In the face of Northern Highlands spinning its Wheel of Defense, Immaculate Heart refused to change a thing.
It didn’t matter what look the Highlanders chose to show, whether it was an odd or even front to their zone, the geometrics of their box-and-one, triangle-and-two or diamond press or just straight up man to man. Nothing was going to make the Blue Eagles veer away from their offensive design.
Quantity wasn’t a problem for IHA. It released nearly twice as many attempts from the floor as Northern Highlands. The way Caitlin Roche viewed matters, it simply boiled down to someone stepping up to stick one big shot and she was as good a candidate as any to address the job.
“At the start of the fourth quarter, I knew I had to go out and do something,” the sophomore guard said. “I had to keep looking for my shot. The game was on the line.”
As unpredictable as Northern Highlands was with its ever-changing schemes, Roche unveiled her own sense of mystery regarding which line she was actually referring to.
After materializing on the baseline to stick a jumper and gathering up a long rebound she converted near the foul line, Roche ventured behind the arc, where her greatest impact was about to come.
Her consecutive 3-pointers from practically polar opposite points midway through the final period rallied Immaculate Heart to a 53-49 triumph over Northern Highlands on Sunday at the Benefit Games at Pascack Valley in Hillsdale.
The win figures to give IHA (13-1), No. 5 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, a leg up in a bid for the top slot in the bracket for the upcoming Bergen County Tournament, which will be seeded on Wednesday.
The offensive versatility of Roche came to light in the fourth when she broke out for 13 of her team-high 16 points and that productions could not have been better timed.
The game’s first eight minutes gave no indication of the dogfight that lied ahead. IHA came out balanced and hot, connecting on half of its first 14 attempts to build a 19-10 lead. But, ninth-ranked Northern Highlands (12-2), through its variety of defenses and assertive play of 6-4 senior Jackie Reyneke, methodically chipped away, drawing even at 23-23 by halftime.
“We tried to switch it up every time and confuse them,” said Reyneke, who finished with a game-best 20 points and 12 rebounds. “We wanted to at least mess up their rhythm and try to slow them down. I think it helped a lot.”
The two sides entered the fourth locked up again at 31-31 before Northern Highlands twice established four-point leads, the last following two free throws by sophomore forward Melissa Heath for a 39-35 edge with 5:48 to play.
Up stepped Roche. Her foul-line jumper touched off a decisive 14-4 burst in which she accounted for 11 points. Her 3-pointer from the left corner with 4:01 showing put IHA back in front, 42-41 and she padded that with another triple off the right wing 30 seconds later.
Senior point guard Samantha Wilkes, instrumental in the opening quarter surge with eight points, but held scoreless over the next two periods, shrewdly set up a piercing drive that got her into the lane for a layup that was part of a three-point play that pushed the advantage to 48-43 with 2:15 remaining.
“Right after Caitlin hit her first three, I knew they had to defend our shooters and that might open something up for a drive,” said Wilkes, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. “Our team adjusts pretty well. We’re use to the different defense, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a matter of realizing what kind of shots we needed to take. That was our downfall. We were taking shots too quickly. They would change defenses and we just fired them right up instead of recognizing and moving the ball around to get the shot we want.”
Three foul shots by Roche made it a 51-43 margin with 1:26 left. Northern Highlands still managed to make things interesting. Reyneke grabbed a defensive board, dribbled up court and pulled up to nail a 3-pointer with 12.6 on the clock to trim the gap to 52-49. But, Wilkes countered that with a free throw at the opposite end to close out the triumph.
“I was more aggressive going to the basket,” said Reyneke, who confidently penetrated off the elbow a number of times to complement her superior elevation on turnarounds in the lane. “Especially in this game, we knew we had to be aggressive and take it to the basket because they are tall and like to block shots. We had to draw fouls.”
That wasn’t something Northern Highlands did rather effectively as it benefitted from a 16-for-20 effort at the foul line. Conversely, IHA struggled from there, making only half of its 18 attempts.
Pascack Valley 61, Rutherford 33: Kelly Svorinic, who paced the well-balanced offense of Pascack Valley (9-4) with 11 points, followed a 3-pointer with a baseline jumper to account for the final five points of an 11-2 surge that sent the Indians to a 21-11 lead in the second quarter. Sara Petro and Erin Smith each scored six of their respective 10 points before halftime as the margin swelled to 27-13. Ten different players contributed at least a field to the 27 accumulated by Pascack Valley. Alexandra Paskas topped Rutherford (9-4) with 10 points.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner