RAHWAY, NJ - The Governor Livingston girls' varsity basketball team is headed to their third Union County Tournament Final in the last four years.
Led by center Erin Ferguson's game-high 14 points, the Highlanders outlasted Cranford, 36-27, to move on to the county championship game on Sunday at Kean University.
"We came in and we're a game away from the ultimate goal which is to get back to the county final," Governor Livingston head coach Andy Silvagni said. "The girls were all fired up. We worked really hard and the ball bounced our way. For us to get back to the county final, we're really excited about it."
The Highlanders came out of the tip-off hot from the field. Senior forward Mallory George scored six of her 13 points in the opening eight minutes, almost outscoring the entire Cranford team in the process.
In the second, after Cranford's Maucione pulled the Cougars within five, the Highlanders jumped on a 7-0 run to close out the first half ahead 20-8.
Ferguson put up four points during the stretch to lead GL into the locker room with a 12-point lead.
"We came out of the jump and we actually came out with energy and I think that was the difference maker right there," Ferguson said. "The first half we had a lot of energy. Most importantly, we didn't let them score. We played great defense."
Governor Livingston sputtered in the third quarter, as Cranford was able to hold the Highlanders to only two baskets. They cut their deficit to five points on a 3-pointer from Maucione.
However, as time expired in the quarter, Highlander senior point guard Alyssa Cranston hit an off-balanced 3-pointer at the buzzer to regain a nine-point lead.
"I think we looked up and were up 12, and got really excited and said we were there, but we weren't there, we still had a half of basketball," Silvagni said. "I think we got into a little bit of scoreboard staring and were looking at the clock. Alyssa's three at the end of the third quarter really cut the tension and relaxed us for the fourth quarter."
The fourth quarter was dominated by Ferguson. Aside from six more points, she became a defensive threat that Cranford could not solve.
As the XX continued to try and fight their way back into the game, Ferguson blocked shots and caused steals at the arch to swing the game's momentum into the Highlander's favor.
"She has a lot of leadership," Cranston said. "She's been here for four years, so she can kind of calm everyone down and calm the game down."
When Cranston connected with Ferguson on a back-door layup with 1:50 to play in the game, the Highlanders went up 33-25 and never looked back.
"Erin is a heck of a player," Silvagni said. "Her and Mallory (George) have been playing four years, starting for three, a lot of experience, they've played in a lot of big games. This is their third year in the county final. We expect that from her and she's a heck of a player. I hope we get that on Sunday too."
The Highlanders will now prepare for their third county final game in Ferguson and George's career. While Ferguson is excited for the opportunity, Silvagni is concerned with the lay-off the Highlanders will have between games.
The team does not have another game scheduled until Sunday's match, causing a bit of uncertainty for the head coach.
"The last two years, we haven't payed well offensively at Kean, I don't know why that is," Silvagni said. "We've had this long play on Monday and not play again until Sunday. I don't know if we get rusty or its the gym or ifs the nerves. I don't know."
Governor Livingston is looking to add a game between now and the championship. If they are unsuccessful, they will go six days without competition, which is something Silvagni does not want to happen.
Sunday's Union County Championship game will tip-off at 6 p.m. from Kean University's Harwood Arena.