SUMMIT, NJ - It is Midterm week, class is in session, and it's exam time.
Merriam-Webster defines explosion as:
The sudden, loud, and violent release of energy that happens when something breaks apart in a way that sends parts flying outward; a sudden and very fast increase: a sudden expression of some strong emotion.
If one asks which of those definitions applied to the Summit High School Girls Varsity Basketball Team's game -- specifically the second half -- against Scotch Plains-Fanwood (SP-F) at the Main Gym, the answer is quite simple:
All of the Above.
Demonstrating intensity, toughness and resilience in spades over the final 12 minutes of the contest, the Hilltoppers erased a nine-point deficit, fighting back to beat the Raiders, 44-38 on "Senior Night."
Before tip-off, Summit's five seniors -- Julia Harkins, Kayla Hoesly, Kathleen Morano, Cassidy O'Malley, and Caitlin Osmulski -- were honored in a ceremony that included their parents. That their folks were there was a good thing for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the opening two quarters featured R-Rated basketball, as in Rough, Rugged, and Rowdy.
Playing an aggressive zone defense that trapped the ball inside the half-court line, Scotch-Plains Fanwood brought a physicality and intensity that the Hilltoppers were not able to match. The good vibes and energy that emanated from the pre-game ceremony quickly faded under a tenacious, suffocating Raider defensive effort, which included double-teaming O'Malley, denying her the ball and collapsing on her when she did get it,
Summit looked indecisive and stifled, yet the quarter ended with the Maroon & White trailing by just a deuce, 11-9, based on some stout defending of their own.
Things got a bit WWE-like in the second quarter, with bodies flying here, there, and everywhere. When the dust settled, the Hilltoppers could manage just three points, losing the quarter 8-3 and trailing at the half, 19-12.
The opening 16 minutes was similar to the previous game between the teams January 14, when Christina Richson's three-pointer capped a 33-30 Summit comeback win, a game in which they trailed virtually the entire way.
If a repeat was in the cards, it didn't look that way halfway into the third quarter. The Raiders had grown their lead to 27-18 and Summit still looked flummoxed. But, from that point forward, everything changed.
Richson splashed a three-ball, then Osmulski did likewise and, suddenly, it was 27-24. For good measure, Osmulski drained a long-two, and as the teams headed to the final period, SP-F still led, but just by a lone point, 27-26.
The Hilltoppers gave up the first four points of the fourth quarter, but there was something markedly different about their play and demeanor, giving observers the feeling it was just a blip.
Osmulski made a hoop-and-harm three point play to narrow the lead to 31-30 at the 6:02 mark, then scored again to put Summit in front for good at 32-31. Morano, who was a force on the defensive glass in the second half, subsequently buried a three-ball of her own from the right corner, and it was 35-31 Hilltoppers.
Morano then made a sweet pass to -- who else -- Osmulski and it 37-31, but the Raiders pushed back to cut the lead to 37-36, before Richson knocked down another shot from behind the arc, and it was 40-36 at the 1:15 mark. The sophomore then applied the dagger 20 seconds later with a breakaway lay-up to make it 42-36.
Osmulski finished with a game-high 16 points and Richson added 11 to lead the Summit, who ended a two-game losing schnide and improved to 10-5 on the season. Seven Hilltoppers earned their way on to the score sheet, and O'Malley grabbed 12 rebounds.
Caroline Babis led the Raiders with 10 points, and Amani Williams contributed seven.
"As they did in the first game we played against them, Scotch Plains did a great job taking Cassidy away as an option and we really struggled offensively in the first half," said Summit Head Coach Tom Kenny, adding,"We challenged our team at halftime to match SP-F's intensity. Our toughness as a team showed tonight, and I couldn't be more proud of our team and our senior leadership."
Summit remains at home, next facing AL Johnson February 6 at 3 p.m., part of the program's Annual Hoops for Hope Fundraiser benefiting the Connie Dwyer Breast Center and the Adrienne Reid Memorial Scholarship.
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