FLEMINGTON, NJ - Friday night wasn’t the right time to revel in just how improbable a run Hunterdon Central High’s girls basketball team had in making the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament final. The Red Devils had every intention of capturing a surprise title.
Central was 10th seeded and advanced to the final with wins over No. 7 North Hunterdon, No. 2 Pope John and No. 3 North Warren.
But beating top seed Sparta was just beyond the Red Devils’ reach.
Sparta won its first HWS title Friday in the 11th year of the event with a 58-44 win at Centenary University in Hackettstown.
“We all believed in ourselves and the coaches believed in us, but I think we shocked everyone else (getting to the final),” said Central sophomore Jessica Mastriano.
“I think we’re all proud of how this tournament turned out and making this run,” said Mastriano. “Obviously it would have been nice to win, but our confidence and our playing as a team definitely grew during this tournament and it will help us for next year.”
Mastriano led Central with 17 points, and junior Lily Testa had 13 points and five rebounds. Mastriano and junior Mackenzie Lalor were named to the all-tournament team.
“I definitely give our girls a lot credit," said Central coach Jamee Bush "I think we kept fighting each and every play, and for the whole season we have been fighting every single night and I think they deserved the rite to be here. They played hard tonight, but unfortunately it didn’t come out our way.”
Central was fifth seeded last year when it lost to second-seed Warren Hills in the final, but this year’s final berth was certainly not expected. The Red Devils didn’t have a single senior.
“We had a whole new team this year with no seniors," Bush said. "It takes time to develop, to develop chemistry. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not always at a snap of the fingers.”
Central was 4-13 on Jan. 30, but entered Friday night’s game having won nine of its last 10 games and having a 13-14 record.
The Red Devils have at least one more game, the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group IV playoff game Tuesday at Piscataway.