MONTVILLE, NJ - The eighth-seeded Montville girls basketball team's impressive state tournament run came to an end on Saturday afternoon, as it saw a six-point halftime lead evaporate into a 50-37 loss to fourth-seeded Northern Highlands in the NJSIAA North 1, Group 3 semifinals at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale.
Montville, which reached the sectional semifinals for the second year in a row after a stunning 48-43 win over top-seeded Old Tappan in the quarterfinals, had gone into Saturday's contest having won 12 of its last 13 games after a 6-8 start to the season. It finished the year with an 18-10 record.
The Mustangs did not get out to a great start in the game, as Northern Highlands held an eight-point lead early in the second quarter. The Highlanders' proficiency from the perimeter gave Montville's defense trouble, as it hit several three-pointers early on.
But Montville had an impressive response, as it closed out the second quarter on a 14-0 run- capped by Emma Wax's buzzer-beating bank shot- which gave the Mustangs a 25-19 lead going into the half.
However, that momentum did not carry over into the second half, as Northern Highlands retook control of the game by outscoring Montville 15-4 in the third, before closing the game out with a 16-8 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Northern Highlands' Anna Sciuto finished with 16 points- including four on 3-pointers. Morgan Micallef added 13 points, while Breanne Davis had 11. In total, the Highlanders hit nine 3-pointers and scored 15 points on free throws, which helped put the game away.
Montville, on the other hand, just could not get into a rhythm offensively in the second half. Bella Vito finished with 12 points and Dani Vito added 11 points. Senior Dani Campbell, in her final high school game, had eight points including two 3-pointers. Emma Wax finished with six points in the loss.
“We knew they could shoot the three-ball very well," Montville coach Derek Lynn said. "The first quarter especially, we gave up a lot of open threes. We kind of referred back to the scouting report and what we needed to do on defense. We did a better job in the second quarter, but then in the second half we weren’t hitting shots at all, and they were hitting a few. They’re a really good free throw shooting team and we knew that, and they just hit all of their free throws in the fourth quarter. That makes it very tough to come back.”
While there is much to be celebrated for the Mustangs' season, as a relatively young lineup rebounded from a difficult start to the year to reach this point, it does not erase the disappointment of Saturday's semifinal loss.
“It’s bittersweet, because we did get to this point," Lynn said. "Looking at the team we played tonight and other teams, we knew that we were just as good or better on paper than these teams. We’re not your typical eight seed in this state tournament. We played really great ball late in the year.
"Truthfully- I even said this to my assistant coach today- this was not us tonight. We play differently normally, and for whatever reason, we were a little flat. We just couldn’t get that push in the second half that we needed.”
The team's progress throughout the season is certainly something that the team can build on as it heads into the 2019-20 campaign. While the team will say goodbye to seniors Dani Campbell, Gabby Frieder, Raquel Migliorino, and Anna George, the team will return four of its five regular starters. The squad's top scorer in Emma Wax is currently a junior, while sisters Bella and Dani Vito put together productive seasons this year as sophomores. Juniors Livia Shine and Reese Henderson also played key minutes for this team, so next year's squad will be much more seasoned.
“We’re going to set goals like we always do," Lynn said. "I think we can all agree, the team and myself, that the goal is going to be to win the county and the state sectional, and the conference (next year). We want to try to win the trifecta, we were close this year. I think we all agree that we’ll be ready to play next year and we’ll be ready to give it our best shot.”
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