Southern Girls Rally for Win Over Freehold

Basketball Roundup
By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 07, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

It’s a good thing the Southern Regional girls basketball team has experienced players who don’t often crack under pressure, even when they’re not scoring a ton of points.

“Having a lot of seniors is a good thing,” said Lauren Cruse, who led the Rams with 10 points in a 34-28 victory over Freehold Township on Feb. 3. “Sometimes, when we’re shooting and not making our shots, we have to get to the basket more, and that’s where our seniors step up. We know when to make that adjustment.”

After two lackluster offensive quarters and only 14 points on the scoreboard through the first six minutes of the third, the Rams found themselves slipping behind the Patriots, who grabbed a four-point lead, 18-14, following a baseline jumper by Lindsay Lloyd.

It was time for several Rams to rise, and it was Cruse and junior Jacqueline Ward who ignited the fire that burned through the remaining 10 minutes.

“We just started moving the ball better,” Ward said. “Once we started doing that, we found the open spots in their defense for better shots. And then we won the game on the foul line.”

After Ward dropped in a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to 18-16, Cruse pushed the Rams (12-6) back in front by one when she scored on a layup and completed a three-point play with a foul shot and 53.5 seconds left in the third quarter. With a second left, Cruse completed a baseline drive with a layup to make it 21-18.

The Patriots didn’t go away just yet, though. Cruse drained two more foul shots to make it 23-20, but a Kaylie Elsbree three-pointer tied the contest with 4:59 to go. But another foul shot from Cruse, followed by two more free throws from senior Mikayla Nicolini and then a layup by senior Colleen Brady gave the Rams a 28-23 lead with 2:57 left. With 1:02 left, Brady delivered a pass to Cruse for a layup to make it 30-27. Ward finished off the Patriots with four more foul shots.

“Getting to the line hasn’t been an issue for us this season,” said head coach Tom Bucci, whose Rams next week will begin play in the Shore Conference Tournament, followed by the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tourney. “When games are close, we’ve been able to speed up things late in games and generate foul-shot opportunities. We shoot pretty well from the foul line, so that’s benefited us.”

Defensively, Southern has been solid throughout the season, allowing 45 or more points in only four games – comprising four of its six losses – and an average of 38.4 per contest. The Rams have won eight of their last 10 and five straight heading into this week, including a 39-27 win over Toms River East, which edged Southern earlier in the season on Feb. 2.

One of the catalysts has been senior Shannon Lytle, who opted to play basketball this season after several years of competing for the indoor track team.

“Shannon has been outstanding,” Bucci said. “She’s a very hard worker and a great emotional leader on the court, and the rest of the girls feed off that. She’s probably the most athletic girl in the school and she’s helped us a lot, especially on defense.”

Still, with tournament time right around the corner, the Rams are going to have to be more consistent offensively if they intend to go far in either the SCT or state sectional.

“For us, it’s about getting the ball to the baseline and attacking the gaps against the zone defense,” Bucci said. “It’s really a matter of executing and knocking down shots. But I absolutely love this team. I’ve never had a team with so much heart. They’re great at helping each other and knowing their roles.”

SCT Seeds Up for Grabs

With the qualification cutoff set for Saturday, Feb. 10, several of the local hoops squads have secured berths in the Shore Conference Tournament. Both the Barnegat boys (14-5), who scored an impressive 56-46 victory over Class B South division leader Point Pleasant Borough on Monday, and girls (12-7) are locked in. The two squads still on the bubble are the Pinelands Regional and Southern boys’ teams.

While the Rams (9-10) had lost three straight following a 68-58 defeat against Toms River East on Feb. 3, the Wildcats (10-8) are one win away from grabbing their first SCT berth in a long time.

Pinelands was scheduled to play division foe Lacey on Tuesday, followed by a divisional clash with Manchester on Thursday and another on Saturday against Point Pleasant Borough. The Wildcats defeated both Lacey and Manchester earlier in the season, and lost a 48-39 decision against the Panthers on Feb. 2.

Meanwhile, the Rams were slated to face Brick, which routed Southern a few weeks ago, on Tuesday, followed by a Thursday meeting with Toms River South and a non-divisional matchup with Lacey on Friday. Southern knocked off the Indians by 18 on Jan. 16, and the 5-12 Lions have struggled thus far, so if the Rams can win two of three this week, an SCT bid will be theirs.


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