RAHWAY, NJ - The reasons to think the Union Catholic High School girls were secure in Tuesday night’s Union County Tournament semifinal against Governor Livingston were many.
Governor Livingston missed the last 10 shots it took in the first quarter and first 10 of the second. The Highlanders made only three of 23 shots taken in the entire first half.
The third-seeded Vikings, who beat GL 47-22 back on January 25, led 14-6 at halftime in the rematch. About halfway through the fourth quarter the lead was the same.
It wasn’t enough.
The seventh-seeded Highlanders (17-9) made the very most of the final minutes – and rallied for a memorable 36-31 victory. The Highlanders outscored Union Catholic 17-4 in the fourth quarter. Governor Livingston thus earned its first Union County Tournament final berth since 2013 when it completed back-to-back championships.
Governor Livingston will play No. 1 Westfield Saturday afternoon at Kean University for the county crown.
GL coach Chris Eckert said that despite such a poor first half the team drew strength from knowing they trailed at halftime by just eight points.
“Our team wanted it so bad, coming out the seventh seed. We wanted to show everyone that we didn’t deserve that seventh seed, that we deserved to be at the top of the county,” said senior guard Skylar Dowling.
Dowling said after the game that her hands were still trembling from all the excitement. Her ability to make free throws – she made 12 of 13 – was so huge in crunch time.
“You just take a deep breath, close your eyes and make believe there’s nobody in the gym,” said Dowling.
She finished with 26 points, four rebounds, two assists, five steals and two blocks.
She hit a 3-point shot to give GL a 30-29 lead with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter. Union Catholic (18-5) took a 31-30 lead with 1:19 left. But Dowling was fouled once more and hit two free throws to restore the Highlanders' lead at 32-31 with 42 seconds left. She hit four more to make it 36-31.
“Our team kept fighting throughout the whole game,” said Dowling.
As Eckert walked through the handshake line after the game he looked up at the ceiling at Rahway High School and simply said "wow.” Wow indeed.
“I’m just so happy for them,” said Eckert.