VERONA, NJ - The Verona girls basketball team is steadily improving as the county and state playoffs grow near with each passing game.

    “I was very impressed and happy with the way that the girls played today…I could not be more ecstatic.  They played both ends of the floor…at this point in the season it’s not as much about wins and losses it’s about bringing all these things together for the state and county tournament,” said Head Coach Sam Battista. 

    Verona fell for the seventh time in their last eight games, but put forth an impressive effort against Nutley, 45-35, on Tuesday afternoon. The squad, who lost by 20 points in the two teams’ previous showing made the game competitive trailing by a single point after the first quarter. Nia Chesney collected six of the squad’s eight points for the frame and is showing the potential for the squad. 

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    “Everybody is stepping up in a big way, chipping away getting a couple of points…when they all do that big things happen,” said Battista.

    Ultimately the Raiders were able to utilize a strong third quarter to pull away from Verona. A 16 to eight scoring run helped Nutley to their 11th victory of the season and second in a row over Verona.

    “The shots weren’t falling and it happens,” said Battista.

    Verona continued to battle in the fourth quarter cutting the Nutley lead to just six points midway through the period. Maddie Gallagher collected four of her team-high 11 points in the frame to go along with 22 rebounds. Gallagher has started to heat up averaging over nine points per game in her last three contests. 

    “[Gallagher] is just hungry, she wants it…she’s stepping up in every way,” said Battista.

    The defensive intensity was on display Tuesday for the Hillbillies who forced over a dozen Raider turnovers. 

    “I just get so proud of them because I know what they are capable of and when they pull it out like this it’s incredible,” said Battista.

    While some teams would fold in the face of a sub .500 season the Hillbillies are continuing to play as one and grow for the stretch run of 2020 and the hope of a better 2021.

    “They are hungry for it, they want the wins and more than anything they are playing for each other and you can see that,” said Batista. 

    Verona is now 4-13 on the season as they prepare for what will be the first round of the Essex County Tournament against Bloomfield. The 18 seed Hillbillies will look to play spoiler against 15 seeded Bloomfield.

    “We take it one day at a time, and we try to pour every bit of energy we have to play like we did against West Orange and tonight, and we’ll be all right,” said Battista.