Rutgers Prep girls a win away from trip to the last Tournament of Champions

The Rutgers Prep girls basketball team with its 2022 Somerset County Tournament trophy, their second in a row, and fifth in the last 7 tourneys. (Photo: Justin Sontupe)

The Hoffman girls’ basketball teammade the very first Tournament of Champions in 1989, and won it all. St. Peter’s-New Brunswick won it two years later. In 2017, half the six teams in the TOC were from Somerset County, with Franklin, Bound Brook and Rutgers Prep in the mix. Franklin has won it twice, in 2017 and 2019.

This year, it’s the final Tournament of Champions – as the NJSIAA has decided to do away with it to lengthen the season for the other hundreds of teams that don’t make it every year – and Rutgers Prep is seeking its third overall trip in 12 years of NJSIAA postseason play, the only representative from Somerset County this year.

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The Rutgers Prep girls’ basketball team just needs to win one more game to get there – the Non-Public Group B finals. They Argonauts (26-2) face North B champion Saddle River Day (25-1) down at the RWJBarnabas Arena at Toms River North High School at 10 am Saturday.

You can hear the game on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with pregame set for approximately 9:40 am, as Mike Pavlichko calls all the action. Click here to listen.

The two games being played at Toms River North on Saturday originally were scheduled for 2 and 4 pm. With the Rutgers’ Prep boys also in the group finals – and set to play at one of those times up at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena, the NJSIAA this week decided to move up the girls’ games to allow prep fans to travel back and forth and make both games. That put Prep-Saddle River Day at noon.

Around 1:00 Friday afternoon, the NJSIAA moved the two girls’ games two more hours earlier, to 10 am and noon, with the Argonauts playing first, due to high winds and snow/flash-freezing rain exected to make things messy and dangerous Saturday afternoon.

All that settled, Mary Klinger’s squad will face its toughest challenge in Saddle River Day since getting “embarrassed” – as Klinger put it – by the state’s No. 1 team, St. John Vianney – up at Kean University on Super Bowl Sunday.

Klinger also has called it a wake-up call, and her team has responded sever since. In seven postseason games – Somerset County Tournament and the NJSIAAs – they are winning by an average 38 points a game.

Saddle River Day is a little similar to the Argonauts; the defense fuels the offense. (They were also both the top seeds in their respective playoff sections.) The Rebels have been without two key players all year, Penn-bound senior Saniah Caldwell, and junior Mia Walsh, both of whom suffered ACL injuries, but Paulina Paris has more than made up for it; the senior guard is headed to North Carolina next year.

Click below to hear from both head coaches, previewing tomorrow’s girls’ basketball Non-Public Group B title game:

Rutgers Prep head coach Mary Klinger
Saddle River Day head coach Danny Brown

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