BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston girls basketball team (1-1,0-0) opened the first week of the season by splitting a pair of road games. After an impressive 53-28 win over Johnson in their season opener, the Lady Highlanders then let an early season signature win slip away when they fell to Warren Hills 57-47.

Senior Skylar Dowling has gotten off to a hot start scoring 23 points in the Johnson win, followed by a 27 point effort against Warren Hills. Gov. Livingston will now make the short  trip to neighboring Chatham to play in the three game round- robin Cougar Classic. The Holiday Tournament competition will be challenging as the Lady Highlanders will first tangle with the  host team Lady Cougars on Friday (12/27, 6 p.m.), followed by matchups with Watchung Hills (12/28, 4 p.m.) and Oak Knoll (12/30, 4 p.m.).

Gov. Livingston 53 Johnson 28

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Gov. Livingston broke open a close game by outscoring Johnson 17-0 in the third quarter to take a commanding 37-17 lead. Skylar Dowling scored 23 points and Paige Phillips connected on 4 three-pointers for 12 points to pace the Lady Highlanders. Gianna Ciccimarra led a solid defensive effort accounting for nearly half of the teams whopping 21 steals for the game.

After Shannon Polimeni (6 pts)  scored the season's first points off a steal, the two teams traded hoops the rest of the first quarter which ended with Gov. Livingston holding a 10-7 lead. Despite having to sit two senior starters due to foul trouble, Johnson managed to take a 15-14 point lead four minutes into the quarter. Dowling put Gov. Livingston back in front 16-15 and for good when she picked off a pass at midcourt and drove to the hoop for two. Dowling's 12 and Polimeni's six first half points sent the Lady Highlanders into the locker room at the half with a 20-17 lead.

The Lady Highlanders used a stifling defense and the three ball to build a 20 point lead over the game's next 8 minutes. With Paige Phillips (12 pts.) burying four three pointers and sophomore Julia Byrne (8 pts.) working nifty pick and rolls with Dowling, the lead ballooned to 25 as the Lady Highlanders cruised to their first win of the season. Ciccimarra’s name didn’t show up in the scoring column but her quick hands led to numerous run outs for easy baskets. Dowling finished with 23 points (5 FG, 1 3PT, 10 FT). Sophomore Dani Kang chipped in four points in her first varsity start. 

Warren Hills 57  Gov. Livingston 47

This season Gov. Livingston coach Chris Eckert beefed up his squad's out of conference schedule in order to better prepare for the stronger competition the Lady Highlanders would face in the Central Jersey, Group II state playoffs. Warren Hills (0-1,0-0), last year's Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Champions and finalist in the North,Section II Group 3 state playoffs, fit the type of challenge Eckert was looking for. On Monday afternoon, the Lady Highlanders took the floor against the home team Blue Streaks who had dropped their opener to Somerville 42-38.

Gov. Livingston started a small lineup of five guards looking to employ an aggressive pressure defense with hopes of producing some easy run outs and an early lead. Just as she did in the season opener, Skylar Dowling  (27 pts) was finding success attacking the basket and the defensive pressure was immediately paying dividends as Gov. Livingston jumped out to a 16-11 first quarter lead.

Unfortunately Gov. Livingston's aggressive defensive pressure and some tight officiating led to early foul trouble for both Gianna Ciccimarra and Shannon Polimeni.  Warren Hills took advantage of their opponents now tentative play to draw within a point at 20-19.  A Gov. Livingston time out with 4:06 left in the quarter failed to halt the Warren Hills momentum as the home team surged to a 31-26 lead at the half. 

Dowling and Paige Phillips (10 pts 3. 3pt.) shooting kept the Lady Highlanders in the game deep into the second half ,but persistent foul trouble still saddled the Lady Highlanders. Trailing 48-44, Gov. Livingston just could not get that final push as the Lady Blue Streaks made their foul shots down the stretch to seal the victory.

Dowling produced a game high 27 points, which included 3 three’s and 10 free throws. Phillips hit 3 three’s in the game and finished with 10. Dani Kang (4) Polimeni (3), Julia Byrne (2), and Ciccimarra (1) rounded out the scoring.

Cougar Classic: Gov. Livingston's Schedule ,Opponents, and Tournament Team Previews

Chatham's  annual Cougar Classic will keep four local teams busy on the hardwood this upcoming holiday weekend. Chatham, Gov. Livingston, Watchung Hills, and Oak Knoll will play a round-robin with each team playing three games in four days. 

Gov. Livingston will take center stage on Friday night when they face tournament host Chatham (3-0,0-0) at 6 p.m.  The Lady Cougars, last year's North Section II Group 3 champions, return a solid team led by Maddie Hartnett. Chatham plays defense with a hard in your face intensity which is the team's trademark under coach Joe Gaba.  Hartnett, who will be playing at the Univ. of Scranton next year, is off to a great start this season averaging 17 ppg. Hartnett has a strong supporting cast with Shannon Donohoe and Tess Ford as Chatham will be a top contender for another Morris County Championship and state sectional title. Chatham is off to a 3-0 start defeating Morristown, Old Tappan, and Hunterdon Central.

Saturday afternoon (4 p.m.) Gov. Lvingston will play a veteran Watchung Hills (1-0,1-0) team that has 8 senior returnees. Mahogany Jenkins (10 ppg) is a double-double machine who is quick off her feet especially on the offensive end. Jenkins an exceptional athlete, will be a scholarship track & field athlete at University of Indiana next year. Scoring punch comes from Jayden Baltuch (9.8 ppg) , Lex Santo (12 ppg) and Scarlet Glasser-Nehls(7.6 ppg), who all will be playing at the collegiate level next year. Battle tested in the Somerset County’s  brutal Skyland -Delaware division this Group 4 school will be a contender for both the Somerset County and Sectional championships.

Familiar Union County foe , Oak Knoll (1-1,0-0) will be Monday afternoon's (4 p.m.) competition. Princeton commit 6' 1' Paige Morton has scored 50 points in the Royals' first two games. Greta Criqui (16.2 ppg) joins Morton as a key contributor ,working the perimeter as a perfect compliment to Morton who controls the post. Oak Knoll is a Union County top tier team and should go deep in the North,Non- Public A playoff bracket. The Royals crushed Dayton to open the season but then fell 61-49 to a very good Ridge team.

As the 2019 portion of this seasons schedule comes to a close Monday night, Coach Eckert should have clear understanding of his teams strengths and weaknesses. Win or lose in tournament play this weekend, the tough competition will give the young Lady Highlanders (7 sophomores) valuable insight in how to navigate the challenges of varsity play. As for Gov. Livingston senior veterans  Dowling, Polimeni and Phillips it will give them one last shot at going up against local talented players they have been competing against since grade school.

Gov. Livingston's first home game will be January 4th when they take on New Providence in a Super Saturday matchup at 1:30 p.m. in the main gym.