Barnegat Girls Hoops Squad Sets Single-Season Mark for Victories
Before the girls basketball season started six weeks ago, Barnegat coach Tammy Nicolini sensed some big things coming this winter. She believed her Bengals were going to be record-setters in several ways.
Against Pinelands on Jan. 20, Barnegat had its first opportunity to set the single-season mark for victories, but the Bengals sure didn’t make it look easy. After running out to a 13-3, first-quarter advantage and taking a 12-point lead into halftime, something went askew during the third quarter and the Wildcats clawed their way back into the contest, leading to a bit of a wild finish.
“Our intensity lagged in the second half,” said senior Ashley Toner, the Bengals’ court leader who had 168 points and 63 assists through the team’s first 16 games. “Our shot selection wasn’t good and we didn’t finish our attempts at the rim. But the biggest thing was we felt too confident going into the second half and didn’t push the gas pedal.”
Leading scorer and rebounder Shannon McCoy, who had 249 points (15.6 per game) and 119 boards (7.4 per game) through 16 games, called it “the third-quarter lull.”
“We’ve been pretty good so far about not letting down when we have a good lead,” she said. “But not tonight. We were rushing our shots and not playing the way we should have been playing.”
In the third, Pinelands (6-8) chopped away at Barnegat’s lead with a 15-6 run and cut the deficit to just three points, 28-25, heading into the final eight minutes. And for the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, it seemed neither team would take command to put away its opponent.
After Toner buried a pair of foul shots to make it a 32-29 contest with 5:52 to go, Jessie Rising, who led the Wildcats with 15 points, put down a short left-handed layup and dropped in a couple of foul shots during a 40-second span to give Pinelands its first lead at 33-32 with 4:41 left.
Barnegat’s Roxy Urso scored on a putback 13 seconds later, but Rising answered to keep the Wildcats’ lead at a point, 35-34. After being fouled during a three-pointer attempt, the Bengals’ Madeline Scott put down one of the ensuing three foul shots to knot the game at 35-35 with 3:53 left.
Scott put Barnegat back into the lead when she drained a 16-foot jump shot along the left baseline with 3:07 to go, but Ellie Sorrentino scored on an uncontested layup following a turnover in the backcourt just over a minute later, again tying the contest at 37-37.
With 1:37 left, Urso put the Bengals ahead to stay when she snagged a rebound of a missed jump shot and scored on the putback in traffic to make it 39-37. McCoy made it a four-point game at the minute mark when she drove through the middle for a layup, and she and Ginalee Erskine knocked down four of six free throws during the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.
McCoy finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Toner tallied 10 points and gave away five assists. Urso ended up with 11 boards and six points, and Scott and Erskine each recorded three points. Kate Siciliano grabbed five boards and Sydney Boyer, who added two points, snatched four boards.
“In the first half, we really worked our offense,” Toner said. “In the second half, we were going for the one-hit shot from wherever and it took us out of any offensive rhythm we had. We needed to slow down a bit and manage the clock better, but for some reason we just didn’t do that.”
In addition to Rising’s solid effort on offense, Sorrentino finished with eight points and Katie McGrotty hit for seven points.
“Our effort in the first quarter was terrible,” said Pinelands coach Keith Lowe. “I told the girls after the first quarter that they needed to take some pride in themselves and make a better effort, plain and simple. And in the third quarter, we started slowing down Toner and McCoy and fought our way back because we executed better.
“When you don’t come ready to play, it’s going to be a struggle. Our girls have to learn that we need a maximum effort for all four quarters. If you don’t do that, winning games is tough.”
The Bengals had little trouble winning the next day, when they ran out to a 15-6, first-quarter lead and never looked back, taking a 23-7 lead into halftime en route to a 46-15 rout. Barnegat held the Rockets to just three points during the middle two quarters.
McCoy scored 14 points and snagged 13 rebounds, while Toner added 10 points and four assists and Erskine registered seven points and seven rebounds. Madison Forseberg also had seven boards while Alexis Kirk swiped a pair of steals and Lexi Furrule recorded a steal.
“The chemistry on our team is incredible,” Toner said. “We’re always together, and that’s been a big factor. Plus, we finally have a veteran team. We have experienced players who know what’s going and what to expect. But the biggest thing is the chemistry. We’re definitely a lot closer of a team than ever before.”
The two victories sent Barnegat’s record to 12-4 on the season, setting a single-season mark for wins with six games left on the regular-season slate prior to its meeting with Lakewood on Jan. 24. Following a contest with Donovan Catholic on Jan. 26, the Bengals play on the road against Lacey on Jan. 31, then host Manchester (Feb. 3) and Point Pleasant (Feb. 6) before finishing up on the road at Jackson Liberty on Feb. 9.
From there, the Bengals may play a couple of Shore Conference Tournament and non-divisional contests before heading into the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II tourney, so a 20-win season is within reach should the squad continue to play well.
“We’re breaking records here,” Nicolini said. “We have to put teams away when we have leads, and as the rest of the season goes on it’s really important to take care of the basketball when we’re on offense. But we definitely still have more wins in us. This was the season we were hoping for.”