BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- The guards get a lot of the attention on the Ridge girls basketball team, but the continuing emergence of junior center Delaney Donohoe was pivotal in helping the Red Devils ward off a major upset threat on Saturday.
Donohoe scored six of Ridge's last 16 points down the stretch and came up with some big blocks and rebounds as the fifth-seeded Red Devils finally shook loose of pesky Immaculata for a 46-37 victory in the first round of the Somerset County Tournament.
Senior guard Sophie Beneventine scored 13 points and handed out three assists, and Donohoe collected 10 points and 11 rebounds for Ridge (17-6), whose difficulty in establishing separation from the underdog 13th-seeded Spartans (8-16) is evidenced by the fact that Ridge had a lead of exactly one point at the end of each of the first three quarters.
"Immaculata made some shots early in the game that took us out of our rhythm," Ridge head coach Eric Schroeder said. "We tried to get the ball in the post early in the game, and they packed (their defense) in on us."
Immaculata, which lost two regular-season games to Ridge by decisive margins, led, 32-30, in the closing seconds of the third quarter before Donohoe came through with an "and-one" 3-point play, scoring underneath, drawing a foul and sinking the free throw to give Ridge a 33-32 lead after three quarters.
Then, in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Donohoe stuck back a rebound for a basket and a three-point Ridge lead. With the Red Devils clinging to a 36-34 lead, a pair of 3-point baskets two minutes apart finally put them in command. Senior guard Taylor Smith (who had nine points) buried a 3-pointer from the baseline with 4:22 left to give Ridge a 39-34 lead. Ridge, tightening the clamps on defense, held Immaculata scoreless over the next two minutes before a play initiated by Donohoe supplied the dagger.
Donohoe cleared a defensive rebound on one end, saw no one open to receive an outlet pass, and instead dribbled the ball three-quarters the length of the floor along the left side before passing to Beneventine beyond the arc. Beneventine fired in a 3-pointer with 2:21 left to give Ridge a 42-34 lead.
"I got the rebound and then looked for my guards," Donohoe said of the key play. "They were both covered, and I thought, 'I've got to get down the court. It ended up working out well'."
Donohoe is averaging 9.5 points per game, and recently had a four-game stretch in which she averaged 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds.
"Delaney has been a big part of what we're doing this season," Schroeder said. "She has taken a big step forward, blocking shots, getting rebounds and scoring for us. She's really come a long way, and she's gained more confidence in her ball handling."
Along with that confidence, Donohoe provided a self-motivating mindset to help herself and Ridge overcome a sluggish first half.
"We came out a little flat early in the game," Donohoe said. "After the first half, I thought, 'This is not what we want to end this tournament on. We don't want to be one-and-done. I've got to make a change and get it done. We just needed to work hard. It's all mental."
Ridge will play at fourth-seeded Gill-St. Bernard's in the quarterfinal round Tuesday night. Ridge has not played Gill-St. Bernard's this season.