That was the average margin of victory for all three top seeds in the inaugural – and maybe last – Skyland Conference girls’ basketball tournament.
The event is likely a one-off this year, a COVID-shortened season with no state tournament.
Top seeds Rutgers Prep in the Blue Division, Bound Brook in the Gold and Immaculata in the Silver all won their fiest-round games easily on the opening night of play Monday.
Rutgers Prep, the overall No. 1 in the tournament, improved to 10-0 with an 82-36 home win over Hillsborough. All 14 players in the scorebook put up points for Prep, led by Mikayla Blakes with 11, and Christina Dalce with 10. The Argonauts will now host 5-seed Hunterdon Central (9-3), which knocked off 4th-seed Phillipsburg Monday, 37-31.
On the other side of the bracket, only one game was played, as 6th-seed and unbeaten Mount St. Mary proved it belonged in the top bracket with a 51-45 road win at 3rd-seed Franklin. The Lions (13-0) advance to play 2nd-seed Gill St. Bernard’s (9-1), which got an impromptu by after 7th-seed Ridge suffered a COVID shutown. The Lions will continue to be tested; winning the tournament would require going through the overall No. 2 team in the Skyland Tourney in Gill, and potentially the No. 1 in Rutgers Prep, should it advance past Hunterdon Central.
Bound Brook won its ninth straight game as the top-seeded Crusaders beat 8th-seeded Montgomery 50-30 at home. The Crusaders improved to 10-1 – their only loss was at Mount St. Mary in Week Two of the season by nine – behind Arianna McCleod’s 13 points – she had a double-double adding in her 10 rebounds – plus 11 from Brenae Jones, and 10 from Casey Miller.
The Crusaders will advance to play Voorhees; the 5th-seeded Vikings (8-4) scored a mild upset over 4th-seed Warren Hills, 42-48.
In the other half of the bracket, 6th-seed Somerville knocked off third-seed Bridgewater-Raritan 44-37. The Pioneers (8-6) will travel Wednesday night to play 2nd-seed Watchung Hills, after the Warriors beat 7th-seed North Hunterdon at home 51-30.
Top-seed Immaculata got a career high from junior Julia Pinckert, whose 28 points powered the Spartans past winless 8th-seed North Plainfield 66-27. ‘Lata (4-8) now will face 4th-seed Delaware Valley. The Terriers didn’t play last night as 5th-seed Pingry is in the midst of a COVID shutdown.
The other side of the bracket saw third-seed South Hunterdon (7-3) get past 6th-seed Manville 48-36. They’ll travel to Warren County Wednesday night to play second-seed Belvidere (8-4), which beat 7th-seed Bernards 41-36. South Hunterdon and Belvidere are in the same division – the Mountain – and met once this year, with the County Seaters coming out on top at home 59-58 on February 24th.
Here are all the semifinal pairings for Wednesday’s action in the Skyland Conference Semifinals:
5-Hunterdon Central (9-3) at 1-Rutgers Prep (10-0), 6:00
6-Mt. St. Mary (13-0) at 2-Gill St. Bernard’s (9-1), 5:30
5-Voorhees (8-4) at 1-Bound Brook (10-1), 5:30
6-Somerville (7-6) at 2-Watchung Hills (6-7), 5:30
4-Delaware Valley (5-5) at 1-Immaculata (3-8), 5:30
3-South Hunterdon (7-3) at 2-Belvidere (8-4), TBA
Rutgers Prep has been the odds-on favorite to win whatever postseason county/regional tournament came its way since well before the season started. Mary Klinger’s group is focused top-to-bottom. They should advance, as should Gill, which tuned up Monday (since it lost its first round game) with a 10-point win over Life Center Academy.
I still like Bound Brook to win the Gold. They’re also a focused and determined group, and clearly the class of the bracket. Can Somerville upset Watchung Hills to set up a classic rivalry final between The Brook and The ‘Ville? They might be on a collision course.
The nice thing about the three pods is it gives a team like Immaculata a chance to win a title. The top seed is stuck in a division with some really good teams in Rutgers Prep, Ridge and Phillupsburg, and should beat Del Val. South Hunterdon and Belvidere? Probably too close to call.