BRIDGEWATER, NJ - On the first of March, the Millburn girls basketball team embraced the madness of the month by pulling off the win of the year. In the semifinals of the North 2, Group 4 State Tournament, the Lady Millers triumphed over the goliath top seed, Bayonne. Millburn, who, in the last ten years had not seen the light past the preliminary rounds of the state tournament, had an opportunity to make their mark in the record book as one of, if not the best in program history.
Friday afternoon the Lady Millers laced up against the Bridgewater-Raritan Lady Panthers (5) in a win or go home game. The Lady Millers came out of the gate running alongside Bridgewater-Raritan. Down by a two-possession margin at the end of the first quarter, it seemed as if Coach Dave Drechsel had devised a strategy to beat the oppressive full court press which carried the Lady Panthers deep into the tournament.
The press was deceiving as Bridgewater-Raritan appeared to be applying light pressure in the backcourt, but were able to pounce the passing lanes channeling their namesake Panther. Millburn simply did not have the personnel to beat the press. The Lady Millers failed to escape the backcourt as Leila Dean Stansberry, Kayla Wolf, Liz Twombly, and the rest of the Lady Millers struggled to keep possession. Stifling themselves with turnovers, Millburn failed to line up many shots.
Millburn's struggles came to light in the second quarter. Unable to play within their natural habitat, the halfcourt setting, the Lady Millers scraped together a mear six points in the second quarter. Leading scorer Rachel Hubertus (10.8) was constantly in and out as Drechsel did what he could to keep her out of foul trouble after picking up two fouls early.
Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers never took their foot off the gas. Matching their first quarter score, the home team's 16 dwarfed Millburn's six. Meghan Ball was a force to be reckoned with in the first half, totaling 15 in the first two-quarters alone.
Down 32-15 at halftime, with what appeared to be no prospects to beat the pressure, Millburn trudged into the locker room with their heads hung low, and their body language translated into the second half. The third quarter, Millburn's last chance to make a dent in the deficit, only padded the lead for the Lady Panthers.
In the end, Bridgewater-Raritan trounced the hobbling visitors 47-26. Ball led the way with 19 points, ahead of a balanced scoring attack for the Lady Panthers. Millburn was less fortunate. Kayla Wolf turned in a 14 point performance while Hubertus, Langendorf, and Stansberry combined for only four points.
This tough loss brings an end to the Lady Millers' accomplished 2016-2017 campaign. Although they were not the last team standing, the #8 seeded Lady Millers surged to a 19-7 mark.
Graduating senior Wolf (540 career points) played her last game on the hardwood for the Lady Millers. The same goes for Hubertus who piled up 775 points in her MHS career. The two will join forces once again on the softball field when the groundhog no longer sees his shadow, and the spring season arrives.
"They have turned this program around," Drechsel said. "Two years ago it was kind of in shambles. This year and last year's group did a good job of turning the program around, and they have left this program in good hands. Now we can take off from here."
2017-2018 is sure to feature Leila Dean Stansberry as the primary player. With her, Gina Saggio, Peri Lamkin, Niamh Freeman, Bianca Mariano, Kate Madrawski, among others will get more playing time.