Every team wants to be playing its best come playoff time.
And that’s exactly the case for the Old Bridge High School girls’ basketball team.
Holding off North Brunswick Township High School for a 59-56 victory on Feb. 19 in Old Bridge to advance to the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, Old Bridge is now 9-2 in its last 11 games and currently stands at 15-7 on the season.
“We talked as a team when we were going through our growing pains earlier this season that you want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season,” said Old Bridge coach Alec Alspach. “We’re starting to get into that mode of playing our best basketball.”
Senior Rachel Kuhl has been the catalyst for the Knights this winter, leading way on both ends of the floor.
Kuhl had a solid all-around performance in Old Bridge’s victory over North Brunswick to advance back to the quarterfinals for the second straight season in a row. She delivered a team-high 21 points in the victory.
With Old Bridge only up by one point with 12.2 seconds left to play, Kuhl stepped up to the free-throw line for two shots.
Falling short in a similar situation against Piscataway back on Jan. 7, the senior rose above the pressure to get redemption, knocking down both free-throw attempts to make it a three-point game.
“It was like deja vu all over again, so I knew I had to knock both of them down and bring my team in with me on those to free throws,” Kuhl said. “We just played basketball and got the win. My teammates really stepped up to help me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
Kuhl is averaging over 14 points a game this season.
Old Bridge went to hold off North Brunswick in the final seconds to get its 15th victory of the season.
Sophomore Payton Alcorn is Old Bridge’s second leading scorer and best shooter from behind arc, racking up a team-high 45 three-pointers so far this winter.
Alcorn caught fire from downtown in the second quarter against North Brunswick, knocking down three-pointers to help Old Bridge take a 35-28 lead into halftime.
The sophomore rung up a total of four three-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points in the victory.
“Usually in the first half, I have trouble shooting three-pointers, so to come out like that was really exciting,” Alcorn said.
Alcorn’s sister, Mia, stepped up for the Knights with a big second half in the first round of the tournament, scoring nine of her 12 points in the game.
The two Alcorn sisters combined for six of the team’s nine three-pointers in the victory over North Brunswick, and together have a total of 62 three-pointers this season.
“We feed off each other,” Payton Alcorn said. “Every time I’m in a bad mood or she’s in a bad mood, we lift each other up. It’s great playing with my sister and I am going to miss it next year.”
Freshman Gabby Walker is the team’s third leading scorer. Walker gave the Knights a 57-56 lead over North Brunswick with 1:05 left to play by going one-of-two from the strike. Teammates Malvina Sullivan and Leena Tran are two other freshman that have made an impact for the Knights this winter.
Senior Jordan Totten has been a solid contributor for Old Bridge on both ends of the floor this season and recorded five points in the victory over North Brunswick.
Old Bridge will face undefeated Middlesex High School in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament on Feb. 22 at Middlesex County Community College in Edison.
The Knights grabbed the No. 12 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament and will play No. 5 Long Branch High School in the first round of the sectionals on the road on March. 3.
It’s the first time in two seasons that Old Bridge qualified for the state tournament. Qualifying for the state tournament was a team goal from the start of the season for Old Bridge.
Alspach is thrilled about his team achieving its goal of making into the sectional tournament, but is more happy about how the girls have come together over the course of the season.
“Our goal as a program is to get better everyday on the court and as students and community members,” Alspach said. “That stuff is important to us. I don’t count us out of any game.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports