NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ — At last, the undefeated New Providence girls basketball team was tested, legitimately, for four full quarters.

They passed.

The Pioneers remained undefeated despite a stern challenge from a Westfield team that wouldn’t go away. And that figures, given that Westfield won the 2020 Union County Tournament, and New Providence would have been the primary challenger to that crown had there been a county tournament in this fractured and disjointed season.

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A player who wasn’t even part of last year’s sectional championship team paced New Providence to its 53-47 victory over Westfield Wednesday evening. Freshman guard Grace Kinum scored 22 points and handed out six assists for the Pioneers, who appeared poised to put the game out of reach--as usual--before halftime.

But Westfield wouldn’t let them.

The Blue Devils had a 12-11 lead late in the first quarter when New Providence (11-0) went on one of its patented first-half runs, outscoring Westfield, 14-4, to close out the half. Kinum had five points and two assists, and Amy Maurer scored four points, in that stretch to help the Pioneers attain a nine-point lead going into halftime.

That advantage swelled to 13 points when forward Grace Kelly scored inside with 3:13 to go in the third quarter to give New Providence a 33-20.

Followers of New Providence girls basketball know that this is generally the time when the opponent wilts and the Pioneers pull away. But on Wednesday, the Blue Devils went against that script and clawed back, outscoring New Providence, 16-8, to close to within five, 41-36, with four minutes left in the game.

But what’s so unique about this New Providence team is that, despite having just two seniors on its roster, the younger players either already have a wealth of big-game experience gleaned from last year’s tournament runs, or--in Grace Kinum’s case--they just play like they do. But the team has not shown any inclination to become rattled or to commit mistakes the way many young teams might when facing potential adversity.

Meghan Lamanna, a sophomore who finished with 10 points, knocked down a crucial 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 3:48 left to give New Providence a 44-36 lead. 

Westfield got as close as two points, 49-47, with 11.4 seconds left, but the Kinum sisters--Grace with 10 seconds left, and senior Lindsay with 2.8 seconds to go--each sank two of two foul shots to ice away the victory.

Maurer, a senior guard, scored nine points and finished with a team-high four steals in the victory. Kelly led the Pioneers in rebounds with seven. Both Lamanna and center Megan Slattery blocked two shots apiece. 

The Pioneers had 13 assists on their 18 baskets made. Lindsay Kinum finished with four assists.