“They punched us in the mouth,” said Rutgers Prep coach Mary Klinger, in the season’s post-mortem.
It didn’t look like it would be that way, though, especially with a much better start this time around than an early season loss to Morris Catholic in December.
Prep got the start it wanted, leading by as many as 13 points in the first quarter, and ending it with a 21-11 lead. Morris Catholic chipped away and got it to five by halftime, but it was after that when the Crusaders played their best basketball.
A 29-13 run through the next eight minutes gave the Crusaders a 55-45 lead at the end of three. While Rutgers Prep would eventually tie the game at 63 on a drive to the basket by Mikayla Blakes, the junior missed the and-one free throw, then got called for a reach-around foul at the other end of the floor, her fifth.
And from that point on, the Crusaders pulled away with Mya Pauldo hitting all her free throws down the stretch, sending the Lady Argonauts to a 71-63 defeat in the Non-Public Group B Final at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.
Blakes finished with 24, while senior Katie Ledden – in her last high school game before heading up to Kingstown to play for Rhode Island – finished with 17, including a pair of first-quarter treys during Prep’s early run.
Rutgers Prep finishes its season as the Non-Public South B Champions – their second straight sectional title – with a record of 25-6, while Morris Catholic finishes at 26-3, the Group B state champs.
The win also makes a strong case for state-ranked No. 4 Morris Catholic to finish as the No. 1 team in the state, with top-ranked St. John Vianney losing in the Non-Public A final Saturday to Immaculate Heart, No. 2 Paul VI out of the tournament, and Morris Catholic beating No. 3 Rutgers Prep
Click below to hear for postgame reaction brought to you by SportsPlex at Metuchen: