Rutgers Prep head coach Mary Klinger knew her team would face adversity, somehow, at some point, against Saddle River Day in the Non-Public Group B title game. It was just a matter of what form it would take.
In the end, the Lady Argonauts were winners, 62-51, down at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena at Toms river North High School, clinching their third berth in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, which is in its last season.
But it was not easy, not by a long shot.
To the fans in the stands, it looked like it might be over early. Prep sophomore Mikayla Blakes scored 17 points in a monster first quarter – going 8-of-8 from the foul line – to get her team out to a 31-21 lead. But Saddle River Day got back in the game with a slow and steady 15-2 run to close the half.
And yet, Rutgers Prep still led at halftime by seven, at 33-26. The momentum continued for the Rebels in the second half. UNC-bound Paulina Paris – who had 12 first-half points, and was the only one scoring for a while, along with Blakes for Prep – had an eight point third quarter, and her team took the lead by three late in the period. Rutgers Prep got it back quickly, and ended the third with a 41-40 advantage.
In the final eight minutes, when Klinger reminded her team that she told them they would face adversity in this morning’s game, they overcame that adversity.
And it was another sophomore who had a huge contribution. Chloe Escanillas had seven fourth quarter points, including a trey, to help build a double digit lead, and give Prep an 11-point win in the end.
The only question remaining for Rutgers Prep (27-2) this weekend is whether the Argonauts will get a first-round bye in the Tournament of Champions, which begins back down in Toms River on Wednesday. St. John Vianney – playing in the second game against Immaculate Heart Academy at RWJ, should they advance, will get the top seed. It’s up for debate whether Rutgers prep or Manasquan – should ‘Squan move on Sunday in Toms River in the public finals – would get the second seed and the other bye.
If Rutgers Prep gets it, they would open Friday in the TOC semis. Otherwise they open Wednesday.
And next, the Rutgers Prep boys will try and win the Non-Public A title this afternoon at Jersey Mike’s Arena at Rutgers University. If they take the title, Rutgers Prep will be the first school in Middlesex or Somerset County to have both its boys’ and girls’ teams make the Tournament of Champions in the same year.
Click below for postgame reaction from Rutgers Prep’s win in the girls’ Non-Public B Championship Game: