WARREN, NJ - Momentum can be a fickle agent in a win-or-go-home game, and once the Bridgewater-Raritan boys basketball team ceded that force to Watchung Hills late in the first half, the Panthers were never able to seize it back.
Steven Bressler led all scorers with 21 points and hit five 3-pointers to lead Watchung Hills over Bridgewater-Raritan in the quarterfinal round of the Somerset County Tournament on Tuesday, 61-51.
Fourth-seeded Watchung Hills scored 11 straight points bridging the second and third quarters to take control of the game and avenged a 59-55 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan on opening night.
“This team deserves all the credit beating a great team in Bridgewater,” said WHRHS head coach Justin Salton. “You can see how far we have come from opening night to where we are now. To make the semifinals is special, and we will give it all we have against the No. 3 powerhouse in the state, Gill St. Bernard's. Just a special group, special season. "Find your tribe...Love them hard" pretty much sums up my feelings.”
The closest thing that Bridgewater-Raritan had to a sustained run was the seven points in a row the Panthers scored midway through the first quarter. They held a 23-19 lead midway through the second quarter after Alvin Cheng's pull-up jumper, but Watchung Hills (18-6) scored the last eight points of the half to take a 27-23 lead, then opened the third quarter with one of Steven Bressler's five 3-point baskets to open a 30-23 advantage.
“Congratulations to our boys basketball team on advancing to the final four in the Somerset County tournament,” said WHRHS Director of Athletics Chris Van Vliet. “We are very proud of coach Salton, his staff, and our boys basketball Warriors. Best of luck in the semi finals.”
Dan Pilsbury had 13 points and added six assists, Mike Hopwood chipped in with 11 points, and Gavin DeFuria added eight points. Chad Martini scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Warriors.
Sterling White and Aaron Gao each finished with 18 points for Bridgewater-Raritan (14-10). Gao also came down with eight rebounds and handed out four assists.
Once the Warriors had the seven-point lead, Bridgewater spent too much of the second half trading baskets with its opponent, unable to string together a series of defensive stops necessary to make a comeback. The Panthers closed to within five, 39-34, at the end of the third quarter when White sank one of two free throws and then scored off a nice backdoor feed from Dan Banz.
And while BRHS did a creditable job holding Watchung Hills' all-time boys high scorer, Dan Pilsbury, in check with 13 points--with Gao frequently guarding the Warriors' swingman--Pilsbury still did plenty of damage with six assists. He frequently found teammates outside the arc, and Watchung Hills buried seven 3-point baskets on the night. A 16-6 Watchung Hills run gave the home team its biggest lead of the game, 61-46, before BRHS scored the final five points.
Watchung Hills will move on to play top-seeded Gill-St. Bernard's in the semifinal round Thursday night. Bridgewater-Raritan will prepare for its first-round Section 2, Group 4 state tournament game at Piscataway next Tuesday.