Surrounded by a talented but young cast seeking on-the-floor direction, Rumson’s Jess Harvey was more than willing to serve as the team’s GPS and show them the way.
With Toms River East feverishly denying the perimeter, the junior point guard explored the option of driving the ball inside and found exactly what Rumson was looking for.
“They were shutting down all our plays and outside shots,” Harvey said. ``The coaches said we had to drive to the basket, so that’s what a lot of us started to do.”
Having seen the eight-point cushion it built after three quarters whittled down to one with just over five minutes left to play, Rumson scrapped any long-range pursuits in favor of a more direct result. What ensued were two big buckets by freshman Emma Miller and a pair of game-breaking drives from Harvey in the closing minutes that enabled defending champion Rumson to stave off gritty Toms River East for a hard-fought 51-43 victory on Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the WOBM Christmas Classic in Toms River.
Toms River East (4-1) roared back from a 36-28 deficit late in the third. It embarked on a 9-2 surge, culminating with consecutive 3-pointers from Emily Kunzman to draw to within 38-37 with 5:12 left to play.
Miller stemmed the tide, first with a putback before freshman Sam Sabino drove the baseline off the right side and kicked a pass back to her for a 16-footer that pushed Rumson’s advantage to 42-37.
At that point, Harvey took charge. A hard drive through the lane was accompanied by some nimble footwork to split two converging defenders and beat them to the hoop for a lay in as part of a 3-point play with 2:28 remaining. Harvey then came up with a steal near midcourt which she converted in transition and tacked on two free throws with 1:03 to go that supplied Rumson (4-0) with a 49-41 cushion.
“It’s a little weird. I’ve always had (2011 graduates) Ashley (Cooper) or Ellie (Wilbur) to look up,’’ Harvey said of those she tried to pattern her role after. “And, now it’s me. But, it’s definitely fun because we’re all working together for that one goal.”
“I thought Jess had a phenomenal fourth quarter,” Rumson coach George Sourlis said. “She was much more aggressive looking to be in attack mode. She was taking the ball to the basket and creating for herself and others.”
A Rumson lineup that featured five freshmen – Miller, Sabino, Janae Mayfield, Claire Stefanelli and Catie Ebner – survived a late-game moment of truth in a fashion that Sourlis is coming to expect.
“We had some moments in scrimmages, and I know it’s different, but there were moments when things weren’t going so well,” Sourlis said. “And, we didn’t stop. These kids don’t stop and it’s something I’m learning about them very quickly.”
Sourlis added, “The thing I was most impressed about was when East’s comeback happened, we had three freshmen on the floor. (Kunzman) hit the two threes in a row and I did not call a timeout. I’m like ‘Let ‘em fix it on their own’ and they did, which is very encouraging. They didn’t look to each other like ‘what do we do’ or ‘who’s gonna to do it.’ They just kept playing.”
There was no shame in the performance turned in by Toms River East. Down 8-2 at the outset, the Raiders claimed a 16-13 lead by the close of the first quarter on a 3-pointer from Kunzman and an 18-footer by Kristen Kennedy had East holding an 18-15 edge three minutes into the second.
But, Sabino changed that just before halftime. After hitting a 3-pointer a minute shy of intermission to give Rumson a 25-23 lead it would never relinquish, she nailed another jumper from beyond the arc to increase the cushion to 28-23 heading into the break.
In other quarterfinal action at the WOBM Tournament…
*Mercurial senior point guard Tiffany Montagne engineered an uptempo defense that transferred nicely into the offense as Jackson (5-0), ranked 14th, raced to a 56-38 decision over Msgr. Donovan.
Montagne had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists while Stephanie Mason added 15 points for Jackson. Dana Carbone countered with 16 points for Msgr. Donovan.
*Kelly Hughes poured in 27 points and Jessica Macchi was invaluable, especially on the offensive glass where she kept possessions alive for fourth-ranked Point Pleasant Boro (4-0) in a 61-36 decision over Brick Memorial. Macchi finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
*Katelyn Flaherty pumped in 22 points, including 12 in the second quarter, to pace top-seeded and top-ranked Manasquan (5-0) to a 73-27 over Shore Regional. Freshman Marina Mabrey added 19 points to the triumph while her senior sister Michaela chipped in with 15.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner