smith said. "I thought we (the basketball team) could make it pretty far, so I expected I might miss some lacrosse practices."
Smith, and the rest of the Ridge athletic community, is hoping she misses a few more.