CLARK, NJ- South Plainfield High School freshman Tori Euston made two free throws with seven seconds left as the Tigers held off the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders by a final score of 32-30 in the first round of the Crusader Classic Christmas Tournament Wednesday afternoon in Clark.
Following control of ball possession, Euston saw a chance at a potential layup and went for it until she drew a foul that set up the chance to give her team the lead.
“When I drove into the paint, it was open and so, I kind of went for [a potential game-winning shot],” Euston said. “When I was taking my shots [at the free throw line], I took my time and I followed through on my shots and they went in.”
The Crusaders couldn’t get a potential shot off in the final seconds as the clock ran out and the game ended.
Huston finished the afternoon with eight points, including four free throws, with two of them in the final seconds.
The teams played closely through the first half, with Johnson running out to a 6-0 lead before South Plainfield put up ten straight points, pacing the Tigers to a 12-8 lead after the first quarter.
The Crusaders stalled and drained four minutes from the game clock in the second quarter and continued to remain close to the Tigers.
“I told the girls [Johnson] dropped into a stall offense pretty early on and it was limiting the amount of chances,” South Plainfield first-year head coach Geoff Corisdeo said. “So, we told the girls to be patient and be smart, continue to hold the ball, play our basketball and get out the shots that we want.”
Senior Amy Wysocki and junior Bailey Rosenmeier made a shot each to open the second quarter to tie the score at 12-12 a little more than a minute into the second quarter. Johnson held a 14-12 lead with 4:42 left in the second quarter and for most of those final four minutes, there were no shots scored from either team.
“We played toe-to-toe with them,” Johnson head coach Joe Marino said. “We’re trying to spread out them out because they have some size and we’re trying to get some mismatches, which we were successful with at times.”
For Johnson, senior Danielle Hartzler put her team ahead 14-12, before South Plainfield senior Mackenzie O’Brien paced her team on offense. She tied the game at 14-14 with 48 seconds left.
The back-and-forth sequence also featured Rosenmeier putting Johnson ahead 16-14 with 16 seconds left, before O’Brien beat the buzzer to send the game into halftime tied at 16-16.
“We’re young, but we have a good mix,” Corisdeo said of his team. “We have three seniors that are leading a bunch of sophomores and freshmen. They work really hard at practice.”
“You never know how they’re going to respond, but you see at practice,” he added. “We’re confident during a game, they’re going to make the right decision and come through for the team.”
As the third quarter began, the Crusaders found a small spark on offense, with freshman Chelsea Kessock connecting on two straight shots and Rosenmeier made it 22-16 Johnson with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
The game continued to be close as the second half went about.
South Plainfield sophomore Alexis Robinson brought her team closer with a three-point shot, cutting the lead down to 22-19. Johnson responded with a shot from Hartzler to lead 24-19, before two straight Tigers shots cut the lead back to 24-23 with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
“Other teams underestimate us and I think we’re just as good as everybody else,” Euston said. “[With] our potential as a team, I think we can beat any other team because we’re equal to [the other team] and even better.”
Despite another shot from Wysocki, South Plainfield freshman Deleaney Born buried a three-point shot with six seconds left, making it a 26-26 game as the teams went to the fourth quarter. The teams went back-and-forth before getting the free throws from Euston for the win.
“It came down to who made the shots in the end,” Marino said. “They managed to get the ball, kill the clock and they got the last shot off and went to the foul line and made their shots. That’s what beat us.”
For South Plainfield, O’Brien finished with 14 points, while Deleaney Born finished with five points.
In total, the Tigers recorded two huge three-point baskets from underclassman players and went 4-for-7 from the free throw line, with all the successful foul shots coming in the final quarter from Euston.
For Johnson, Wysocki finished with 14 points in the loss, while Kessock and Rosenmeier scored six points apiece.
“As a team, we really hustled throughout the entire game,” Wysocki said. “We made our shots where we needed to and I think we did the best we could.”
The Johnson Crusaders (1-3) play tomorrow against Dickinson HS (Jersey City) at 1:00 p.m. in the consolation match of the Christmas Tournament.
“There are obviously some things we can work on, with controlling the ball better and keeping our head up,” Wysocki added, while looking ahead to the rest of the season.
The South Plainfield Tigers (3-1) face off against North Hunterdon HS (Annandale) at 3:00 p.m. in the championship game.