METUCHEN, NJ - It may only be mid-season, but it seems safe to say the South Plainfield High School girls basketball team has been having a pleasantly surprising year so far. The young Tigers (8-4) have been overcoming their inexperience and racking up wins, and today, they got a chance to keep their streak going in an away game against GMC rival Metuchen.
A 40-minute delayed start and some early foul trouble made things a bit uncomfortable for South Plainfield at the start, but the Tigers were able to get their game going, and fend off a late comeback effort by the Bulldogs (6-7), to take home a hard-fought 45-41 win, their sixth in a row.
“It’s really amazing the things we can accomplish,” senior guard Caity Hughes said after the game. “We were down, and we got back up. We’ve done that multiple times this year and I’m really proud of them, and we all worked really hard for the win.”
There were a few strong individual efforts in today’s game, for both teams. While it didn’t get the win, Metuchen’s Brynn Farrell truly put on a noteworthy performance.
The freshman standout entered the game averaging 26 points on the season. After putting up 18 points in the first half, Farrell finished with a career high 35 points, while grabbing 20 rebounds.
The Tigers weren’t able shut Farrell down, but their defense did more than enough to keep the rest of the Bulldogs quiet. Despite some early mishaps, South Plainfield lead by by 25-21 at halftime. Of the the 21 points Metuchen scored in the second half, just one basket was put in by a players besides Farrell.
The Tigers on the other hand had a more complete team effort. Freshman forward Mackenzie O’Brien was a force throughout the game, picking up 15 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists. Kayla Greenleaf dominated the paint in the third quarter, converting multiple and-one’s while recording seven points and four rebounds in an eight minute span, before finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Hughes came up huge in the game’s closing minutes. After a 3-pointer and two free throws by Farrell cut the Tigers lead to one with just over a minute left, Hughes got sent to the foul line twice and buried three out of four shots to clinch the win.
Tigers coach Kevin Hughes said his team’s ability to have different players step up at different times was what earned them the hard-fought win.
“Obviously, Caity’s free throws late were huge,” coach Hughes said after the game.
“When Caity and (senior guard) Grace Ochoa were out, Greenleaf had a few reallybig baskets. So at different segments of the game, I thought there were individuals that really helped us. Mackenzie was probably the most consistent throughout, but definitely Kayla in the middle of the game, and then Caity in the end, was what sent us over the top.”
“Once we had the lead we just did enough to keep it,” the coach added.
Besides keeping their win-streak going, today’s victory also gave South Plainfield the first half season record they needed to clinch a spot in the state tournament. Considering the low expectations most had for the team in pre-season, and the fact that they missed the playoffs last year, it’s hard not to be impressed by the what the Tigers have been able to do so far. Their coach certainly seems to be.
“I’m very happy,” coach Hughes said. “We have a very difficult stretch coming up, so to be 8-4 going into it is just phenomenal. I’m really proud of them.”
The Tigers will have a few days off before they go on the road against Bishop Ahr next Tuesday.