BRIDGEWATER, BERNARDSVILLE , NJ– Over the span of four hours Feb. 20, both the Bridgewater-Raritan boys and girls Panthers basketball teams played their preliminary-round 2020 Somerset County Basketball Tournament contests. Coincidentally, both the #10-seeded girls and the #13-seeded boys played Bernards, who was seeded #15 and #12 for girls and boys, respectively. As a result, the Bridgewater-Raritan girls stayed home for a 5 p.m. contest due to their higher seed, while the boys traveled to Bernardsville for their 7 p.m. contest.

The Lady Panthers (8-16) opened up their contest with a 36-8 lead at home after two periods and never looked back, cruising to a 52-21 victory over the Lady Mountaineers at home. Two hours later in Bernardsville, the Boys (4-20) got off to a slow start, but rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to cut Bernards’ lead to as little as five points late in the third quarter. But a 16-2 run by Bernards over the next five minutes put the game out of reach for the visitors halfway through the final period, ultimately leading to a 60-46 loss for the Boys and eliminating them from their 2020 SCIAA Tournament in the preliminary round.

For the girls, their defense came up big throughout the entire contest, as they held the Lady Mountaineers to one field goal in the entire first half. The Lady Panthers scored the game’s first six points on buckets from Jackie Salvatore, Madison Bray, and this start was capped off by a steal and a fastbreak layup by Emily Lehberger. With Bridgewater-Raritan leading 6-0 at this point with 3:57 left in the first quarter, Bernards finally got on the board a minute later on a pair of free throws by Sydney Incarnato, who led the Lady Mountaineers with 12 points on the evening.

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The lone first-half field goal by Bernards, who started three freshmen and two sophomores at Bridgewater-Raritan, followed quickly afterwards by Shannon Harzula to cut Bridgewater-Raritan’s lead to 6-4 with about two minutes left in the opening quarter. But another score by Bray and a bucket plus a pair of free throws by Lady Panthers guard Corinne Nickel extended the home team’s lead to 12-4 to close out the period. This began a burst of 19 unanswered points by Bridgewater-Raritan that extended halfway into the second quarter, when the Lady Panthers ultimately scored 24 points alone in the period.

Ten of those second-quarter points came from Lady Panthers forward Brianna Soto, who led Bridgewater-Raritan with 12 points and dominated the post with five field goals. The Lady Panthers emptied their bench for the first time just over halfway into the second quarter, and went into the locker room up 36-8 over Bernards.

The girls outscored Bernards 16-13 in the second half, but won by a final score of 52-21 and will travel to #7 Mount St. Mary Saturday in the next round of the 2020 SCIAA tournament.

About 40 minutes later and about 12 miles north in Bernardsville, it was the opposite start for the boys at Bernards in what ended up being a game of runs by both sides.

This time, it was the Mountaineers who opened up with a 6-0 lead on a bucket by Andrew Holmes and a pair of scores by Elliot Dietrich. But a three-pointer by Bridgewater-Raritan’s Joey Callari got the Panthers on the board with 5:30 left in the first quarter and cut Bernards’ lead in half. Bernards responded immediately, dominating on the glass with three offensive rebounds on their next possession and eventually getting a layup in traffic from Andrew Infusino to begin a burst of eight unanswered points by the Mountaineers. Baskets each by Mountaineers guard James Gurrero, Dietrich, and a coast-to-coast layup by Eddie Gambelli off of a Panthers turnover put all Bernards starters on the board and the home team up 14-3 with 2:29 left in the period.

Following a timeout by Bridgewater-Raritan, Alec Whelan got on the board shortly after on a split pair of free throws. A bucket and one by Alvin Cheng appeared to give the Panthers some momentum to close out the period, but four quick points by Gambelli, who led all scorers with 21 points, gave the Mountaineers an 18-7 lead after the first quarter in which the home team had a 8-2 advantage in made field goals.

All eight of the Mountaineers’ first-quarter field goals came from inside of the arc. While the Panthers improved the aforementioned field-goal margin to 5-3 in favor of Bernards in the second quarter, timely three-pointers by the home team were the difference in the period.

Gambelli opened the second-quarter scoring on an acrobatic layup off of another Mountaineers offensive rebound, and then connected from downtown quickly afterwards on Bernards’ next possession. Another triple by the Mountaineers with just over five minutes left in the second quarter capped off a 12-0 run by Bernards to put the home team up 26-7 at this point. Whelan then scored in the paint twice for Bridgewater-Raritan, and a long three-pointer by Callari seemed to give the Panthers some momentum heading into the locker room.

While they ultimately trailed 36-19 at the break, Bridgewater-Raritan seemed to settle in as they closed the half with a 12-10 advantage. But it became very clear quickly in the third quarter that the Panthers had all of the momentum.

A bucket by Whelan in the first minute of the third quarter got the Panthers going, and a pair of layups in the next minute by Cheng, who led the Panthers with 13 points, cut Bernards’ lead to 36-25 and began a 12-0 run by Bridgewater-Raritan. Following a timeout by the Mountaineers with 5:54 left in the third quarter, Whelan, who finished with nine points for the Panthers, scored on a wide-open attempt from under the rim before Callari split a pair of free throws.

With Bridgewater-Raritan scoring nine unanswered points out of the locker room, the Mountaineers were sent to the free throw line with 2:35 left in the period, but both free throw attempts were no good. Callari, who also finished with nine points for the Panthers, then scored in the paint before Rishi Mudduluru split a pair of free throws to cut Bernards’ lead all the way down to 36-31 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers had gone 8-for-17 (47%) at the free throw line up to this point and only attempted (and made) two late fourth-quarter shots from the charity stripe. A split pair of free throws by Dietrich, who had 13 points for the Mountaineers, finally got Bernards on the board in the second half with a minute left in the third quarter. One more bucket plus a foul by Dietrich extended the Mountaineers’ lead to 39-31 to close out the quarter for Bernards despite the ensuing missed free throw.

But with their backs against the wall, the Bernards responded thanks to the heroics of Gambelli and Gurrero.

Both starters combined for 17 of the Mountaineers’ 21 fourth-quarter points with a lot of opportunities coming off of untimely turnovers by the Panthers. A bucket and one by Gurrero, who scored eight of his 10 points in the final frame, closed out what ended up being a 16-2 burst by the Mountaineers going back to Dietrich’s three points in the final minute of the third quarter, and Bernards found themselves back up 52-33 with 4:12 to go in regulation.

While it was relatively even from there, that final scoring run by the Mountaineers ultimately ended up putting the game out of reach for Bridgewater-Raritan despite some late chances to close the gap. The Panthers ultimately fell by a final score of 60-46, and as a result, Bernards will travel to #5 Somerville Saturday in the next round of the 2020 SCIAA Boys Basketball Tournament.

Bernards went 12-for-19 (63%) at the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 20-for-34 (59%) overall at the charity stripe in the contest.

GIRLS SCORING:
Bernards 21, Bridgewater-Raritan 52
#15 Bernards: Q1- 4; Q2- 4; Q3- 5; Q4- 8; TOTAL- 21
#10 Bridgewater-Raritan: Q1- 12; Q2- 24; Q3- 5; Q4- 11; TOTAL- 52

BOYS SCORING:
Bridgewater-Raritan 46, Bernards 60
#13 Bridgewater-Raritan: Q1- 7; Q2- 12; Q3- 12; Q4- 15; TOTAL- 46
#12 Bernards: Q1- 18; Q2- 18; Q3- 3; Q4- 21; TOTAL- 60

UPCOMING BOYS/GIRLS HOOPS SCHEDULE:
The Lady Panthers (8-16) will continue their run in the 2020 Somerset County Tournament and will travel to #7 Mount St. Mary Feb. 22. Tip will be at 6 p.m. in Watchung. The upcoming schedule for the Lady Panthers, who are seeded #10 in the upcoming North 2 Group 4 playoffs, is as follows:

  • Feb. 20 - at Mount St. Mary (6 p.m., Somerset County Tournament)
  • Feb. 27 - vs Bound Brook (4:30 p.m.)
  • March 3 - at #7 Elizabeth (4:15 p.m., State Tournament Round 1)

The Boys (4-20) were eliminated from the 2020 Somerset County Tournament with their 60-46 loss at Bernards and did not qualify for the state tournament. Their 2019-20 season finale will be at Bound Brook Feb. 27 with a tip time of 6 p.m.

For detailed Bridgewater-Raritan Panthers Athletics schedules and game locations, please see https://bridgewaterraritanhighschool.bigteams.com/.

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