BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson Crusaders girls varsity basketball team, who had a shorthanded roster, took to the road Wednesday afternoon for a second straight matchup with a conference opponent, the Governor Livingston Highlanders, looking to rebound from their loss Saturday.
The Crusaders received 10 points from junior Bailey Rosenmeier and 8 points from freshman Chelsea Kessock as they held off the Highlanders by a final score of 34-30 Wednesday afternoon in Berkeley Heights.
The Crusaders had a task they had to prepare for, to slow down Governor Livingston sophomore Skylar Dowling. As the team’s leading scorer, she came into Wednesday afternoon averaging 15.2 points per game on the season.
“We had to take the ball out of her hands,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said. “[Skylar] is a heck of a player, a heck of a shooter.”
Anticipating what was to come, Governor Livingston prepared to have other players involved in the offensive mix.
“We prepared for it. We knew a lot of teams are going to try and one-box [Skylar]. She’s a great player, so teams are going to come after her,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Eckert said. “We tried to put her in spots where she’d be successful, but shots weren’t falling today.”
In the first half, the Crusaders were successful in keeping the ball away from Dowling. They heavily guarded her throughout the first 16 minutes and forced other Highlander players to get involved on offense. She was held to only one attempted shot and no points when the game reached halftime.
“The girls knew they had to shut her down and they did. Our girls rose to the occasion,” Marino said.
Johnson went to work on offense. They were led by junior Rosenmeier and freshman Kessock. The teams played a close first quarter, with points coming on most of the possessions. The Crusaders led the Highlanders 10-6 after the first eight minutes of play.
The second quarter is where the offensive struggles were evident for the Highlanders. With Dowling stifled by the Crusaders defense, Governor Livingston was held to just two points in the quarter, while Rosenmeier and senior Amy Wysocki helped deliver key baskets for the Crusaders. They led the Highlanders at halftime by a score of 18-8.
“We played as a team today, we worked hard,” said Wysocki, who scored seven points. “We did everything we had to do.”
Junior Fiona Kerr scored six of the eight first half points for the Highlanders.
As the fourth quarter started, the Highlanders, who trailed by a score of 23-12, made a major push to get back in the game, as Dowling made up for being shut down earlier in the game. She buried two three-point shots back-to-back to cut the Crusaders lead to 23-18.
For Johnson, sophomore Lily Gull and Rosenmeier cashed in on shots to give Johnson a 27-19 lead with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter.
“We were being patient on offense and we reacted when we had to,” Marino said. “We had our open people. We slowed down and had some good shots.”
Governor Livingston stormed back into the game, going on a 6-0 scoring run over a two-minute span. What was once a game out of reach became a wild finish. The score was now 27-25 Johnson with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Gull cashed in for another shot and Kessock drained two free throws to make the score 32-25 Johnson with 1:27 left, but the Highlanders got on a scoring streak in a final push. Governor Livingston senior Ally McGlynn made it 32-27 and Dowling drained a long three-point shot to cut the lead down to 32-30 with 47 seconds left.
“I think the girls realized we were having a bad day shooting,” Eckert said. “We weren’t making any free throws, we weren’t getting to the line, that’s our style of play.”
The Highlanders scored 18 fourth-quarter points, as compared to the Crusaders’ 11 points in the push to get back in the game.
“Once they realized we were in the game, they started to play with a sense of urgency and we competed,” Eckert said.
Rosenmeier drained a key shot seconds later to make the score 34-30, the final scoring of the evening.
“We came together as a team and moved the ball around a lot,” Kessock said. “We stuck together [and] we let them foul us when we had to and played hard.”
In the end, Dowling finished with 12 points, all coming in the second half, but early offensive woes doomed Governor Livingston.
“ On defense, we came out slow and we really weren’t hitting shots,” Governor Livingston senior Michelle Coyle said. “We played a big game on Saturday [41-29 win over New Providence HS] and it didn’t translate over."
The Crusaders, who lost to Oak Knoll 46-28 on Saturday, turn their attention to their goal of repeating as Union County Conference Mountain Division champions.
“We needed a win for the conference,” Rosenmeier said. “We were the conference champions last year. Everything was on the line. You have to give everything you had [in the] fourth quarter.”
The Johnson Crusaders (3-4) return to action Thursday night when they return home and take on Scotch Plains-Fanwood at 5:30 p.m.
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (3-4) return to action Thursday afternoon on the road at Rahway with a 4 p.m. tip-off.