SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- There remain many lofty goals that are well within reach of the New Providence girls basketball team this winter.
But an undefeated season is no longer one of them.
Union Catholic warded off a valiant New Providence rally in the fourth quarter to hand the Pioneers their first loss of the season, 40-36, Tuesday afternoon.
New Providence had opened its season with 18 consecutive victories, including a 51-47 victory over Union Catholic on Jan. 14. In that game, Union Catholic staged the valiant fourth-quarter charge to come close. On Tuesday, the Pioneers (18-1) trailed by nine points early in the final quarter, but closed to within three points in the final two minutes before falling short.
Union Catholic is now 13-3, meaning that the likelihood of these two teams meeting in a late round of the upcoming Union County Tournament is quite strong.
Freshman Meghan Lamanna scored 11 points, Linday Kinum had 10 points and Kaitlyn Cumiskey totaled nine points for New Providence. Kinum scored nine of her points in the second half, including seven in the fourth quarter, when her ability to drive and find spaces in UC's often confounding 2-1-2 zone were integral in the Pioneer comeback effort.
Although she did not score in the fourth quarter, Cumiskey's fingerprints were all over the rally, as well, with her ability to disrupt Union Catholic's attempts to advance the ball against the Pioneers' full-court pressure.
But, while New Providence may have the best pressure defense in the county, a team's ability to make shots is essential to setting up its press. And, for three quarters, New Providence just had too many empty trips against UC's smothering halfcourt defense, which forced the Pioneers to work the ball around the perimeter and limited their open shots from outside.
New Providence, trailing, 30-21, in the fourth quarter, closed to within three, 36-33, after Kinum posted up on the right side for a layup. But two Union Catholic layups extended the Lady Vikings' lead back to seven.
With 20.6 seconds left, Julianna DeGeorge sank a 3-pointer to bring New Providence back to within four, 40-36. Union Catholic then missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Pioneers narrowly missed a chance to cut it to one when Amy Maurer's 3-point attempt from the left side of the arc was in the cylinder, but rimmed out.
The seeding meeting for the Union County Tournament is next week. Either of these teams could lay claim to the top seed now, as could Westfield. The defending champion, The Patrick School, no longer has a girls team.