LIVINGSTON, NJ- The Livingston Lancers girls’ basketball team improved to 7-7 on Saturday afternoon after defeating the Belleville Buccaneers, 31-20, in the first round of the Essex County Tournament.

The Lancers controlled the game from start to finish, never once relinquishing its lead. Led by a ferocious defensive front, Livingston held the Buccaneers, a team that averaged 37 points on the season, to only 20 points, its lowest scoring margin of the year.

The impressive defensive output was in response to the strategic game plan of Lancer Head Coach Patty Kaes.

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Kaes had her team open the game with a full-court press in an attempt to cause poor Buccaneers’ ball movement and force the confused Belleville players to turn the ball over.

The Lancers’ defense, led by forward Sam Rothenberger, did just that, recording multiple steals, and forcing several travel violations in the opening quarter.

Rothenbeger, who had five takeaways and one block in the first eight minutes of play, helped lead the Lancers early on to hold Belleville to only four points in the first half of play. 

“We knew we had to come out strong and steal the ball.” Rothenberger said. “It was just a whole team effort.”

The Lancers remained in sync on the offensive side of the ball as well.  Point guard Katie Horiuchi and center Cathernie Callaghan led the team with six points each.

After extending their lead to 25-8 following the third quarter, Kaes decided to rest her starters and allow for her rotational players to see extended minutes. Senior captain Alayna Liska made the most of the opportunity scoring her first points of the season on a layup, sending her supportive teammates into a frenzy.

Liska described the moment as “thrilling.”

What wasn’t thrilling for Lancer fans, however, was watching Belleville stage one last comeback attempt.   The Bucaneers, led by Allisson Samengo who finished with 10 points in the game, pulled within nine points with just over a minute left.

During a late Livingston timeout, Kaes had the option to send in her starters to close out the game but decided to leave her backups in to finish the job. Liska and her teammates did just that forcing two missed shots and holding on for the victory.

Following the game Kaes stated the thought of bringing in her starting lineup never crossed her mind.

“I knew the kids could finish the game strong, and they did.” Kaes said.

Livingston will now face off against a tough Caldwell team (8-5) in the second round of the Essex County Tournament.