WEST ORANGE, NJ - “Wow, in all my years in basketball, that was my first ever double-overtime game,” said third-year West Orange High School girls head hoops honcho Canience Montague, after her eighth-seeded Lady Mountaineers needed two extra sessions in order to edge Bloomfield, the ninth seed, 49-46, in an Essex County Tournament round of 16 tilt on Saturday, Feb. 13, at WOHS.
That outcome, coupled with a surprisingly close, 75-47, win by the locals' top-slotted crosstown competitor, East Orange Campus, over No. 16 Caldwell has set up a county quarterfinals clash between West Orange and East Orange at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, at East Orange Campus.
The survivor of that skirmish will advance to face either No. 4 Shabazz or No. 5 Nutley in an ECT semifinals showdown at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Weequahic, while the tourney's title tilt is set for 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27, at Essex County College.
Montague, a member of the Montclair High Class of 2005, who graduated from Bloomfield College in '09, knows what it takes to be a success at the high school level. After all, she was an integral part of one of the greatest Montclair High girls basketball teams in that school’s history when the Mounties reached the Group 4 state final vs. Absegami back in 2005, falling in a very competitive championship game at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
One aspect of that particular top-shelf Montclair team she was a big part of as a key senior guard during the 2004-2005 campaign, was the ability to be consistent as a unit over the full 32 minutes of regulation, something her West Orange Mountaineers will have to do if they hope to upset the top-seeded East Orange Campus Lady Jaguars in this Saturday’s Essex County Tournament quarterfinals. Tip-off is 1 p.m.
And, as the 42nd girls ECT now moves into the elite eight on Saturday, it will be the eighth-seeded Lady Mountaineers (8-13, 6-6) at East Orange Campus (15-3), fifth-seeded Nutley (15-6) at fourth-seeded Shabazz (13-6), seventh-seeded Newark Tech (11-10) at second-seeded Newark Academy (20-2) and 11th-seeded Millburn (11-9) at third-seeded University (15-5).
The Nutley v Shabazz matchup looms as possibly one of the best contests, with the Lady Raiders’ Maryland-bound star Blair Watson trying to help offset the overall athleticism of the Lady Bulldogs, in what will amount to a rubber match. The two teams met in their second Super Essex Conference-American Division game of the season on Tuesday, Feb. 15, with Nutley emerging a, 62-56, winner in a contest that was extended to two overtime periods. Shabazz had roared past the Maroon Raiders in their first meeting between the two, 57-35, back on Jan. 14.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs pulled off their biggest win of the 2015-2016 regular season, upsetting East Orange, 39-35, in SEC-American Division action.
Newark Tech, led by its standout sophomore guard Abbey Lawrence, has won seven in a row since a, 60-47, loss to state-ranked Middletown South on Jan. 17, and will now look to try and slow down Newark Academy’s outstanding 6-1 Virginia-bound standout Jocelyn Willoughby, who is a veritable ‘double-double’ machine in terms of points and rebounds in every game she plays.
The Lady Minutemen dropped their first game of the season on Wednesday, falling to Pennington, 46-36, in the NJISAA State Prep B Tournament title tilt, and then, with Willoughby sitting out to rest a sore ankle, the Livingston-based private school Newark Academy dropped a, 50-45, decision to Columbia on Thursday in SEC-Liberty Division action.
Millburn, an 11 seed, which upset sixth-seeded Montclair, 61-52, in the first round, has a well-rounded team led by Kelsea Brown, Paige Krikoria and Rachel Hubert, who combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds vs. the Mounties.
West Orange has been a bit of an enigma this season, with spurts of outstanding play and then periods when the consistency just wasn’t there; however, the flashes of brilliance give Montague much hope for a strong stretch run for her Lady Mountaineers.
“We simply need to play consistently well over four quarters, especially in games where you are playing top-level teams like East Orange,” she said. “We played well for the first half against them when we met earlier (trailing 28-27 at the intermission in their Jan. 28 Super Essex Conference crossover clash in West Orange) but then we had a bad third quarter (a 20-5 EOC edge in the stanza) and ended up losing by double digits (56-42).”
Eighth-seeded West Orange made the clutch points via the foul line to edge ninth-seeded Bloomfield, 49-46, in double overtime, in this past Saturday’s nip and tuck ECT first round game.
Candis Ferrell (16 rebounds, 4 blocks) hit two free throws and Jewel Burnett (12 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) had one as the locals were able to finally edge the persistent Lady Bengals in the second extra session. In addition, Mya Bembry led the way for West Orange with 25 points, 13 rebounds and 4 steals.
West Orange and Bloomfield will meet again in less than two weeks in the first round of the NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 state tournament, at 4:30 p.m., on Tuesday, March 1, with the 14th-seeded Mountaineers traveling to take on the third-seeded Lady Bengals.
The winner will meet the survivor of the first round encounter between 11th-seeded Morris Knolls and sixth-seeded Paterson Eastside in the sectional quarterfinals on Wednesday, March. 3.
West Orange, which lost to University on Thursday night in SEC-Liberty Division action, has played a strong independent schedule to help prepare it for this important juncture of the campaign, having faced top-shelf teams, such as: Bayonne, Secaucus and Morristown. Even though they’ve lost to all three, the experience should help bolster the resolve of the Mountaineers as they attempt to pull an upset or two in the next couple of weeks beginning with a stern test against the defending champion EOC Lady Jaguars on Saturday.
“We’re going to play hard and try to be solid at both ends of the court,” said Montague. “Hopefully, we do that over the course of a full game.”