BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ- The Summit Hilltoppers girls varsity basketball team took to the court on the road against the Governor Livingston Highlanders, but were shorthanded, with several players not with the team on their bench.
“We were shorthanded,” Summit head coach Tom Kenny said. “We’re down three kids with the flu and one kid in the concussion protocol, so we’re extremely shorthanded today.”
Summit freshman Annabella Yorio hit the game-winning three-pointer with six seconds left, lifting the Hilltoppers to a 59-56 overtime win Saturday morning in Berkeley Heights, as they also held off a furious push from the Highlanders.
“We had to stay focused, play hard throughout the entire game and keep up the intensity,” Yorio said.
Yorio got the ball while the Highlanders applied pressure to other Hilltoppers players. She fired the ball towards the hoop for the three-pointer to help her team squeak out a wild victory.
“I didn’t think it was going to go in, to be honest,” Yorio said. “Once it went in, I was very happy. It was exciting.”
On the next subsequent possession, the Highlanders, after using their final timeout, couldn’t complete an inbound pass and were whistled for a five-second violation, giving the ball back to the Hilltoppers, who would sink a free throw and hold them off for the win.
Meanwhile, for the Highlanders, they found themselves trailing the Hilltoppers 40-32 with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter but would not go down without a fight. After holding Summit at times to no points, senior Michelle Coyle finished with a shot to cut the lead to 40-34. It would only be the start for the Highlanders.
Governor Livingston picked up their pressure on defense, forcing Summit to make extra passes and forcing eventual turnovers that would fuel the Highlanders’ drive near the end of the game.
After a Summit basket, junior Fiona Kerr got her team within 42-36 with 2:51 left. Sophomore Skylar Dowling cut the lead to 42-38 with two free throws and a major play would shift the momentum.
Kerr got a block and raced over to the basket and finished with points to edge closer to Summit's 42-40 lead with 1:50 to go.
Dowling cut the lead to 44-43 with a three-point basket with 1:18 left. Senior Allie McGlynn gave her team a 46-44 lead with 51 seconds left, seeming like a comeback victory was in the works for the Highlanders, while they had the Hilltoppers on their heels.
The Hilltoppers lost senior Catherine Maloney, who fouled out near the end of the fourth quarter.
“We played very poorly in the second half,” Kenny said. “There were a lot of times Governor Livingston was the better team in the second half.”
Kerr gave her team a 49-44 lead with a rush to the hoop and a shot that went in, but Summit wouldn’t go away quietly. Senior Christina Richson drained a three-point shot to cut the Highlanders lead down to 49-47. The Hilltoppers found a chance and connected again to avert disaster.
With Governor Livingston inbounding, Summit stole the inbound pass and freshman Sarah Maldanado finished with the game-tying layup with five seconds left and the game went to overtime, tied at 49-49.
Kerr opened up overtime with a basket and was fouled, giving her team a 52-49 lead. After Summit tied the game 52-52 with 1:22 left, Dowling put her team ahead 55-52 just 20 seconds later, with a three-pointer, but Summit answered right back.
Senior Grace Keegan scored and was fouled. She tied the game at 55-55 with 0:48 left. Keegan finished with 11 points for her team.
“We really had to be aware they have some players who can really shoot and we really had to help on that and play good defense,” Keegan said of the overtime period.
Summit lost Maldanado, who fouled out after picking up her fifth with 42 seconds left.
It was after Governor Livingston led 56-55, that Summit drew up the play that led to the game-winning three-pointer.
“We had to make a play,” Kenny said of the timeout prior to Yorio’s game-winner. “We needed the ball and we had to put it in our best player’s hands, Christina [Richson], but we had options for open shooters. Annabella was open and GL did a great job on Christina.”
“Our freshmen are starting to not play like freshmen anymore,” Kenny added.
For Summit, Richson led her team with 20 points, who discussed the factors towards the game.
“We knew we shouldn’t lose to this team,” Richson said. “We knew that if we played our 55, which is our run-and-jump like we’re supposed to and learned how to do it, we could get steals and get back in the game.”
“We knew we had to lock down on [Skylar Dowling] because she is definitely their best player,” Richson added. “We just did those two things to keep our confidence up and get the win.”
Despite the loss, the Highlanders were pleased with their fight in the fourth quarter.
“We definitely picked up the intensity and the adrenaline just got to us,” Kerr said. “It’s kind of hard to see [Annabella Yorio] make the three-pointer, but I think we played our hearts out and it was overall a good game.”
Kerr led her team with 18 points in the loss, while Dowling finished with 13 points.
“They hit some big shots and it’s exciting to see that now that we’re starting to make that next step of playing through four quarters,” Governor Livingston head coach Chris Eckert said. “It was a full team effort. They embraced the competition.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way we brought it together,” Eckert added. “They battled defensively and didn’t back down.”
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (9-12) play their next regular season game at crosstown rival New Providence HS Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., a part of the "Spread the Word to End the Word" doubleheader.
The Summit Hilltoppers (12-8) will return home and play Roselle Catholic HS Monday night at 7 p.m.