By Matthew Rocco
The Shore Conference got the better of its top-ranked visitors in Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s Bulldog Challenge, where the hosts kept their big winning streak alive and St. John Vianney High School won on a buzzer-beater.
The Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown High School South, Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School and St. John Vianney girls basketball teams all left the Jan. 17 showcase victorious, prevailing over some of the toughest competition from rival conferences. In the third game of the afternoon, Rumson-Fair Haven recorded its seventh win in a row after a monster third-quarter run propelled the Bulldogs past Saddle River Day School.
The Bulldogs found themselves trailing, 9-1, in the early going, but they quickly recovered. Leading 22-19 at halftime, the Bulldogs pulled away with 21 points in the third quarter and never looked back in the 60-43 victory.
Stephanie Lesko led the Bulldogs with 18 points, and Tori Hyduke scored 14 points.
Rumson-Fair Haven (7-4) has turned its season around following a difficult stretch to open the new campaign. The Bulldogs dropped their first four games to Manasquan High School, St. John Vianney, Rutgers Preparatory School and Gill St. Bernard’s School. The schedule was unforgiving, but the Bulldogs showed no signs that their morale took a beating. They proceeded to rally for six straight wins heading into the Bulldog Challenge, capped by a 74-22 blowout over Raritan High School.
Head coach George Sourlis said his team responded well to a tough four games.
“The first four games we played, they were four top teams in the state,” Sourlis said. “We’re getting healthier, and we’re playing a lot better.”
The Bulldog Challenge was certainly the center of attention in girls basketball last weekend with top-tier squads meeting on the same court, all in the same day. Eight of the 10 challengers appeared on MSG Varsity’s Power Rankings of the top 15 teams across the state for Jan. 13. First on the list was St. John Vianney. Middletown South and Rumson-Fair Haven were ranked sixth and seventh, respectively.
Prior to the first tipoff, Sourlis said he was expecting “a great day of New Jersey basketball.”
“We have five games with five of the best teams in the Shore, plus five of the best from out of the area,” Sourlis said. “We got some great teams coming in from out of the area to challenge the Shore.”
The Bulldog Challenge opened with a 60-47 win for Middletown South, which overcame a lackluster start against Newark Tech High School.
The Eagles (10-1) were playing from behind by as many as nine points in the second quarter. They climbed back to within one point before the half, and an 8-0 run to close the third quarter put them 10 points ahead.
Middletown South’s Stephanie Karcz scored 14 points. Haley Dalonzo had 12 points.
The Shore Conference’s domination continued as Maureen Coakley led RBC to a comeback win over Ramapo High School, scoring 16 of her team-high 20 points in the second half.
The Caseys (10-2) bounced back from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Ramapo, No. 11 in the MSG rankings, by a decisive 52-39 margin. Coakley was a force on the boards, completing a double-double with 10 rebounds. She also completed nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter. Josie Larkins added nine points for the Caseys, and Amanda Hart had seven points.
St. John Vianney closed the Bulldog Challenge with fireworks. The Lancers squeaked by Morris Catholic High School, 43-41, thanks to a Tina Lebron 3-pointer that beat the buzzer.
Lebron ended the day with 12 points to her credit, while Kimi Evans contributed 13 points to lead the Lancers.
St. John Vianney is widely ranked as the best team in New Jersey. The Lancers’ only loss so far came against Villa Maria Academy of Pennsylvania. They earned a big win over New York’s Christ the King Regional High School Jan. 9 and remain undefeated inside Class A Central at 5-0.
Manasquan, which was still playing without standout sophomore Dara Mabrey, was on the losing side of a 51-44 final opposite Gill St. Bernard’s, the only Bulldog Challenge winner among the out-of-town teams. Manasquan managed just two points in the third quarter. Despite exploding for 22 points over the final eight minutes, Manasquan failed to catch up as Gill St. Bernard’s went toe-to-toe with the Warriors on offense.