By Wayne Witkowski
Allentown High School’s girls basketball team, which received a breather last week with the softer part of its schedule, looks to play its best basketball of the season coming into this week.
With senior forward Bianca Santos taking the leading scoring role of late, the Redbirds, who are 9-3 and riding a five-game win streak, hosted Ewing High School in a key Colonial Valley Conference Freedom Division matchup. The game was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 25 but might have been moved to a day later because of the weekend snowstorm.
Ewing (11-1) has won five straight since a 48-46, overtime loss to Trenton Catholic Academy, which stole Ewing’s inbound pass and hit a layup in the closing seconds. Ewing comes off a 54-37 rout of Hopewell Valley Central High School Jan. 22 that snapped its eight-game win streak.
“They’re definitely doing a good job on the inside. That’s their strength,” Allentown coach Linda Weise said of Ewing. “And they’re a pressing team. We have to make them beat us on the outside and handle their pressure.”
Allentown and Ewing play again Feb. 2.
“We really need to focus on defense. It leads to great offense,” Santos said. “We need to take our defense and analyze who our staple players are and then slow it down on offense to see who’s open and not force a lot of things.”
After the first game against Ewing, the Redbirds were scheduled to host Hamilton High School West, which was winless coming into this week, Jan. 27 and will travel to Montgomery High School (5-7) for a 1 p.m. game Jan. 30 with the hopes of adding wins for a more favorable seed in the NJSIAA tournament. After the Ewing rematch, Allentown plays at Robbinsville High School Feb. 5 before the Feb. 6 state playoff cutoff date.
Balance continues to be the key to Allentown’s success, although Santos has emerged with strong individual scoring efforts to lead her team.
“She’s really running the floor and Kali [Hartshorn] has found her with the ball to score easy points in transition,” Weise said.
“It’s very important being able to move without the ball,” Santos said. “Being a senior, I’m taking a leadership role. It’s like a family on the court — [knowing] who to give the ball to and who has the hot hand. We have everybody back from last year, even the bench. We have been playing together for a while and we have the chemistry.”
Santos scored 23 points in a 69-43 victory over Princeton High School Jan. 21 and helped the Redbirds to a 30-17 lead at halftime. Hartshorn, a senior guard, fired in a dozen points and had a dozen assists, and sophomore guard Ryan Weise did not need her explosive outside scoring as she finished with 11 points. Sophomore Katie White complemented Santos off the boards with seven rebounds to go with her eight points.
Allentown (7-6) lost two games last week and needs to pick up some victories to be assured of an NJSIAA tournament berth by the Feb. 6 cutoff. Allentown lost, 51-40, to Princeton Jan. 21 and lost, 74-70, to Hightstown High School in overtime Jan. 19.
Princeton wrapped up the victory by outscoring the Redbirds, 17-8, in the fourth quarter.
Tristan Millett led Allentown’s scorers in both games, hitting 11 points against Princeton and 20 against Hightstown. Nahshon Taylor added nine against Princeton and had 17 against Hightstown. Bekim Nikovic and Payton Jackson scored 14 and 10 points, respectively, against Hightstown.
The Robbinsville-Allentown Ravens’ slump stretched to five games as they lost, 3-1, Jan. 20 to Hopewell Valley and 5-2 to Notre Dame High School Jan. 18 to fall to 8-7-0.
Josh Rosenbaum cut into the 2-0 lead of Hopewell Valley (11-4-2), which scored an empty-net goal with 17 seconds left. Allentown goalkeeper Joey Nolan stopped 25 shots.
Shawn Camisa and John Francis scored and Ryan Van Duren had two assists against Notre Dame (11-4), which led, 3-0, after one period and built a 5-1 lead in the third before Francis scored. Nolan had 34 saves.
Allentown split two matches last week, losing to Hopewell Valley, 44-15, Jan. 20 and beating West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, 42-25, Jan. 22. The Redbirds head into the Mercer County championships Jan. 29-30 at Robbinsville.
“We lost three one-point matches against Hopewell Valley. We have to win those against great teams,” coach Mitch Nock said. “I thought we wrestled good, but we need to win those close ones. And then we responded well against West Windsor-Plainsboro South in bouncing back.”
In the county championships, Nock said Liam McDermott is looking to do big things at 170 pounds after raising his record to 15-3 with a pair of victories. Nock also expects strong showings from unbeaten 160-pounder Jordan Rugo, who recorded his 100th career victory two weeks ago, and Zach Turner, who is 20-2 at 182 pounds.