WHIPPANY, NJ – The New Providence Lady Pioneers had as much as a four point lead on two separate occasions in the second quarter in a tightly played first half, but could only muster five points in the third and trailed for most of the second half en route to a 49-44 defeat at the hands of Whippany Park High School in the North 2, Group 1 sectional finals on Tuesday afternoon in Whippany.
Things looked promising for New Providence when they came out of the halftime gate up by two and senior Emma Culleton, who finished with eight points, hit two free throws to stretch the lead to four at 26-22 1:12 into the third quarter.
However, after that, Whippany Park would go on a 7-0 to regain the lead and would never look back. Olivia Dudley put back an offensive rebound and a layup and her sister Alana hit a three pointer during that stretch. The tandem combined for 35 of their team’s points with Olivia netting 20 and Alana hitting for 15.
“My hat’s off to Whippany Park. They played a tremendous game,” New Providence Head Coach Cap Pazdera said. “The Dudley sisters just hit the big shots when they needed to hit them and they did a great job of attacking the basket,” he added.
Jill Balog would hit a jumper in the lane to pull New Providence to within one with just over two minutes left in the third, but then the Olivia and Alana scored the last four points of the frame as New Providence trailed 34-29 heading into the final quarter of play.
Perhaps the most telling reason for the New Providence loss was their absence of an inside game in the second half. Culleton, center Kacie de Voogd and guard Cassandra Squeri, who led her team with 19, combined for 20 points in the first half; many of them on looks underneath, but the trio only had 14 in the second half with the game on the line.
“Offensively we were getting the ball inside and doing the things that we needed to do, but that changed in the second half. We just didn’t seem to flow as much in the second half offensively,” Pazdera commented. “We were trying. I think they just stepped up their defense where they needed it. They played incredible defense on our post players and denied them the ball. It was tough. We made some key turnovers at key times. Once they got a two or three possession lead, it was tough to climb out."
New Providence was trailing by as much as 12 in the fourth, but continued to fight hard in the waning minutes of their season.
Squeri hit a three pointer from the left corner to make the score 46-38 with 2:27 left in the game. A Whippany Park misfire at the other end gave them a chance to cut further into the home team’s lead, but senior guard Sarah Lowenstein’s three ball just missed it mark.
After a Whippany Park free throw, Lowenstein would redeem herself when she hit a shot from long range to draw her squad within five when the score was 46-41 with just one a minute remaining.
They fouled Whippany Park players on their next few possession in hopes of some missed free throws so they could maximize their chances with the ball down the stretch, but a couple of missed three balls from Squeri and Lowenstein near the end ultimately put an end to their season.
“I’m just disappointed for them. I wanted this for them more than anything,” Pazdera said. “We proved to everyone that we can compete, it just didn’t go our way today. I give all the credit in the world to the girls. They fought to the last second. They never gave up.”
While the loss certainly stings right now, New Providence has all the reason in the world to be happy with their accomplishments in sectional play this season. The 16-11 Union County team had to beat three tough teams on the road in Belvidere, Secaucus and Arts to make it do the sectional final dance.
“I can’t put it in words how proud I am for them,” Pazdera said. “We showed what we’re really about. I think toward the end we went on the road in all our state games and proved to everybody that we can compete. I can’t say enough good things about them,” he continued.
Squeri led the way for New Providence in the first quarter with five points. They came back from an early 7-2 deficit to take a one point lead when she hit a three ball with less than three minutes to go in the opening quarter.
After a jump ball possession early in the second, Squeri hit another three to give her team their second lead of the game at 15-14 with about 6:50 left until halftime.
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