Gill St. Bernard's wins TOC opener
Trevena Bennett makes the most of her time
After beginning the season as a starter for Gill St. Bernard’s, the talented sophomore suffered an injury in late December and missed nearly a month of action. Upon her return, sophomore Taylor Rooks had established herself in Bennett’s former role, relegating the 5-9 swing to a reserve.
Bennett had no qualms. That’s not her style. However, what does define her is how she manages the minutes she gets when summoned off the bench and the way she channels her zest at both ends of the floor in such a positive manner.
With Jackson’s Hannah Missry giving Gill St. Bernard’s a taste of her precision from long range, Bennett was inserted to do something about it. What she gave in return went well beyond her hustling defense.
Besides making Missry work a little harder to get touches, Bennett pointed the way for Gill St. Bernard’s offense. With one circus-like bucket with just under four minutes showing in the fourth quarter, Bennett snapped a deadlock and sparked a decisive run that launched fourth-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s, No. 6 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 58-51 victory over fifth-seeded and seventh-ranked Jackson on Tuesday night in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions before 675 at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
Missry, who had been on fire from long range (she was 8 for 11 in Sunday’s win over North Hunterdon in the Group 4 final), showed no signs of cooling off she when connected on four of her first five shots from behind the arc to help Jackson (27-6) jump out to a 26-16 lead with 4:41 left in the second quarter. She buried another in the third but didn’t hit again until only 15 seconds remained in the contest.
By that point, it was too late. With the game even at 44-44, Bennett ignited Gill St. Bernard’s (28-4) on an 8-0 run in a span of exactly one minute. Her drive off the right wing and subsequent flip high off the glass broke the tie.
“Actually, I like coming off the bench, seeing how the flow of the game is going,” said Bennett, who supplied eight points, six rebound and a steal in 19 minutes of action. “When I get in, I see what I can do to make it even more powerful in our favor. I really don’t look at myself bringing a fire off the bench. I come out and play my game and try to be as aggressive as I can.”
“The way she came off the bench was exactly what we needed,” Gill St. Bernard’s coach Aaron Gratch sid. “She was so aggressive getting to the rim. She made a couple moves that were so strong. They would look to reach in and instead she went right by. If we don’t have the energy and everything she gave us off the bench, we don’t win. ”
Senior center Dominique Vitalis, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds, converted a pass from sophomore guard Jasmine Sina, who dispersed the basketball over the final stretch of the game with a keen eye for the best available option, before Rooks (12 points, 12 rebounds) deposited consecutive layups to widen the gap to 52-44 with 2:38 remaining.
“I had to keep my composure and not think about the ones I missed,” said Vitalis, who shot 10 of 17 for the game. “I definitely think I missed a lot of easy ones. I really don’t know what was up with that. But I had to keep at it.”
After Tiffany Montagne knocked down a jumper just inside the arc to pull Jackson within 52-46, Sina fed Vitalis for consecutive inside finishes as the lead extended to 56-48 with under a minute showing. The 6-2 Georgetown recruit felt obligated to deposit the two feeds from Sina.
“Me and Mooch have that chemistry,” Vitalis said of her playmaking point guard. “I love when she sees me up court. And, her passes are right on point. If I don’t make the shot, I feel like I’m letting her down.”
“Towards the end, I saw the floor better,” said Sina. “With Dominique and Taylor running, there were some fast-break opportunities for me to get them the ball.”
Missry, who ended 6 for 12 from 3-point range in compiling a game-high 22 points, wrapped up her year with 111 treys for the season. She got ample support out high from junior Stephanie Mason, who buried four 3-pointers en route to 18 points as Jackson went 10 for 27 from 3-point range.
“We knew they were really good,” Missry said. “They had bigger posts than us and, maybe, even quicker guards than us at one point. They had fresh legs, they were running the floor. We did run out of gas. I couldn’t feel my legs at the end. I tried to fight through the fatigue, it just wasn’t enough.”
Missry’s point about the size in the blocks was well taken. Gill St. Bernard’s compiled 44 points in the paint, including seven second-chance buckets, as opposed to only 10 points inside for Jackson and it out-rebounded the Jaguars, 42-33.
“Our gameplan was to play physical right from the start and try and wear them down a little bit.” Jackson coach Rachel Goodale said. “But, we wore down. I thought we’d get a gut check in the last two minutes, but there was nothing left in us.”
Senior point guard Tiffany Montagne closed out a stellar campaign with nine points, five assists and four steals for Jackson.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner