BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston girls basketball team used a late scoring burst from leading scorer Skylar Dowling to slip by the Rahway Lady Indians 38-33 in the preliminary round of the 2018 Union County Tournament. Dowling scored 11 of her game high 21 points over the last six minutes, allowing the Lady Highlanders to take control of the closely played game. Fiona Kerr and Paige Phillips chipped in 8 and 7 points respectively for Gov. Livingston. Rahway’s prolific scorer Wil Lisha Jackson kept pace with Dowling knocking down 19 points but was held in check down the stretch by a defensive combo of Kerr and Ally McGlynn. Gov. Livingston will now face the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Roselle Catholic, on Tuesday night in Roselle.
Gov. Livingston, who came into Saturday’s contest as the 15th seed, were matched up with 18th seed Rahway, a team they had defeated two times earlier during the season. Both of the previous games with the Lady Indians were tight games with one going to overtime. The Lady Highlanders knew that if they were going to prevail in this tourney matchup they would have to control Jackson who will be continuing her academic and basketball career at Div. I, St. Peters University next year.
"It is tough to beat a team three times," said Gov. Livingston head coach Chris Eckert. "We knew a lot about them and they knew a lot about us. We have a lot of respect for them and their coaching staff. We knew it would be tight."
Dowling quickly got Gov. Livingston going when she stole a pass 15 seconds into the game game, drove the length of the court for an and one giving her team a 3-0 lead. The two teams then traded 3 three balls with Paige Phillips (7 pts,2 3’s) hitting back to back threes to put Gov. Livingston up 9-6. Dowling closed out the quarter with a floater as the quarter ended with Gov. Livingston up 11-6.
Jackson, who was held scoreless in the first quarter by Kerr, opened the second quarter with a hoop and teammate Anissa Crumpton followed with her second three of the game which tied the game. Both teams went cold over the next several minutes of play. With Dowling having trouble finding her range from the outside, the Lady Highlanders got two big drives from Kerr which kept Gov. Livingston up at the half 18-17. However, Jackson had matched Kerr's drives with some nice moves of her own as she posted 8 second quarter points.
Eckert wasn't concerned about the baskets not falling in the first half. "How I coach is it's a game of waves, so every quarter is a new game," said Eckert. Starting with a new slate at halftime -- he challenges the girls on what else can they do to make their teammates better -- "what else can you do to make it a better game for everyone around you," he said. "The shots will fall. -- The girls know their roles. Making one and getting your confidence up. We were excited to see them make the shots in the end when it mattered."
Jackson gave Rahway their first lead of the day as she dropped in a short jumper to open up the second half . Again, with both teams struggling from the outside, the teams got their offenses going by taking the ball to the hoop. A Dowling drive followed by two strong moves to the rim by Kerr gave the Lady Highlanders a slim 24-23 after three quarters of play.
Michelle Coyle who was anchoring the middle of the Gov. Livingston defense came up with a big play on offense as she scored at the six minute mark of the quarter to put Gov. Livingston up three. Rahway came right back to take a 28-26 lead on a deep three and a Jackson put back with four minutes left in the game.
Gov. Livingston owned the last four minutes of the game as Dowling popped for 11 points and the Lady Highlander defense shut down Jackson and the Rahway offense. Coach Chris Eckert added fresh legs on Jackson as McGlynn and Kerr double teamed her down the stretch. Seniors Coyle and Stacey Berliner made sure Jackson had few passing options as they clamped down on their opponents and the home team was able to close out the win from the free throw line.
"Defensively we were happy because we knew coming in she [Jackson] was a great player," said Eckert. "We did everything to stop her. We ran players at her and trapped her. She is a great player and they are a tough team."
In a classy display of respect and sportsmanship, the Gov. Livingston athletic department and the Lady Highlanders basketball team called senior Wil Lisha Jackson out to center court after the game ended to acknowledge a fierce competitor and to offer congratulations on her commitment to playing next year at St. Peters University.
Eckert is happy with his team's four straight wins -- and he is excited to take on the top competition in the county. "We are the type of team that has to do all the little things right," he said. "We know what we have, we know who we are -- and we will have some fun doing it."
Gov. Livingston will take on North Plainfield Monday in North Plainfield looking to even their season record at 10-10 before taking on power house Roselle Catholic.
The Lady Highlanders will be the 12th seed in the upcoming NJSIAA state tournament and will face the fifth seed Middletown North on Feb. 26th in Middletown.